The English used in this article or section may not be easy for everybody to understand. (September 2011)
The simplest paraffin molecule is that of methane, CH4, a gas at room temperature. Heavier members of the series, such as that of octane, C8H18, and mineral oil appear as liquids at room temperature. The solid forms of paraffin, called paraffin wax, are from the heaviest molecules from C20H42 to C40H82. Paraffin wax was identified by Carl Reichenbach in 1830.
Paraffin, or paraffin hydrocarbon, is also the technical name for an alkane in general, but in most cases it refers specifically to a linear, or normal alkane — whereas branched, or isoalkanes are also called isoparaffins. It is distinct from the fuel known in Ireland, Britain and South Africa as paraffin oil or just paraffin, which is called kerosene in most of the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.
The name is derived from the Latin parum (= barely) + affinis with the meaning here of "lacking affinity", or "lacking reactivity". This is because alkanes, being non-polar and lacking in functional groups, are very unreactive.
- Britannica 1911