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Is there a specific word to describe tiny pieces of gold, like those left from panning for gold?

Something like "gold nugget" has the connotation of being way too big. "Tiny piece of gold" feels a bit clumsy. Example sentence: "I went panning and found a <word> today."

4 Answers 4

24

What you're describing is called gold dust

(Mining & Quarrying) gold in the form of small particles or powder, as found in placer-mining.

(Panning for gold is just one form of placer mining.)

32

“Flecks of gold” is the usual phrase. One wouldn’t get excited about a single fleck, though.

[A]nd it is from this region that rumors thicken of the discovery of gold--not gold as it exists in masses, or imbedded [sic] in the primeval rock, but merely little flecks of gold, from the size of flax seed down to all manner of small gunpowder grains...

(Shelby County Herald (Shelbyville, MO), 13th Oct 1875, pg.1)

By a casual look ... can be seen flying particles of dust similar to flecks of gold...

(Champaign County Gazette (Champaign, IL), 29th May 1872)

But prospectors and assayers didn't talk much about gold in those terms; they talked about it more like sugar, as specific quantities and weights of nuggets or dust.

[A] traveler can get off his horse in the bed of any mountain stream, where the hills on either side are of gravelly red clay, and the slate creeps out in the bed of the gully, and there, in an hour's washing, he is sure to get some gold, sometimes a vial, sometimes two, three, or ten dollars [sic] worth. But the gold is scattered in all the hills of clayey and slatey formation...

(New Orleans Crescent (New Orleans, LA), 1st Jan 1849, pg.4)

I assayed about sixty ounces of the said gold, deposited in the form of dust, by T A Minard, and when melted and assayed, the total proved to be 895 [thousandths purity].

(Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD), 1st Jan 1849, pg.4)

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The correct term for one particle is a "color", and multiple particles, "colors."

A small particle of gold visible to the naked eye, or under the ordinary magnifying glass, is called a color; . . . .

This is from the Ontario Department of Mines, from their Report of the Bureau of Mines, 1898, Part 3, Page 257. Retrieved from Google Books. The terminology is still used today by placer miners when checking an ore sample by panning.

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  • Also used by songwriter Paul Metsers in his song Farewell to the Gold about a New Zealand prospector on the Otago river giving up as the gold runs out. Metsers original has the line "It's weeks since the colour I've seen" but the song was also recorded by Nic Jones who changed it to "It's years since the colour I've seen" which is rather less believable to be honest. If it was years since he'd seen colour poverty would have forced him to quit long before!
    – BoldBen
    Feb 6, 2022 at 15:20
  • If you ever watch the early '00s HBO show Deadwood (set during the Black Hills Gold Rush), you'll hear the characters frequently mention "the color", both in reference to small amounts and as as a synecdoche for gold of all types. (Example.) Feb 7, 2022 at 13:16
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    @MichaelSeifert: It's not often that you see a quote from Deadwood used in polite company. It was the George Hearst character who used that word for gold the most. However, it never struck me that it referred to small particles of gold; it always struck me to mean "gold, in any form"
    – Flydog57
    Feb 8, 2022 at 4:18
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In the gold panning community, some options are:

'Nugget' - for large pieces

'Picker' - a piece of gold that is large enough to be picked up between the fingers, but not large enough to be called a nugget

'Flake' - a flat gold piece that can float on the water's surface tension

'Flour' - very small gold pieces, about the size of grains of flour or dust

'Color' - any visible gold of any size

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