oxalate

To my taste, this word seems to oscillate. It opens with hug and kiss, or open and shut, or light and dark – ox – and then flutters with ala… but that may be just the beginning of a late addition…

It comes from Latin oxalis “sorrel” (from Greek ὀξύς oxus “sour”, which is also found in oxygen). Sorrel is a plant with pretty (often white) flowers. Wood sorrel has been eaten and used for medicines for millennia (though you may not ever have had any as such). Oxalate makes me think of Ocala (apparently meaning “big hammock”), the name of a city in Florida, and of Oglala (meaning “scatter their own”), a branch of the Sioux, and of Oksana, as in Oksana Baiul, Olympic and world figure skating champion from the 1990s.

But it especially makes me think of Oxala (pronounced, and sometimes spelled, Oshala), an alternate name of the Yoruba/Candomblé deity Obatala. Oxala is the deity said to have created human bodies, the deity of clarity and clarification, of purity and whiteness – all white, always white, everything associated with Oxala is white. And the view given by Oxala of the world is all blacks and whites, lights and darks – no grey.

But this is not to say that Oxala is all “goodness” all the time, in spite of having qualities parallelling Jesus (such as a resurrection story). The Yoruba deities have their own individual characters; Oxala had a falling out with his brother at one point, and at another he got drunk on palm wine and made some mistakes in his acts of creation.

One of those mistakes may or may not be oxalate. It is present in your body, but mostly from the food you eat – quite a lot of foods have it, including black pepper, dark chocolate, and black tea (and many things that are not especially black or white; I’m not sure whether it’s in Oxo bouillon or oxtail soup, but probably).

Or, rather, they have oxalic acid, C2O4H2. In your body, it loses its hydrogens and becomes an ion (oxalate) that combines quite readily with various minerals. And some of those combinations are not light but heavy; they do not stay dissolved – they have a falling out. After all, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.

This precipitate may simply pass out of the body with the rest of the waste. Then again, it may not. Calcium oxalate is a primary component of kidney stones. Thus the question of whether oxalate is a bad thing.

But perhaps it oscillates. It has its good. It has proven useful in some drug formulations involving metals. Oxalic acid is also quite useful for cleaning surfaces, purifying them and giving them a shine – and for bleaching.

2 responses to “oxalate

  1. Oxalic acid is a notable compound in both rhubarb stalks and leaves, although the stalks contain significantly less, so forget black and white – you need to mention red and green!

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