From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48 [gcide]:
Asbestus \As*bes"tus\, Asbestos \As*bes"tos\ (?; 277), noun [L. asbestos (NL. asbestus) a kind of mineral unaffected by fire, Gr. ? (prop. an adjective) inextinguishable; 'a priv. + ? to extinguish.] (Min.) A variety of amphibole or of pyroxene, occurring in long and delicate fibers, or in fibrous masses or seams, usually of a white, gray, or green-gray color. The name is also given to a similar variety of serpentine.
Note: The finer varieties have been wrought into gloves and cloth which are incombustible. The cloth was formerly used as a shroud for dead bodies, and has been recommended for firemen's clothes. Asbestus in also employed in the manufacture of iron safes, for fireproof roofing, and for lampwicks. Some varieties are called amianthus. --Dana.
From WordNet (r) 3.0 (2006) [wn]:
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