One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Originally: a viscid form of bitumen. Later: any of various softish, viscid forms of natural asphalt (also called mineral tar).
Late Middle English (in an earlier sense). From classical Latin maltha, malta mixture of pitch or lime with fat or wax (also applied to a kind of natural bitumen) from ancient Greek μάλθα, μάλθη mixture of wax and pitch, perhaps from μαλθακός.
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