General English


  • noun a fibrous mineral substance that causes lung disease if inhaled. It was formerly used as a shield against fire and as an insulating material in many industrial and construction processes.


  • A flexible, noncombustible, inorganic fiber used primarily in construction as a fireproofing and insulating material. Because airborne asbestos fibers have been demonstrated to constitute a health hazard, the use of asbestos for new construction is heavily regulated and generally banned for all practical purposes. See also asbestos fiber.


  • A group of fibrous impure minerals consisting mostly of magnesium, silicon and oxygen, which are chemically inert and highly heat resistant.

Real Estate

  • noun a mineral formerly used in the construction industry to make buildings fire-resistant, now known to cause serious health problems

Origin & History of “asbestos”

Originally, the word we now know as asbestos was applied in the middle Ages to a mythical stone which, once set alight, could never be put out; it came from the Greek compound ásbestos, literally ‘inextinguishable’, which was formed from the prefix a- ‘not’ and sbestós, a derivative of the verb sbennúnai ‘extinguish’. However, by the time it first came into English, its form was not quite what it is today. To begin with, it was the Greek accusative form, ásbeston, that was borrowed, and in its passage from Latin through Old French it developed several variants, including asbeston and albeston, most of which turned up in English. then, in the early 17th century, the word was reborrowed from the original Greek source, ásbestos, and applied to a noncombustible silicate mineral.