Week of January 9, 2022

Weightier Matters


Since lead is a very heavy metal, the term “get the lead out,” originally ended with “…of your shoes” or “…of your pants” and means that you should speed up whatever you’re doing. And of course, “Get the Led Out” is a favorite title of classic rock radio stations for the time they play some Led Zeppelin songs.


In some cases, however, getting the lead out is a public health issue. Until the 1970s, both gasoline and residential paint sold in the US contained lead, and both products were known to cause serious health problems to those exposed to them, including children.


Lead has long been a standard material in bullets, since it is heavy and can deliver a lot of damage to targets. However, lead bullets can also give off a powdery residue when fired and fragment easily upon impact, leading to some health concerns among indoor firing ranges, wildlife advocates, and game meat enthusiasts.


A habitually speedy or aggressive driver is called a “leadfoot” because their foot is so heavy on the accelerator.


While you wouldn’t want lead in your body, you’d want it around your body when dealing with radiation. From lead aprons near X-ray machines to lead walls in fallout shelters, this heavy metal is well known to block radiation.


The band Led Zeppelin was referencing the dense metal, but removed the “a” so nobody would confuse it with “lead” as in leader. (For the rest of the band name story, see the week of 4/4/2021.)


Lead’s chemical symbol is “Pb” instead of “Ld” or the like because its Latin name is plumbum.