A white waxy substance, resembling spermaceti, tasteless
and odorless, and obtained from coal tar, wood tar, petroleum, etc., by
distillation. It is used as an illuminant and lubricant. It is very
inert, not being acted upon by most of the strong chemical reagents. It
was formerly regarded as a definite compound, but is now known to be a
complex mixture of several higher hydrocarbons of the methane or
marsh-gas series; hence, by extension, any substance, whether solid,
liquid, or gaseous, of the same chemical series; thus coal gas and
kerosene consist largely of paraffins.
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