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  #1  
Old 19 February 2007, 07:51 PM
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Teacher Aluminum vs. aluminium

Comment: A British friend of mine claims that the American spelling of
aluminum (as opposed to the British spelling, aluminium)came about as a
result of a mis-spelled corporate document, and subsequent cover-up by
ALCOA to hide their mistake. Here's a piece of an e-mail message he's
sending around. In person, he embellishes the story to a much greater
extent.

"Just this once; it is actually aluminium. You do not say titanum or
niobum, which are the same group. As I earlier said [earlier] the US
spelled it correctly until circa 1907 when Alcoa mis-spelled the word in
its founding company documents and spent a small fortune thereafter
getting the error accepted in text books and academe. It worked in the
US. True story."

I've heard this one banter about in various forms for years. Any truth to
it?
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  #2  
Old 19 February 2007, 07:59 PM
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http://www.world-aluminium.org/history/language.html

Quote:
Both ALUMINIUM and ALUMINUM have an equal claim to etymological and historical justification, and it seems that the difference in both pronunciation and spelling is likely to stay with us for the foreseeable future!
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  #3  
Old 19 February 2007, 08:31 PM
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My 'Shorter Oxford English Dictionary' suggests that the American 'aluminum' is older than the British 'aluminium'.

Quote:
Aluminum. [Modificiation by Davy (1812) of his earlier name alumium, subseq. altered to ALUMINIUM.
Bolding, italics and capitals as in the original. The Aluminium entry says that he changed the spelling to what is now the British spelling to conform with the spelling of other metals ending with -IUM.
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  #4  
Old 19 February 2007, 10:23 PM
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That's the story I remember, I think there is a section on it in Bill Bryson's history of everything.

Davy couldn't make up his mind!
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  #5  
Old 19 February 2007, 10:41 PM
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Platinum, Lanthanum, Tantalum, Molybdenum

In case anybody's wondering.

ALthough you might consider others where there's an I in the root:
(examples is Gallium, (Gallia), Hafnium (Hafnia), I don't have a full list)
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  #6  
Old 20 February 2007, 04:34 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DaGuyWitBluGlasses View Post
Platinum, Lanthanum, Tantalum, Molybdenum

In case anybody's wondering.

ALthough you might consider others where there's an I in the root:
(examples is Gallium, (Gallia), Hafnium (Hafnia), I don't have a full list)

Are those in the same group as aluminum? (I don't think they are, from looking at the table, but I don't really know.) The point of the commenter's friend was was that other elements in the same group have the "ium" ending, so it isn't really relevant if elements in other groups end with just a "um."
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  #7  
Old 20 February 2007, 02:28 PM
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Glasses

Quote:
Originally Posted by NeeCD View Post
Are those in the same group as aluminum? (I don't think they are, from looking at the table, but I don't really know.) The point of the commenter's friend was was that other elements in the same group have the "ium" ending, so it isn't really relevant if elements in other groups end with just a "um."
It is relevant if Davy's reason for changing the spelling was that "no chemicals end with 'um'".

At any rate, what does it matter? Both are accepted, both are used, both are right.

Seaboe
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  #8  
Old 20 February 2007, 05:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seaboe Muffinchucker View Post
It is relevant if Davy's reason for changing the spelling was that "no chemicals end with 'um'".

At any rate, what does it matter? Both are accepted, both are used, both are right.

Seaboe
If that was Davy's reason, then Davy would have been incorrect (as already noted there are certainly endings that end in 'um'), but that wasn't really the point of what I was asking.

The difference is between changing it because no other elements in the same group ended in 'ium' as opposed to no other elements at all ending in 'ium.' The former was what the British friend was claiming, whereas all the elements pointed out in the post I was responding to were from a different group than aluminum/aluminium. I admit that I don't know much at all about the Periodic Table (I think it's been 20 years since I've had much of anything to do with it) hence my question about groups. Does it make sense that elements in the same group should have the same suffix, or is it irrelevant?

But you're right, it doesn't really matter in the scheme of things. In the end, I think that alumium is easier to say than either of the correct words, so they should've just left it alone.
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Old 20 February 2007, 05:41 PM
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Ahhh, but everyone knows that it's not the spelling that matters. It's the pronunciation! And the correct way to pronounce it is...

Tin Foil
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  #10  
Old 20 February 2007, 06:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NeeCD View Post
... Does it make sense that elements in the same group should have the same suffix, or is it irrelevant?
...
It's moot, since alumin(i)um was discovered and named (both variants) before the periodic nature of elements was demonstrated by Mendeleyev.

Nick
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  #11  
Old 20 February 2007, 06:11 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nick Theodorakis View Post
It's moot, since alumin(i)um was discovered and named (both variants) before the periodic nature of elements was demonstrated by Mendeleyev.

Nick
Ah, thanks! That's more or less what I was trying to ask (in my vague round-about way).

I like tribrat's answer, too, but I've now got the tinfoil hat song firmly entrenched in my brain. "Aluminium will strike them dumb, wear a tinfoil hat!"
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  #12  
Old 21 February 2007, 12:19 AM
DaGuyWitBluGlasses DaGuyWitBluGlasses is offline
 
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Gallium and indium (from indigo) are in the same group as aluminum .
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  #13  
Old 21 February 2007, 12:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DaGuyWitBluGlasses View Post
Gallium and indium (from indigo) are in the same group as aluminum .
And weren't discovered until 1875 and 1863 respectively, decades after Davy named his metal alumi(n)(i)um in 1808. Or 46 and 34 years respectively after his death.

Last edited by Eddylizard; 21 February 2007 at 12:36 AM. Reason: add sentence at end
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  #14  
Old 21 February 2007, 09:51 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NeeCD View Post
If that was Davy's reason, then Davy would have been incorrect (as already noted there are certainly endings that end in 'um'), but that wasn't really the point of what I was asking.
For what it's worth (and I have no idea wether it's true or not), according to something I read the other day aluminium was the first element to be given a name ending with -ium
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Old 22 February 2007, 12:45 AM
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I have always preferred Aluminium. I suspect a large part of that is cultural - it's how we say it down here. The other part is practical. To my ear, Aluminum and Alumina have always sounded very similar, and since both are part of the production process of he metal, there is bound to be some confusion caused at times.

me "Transparent Aluminum? How are they going to hold a whale in with a white powder?" no really
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  #16  
Old 22 February 2007, 12:59 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Floater View Post
For what it's worth (and I have no idea wether it's true or not), according to something I read the other day aluminium was the first element to be given a name ending with -ium
"Sir Humphry Davy,
Abominated gravy,
He lived in the odium,
Of having discovered sodium."

Quote:
"On this idea, in naming the bases of potash and soda, it will be proper to adopt the termination which, by common consent, has been applied to other newly discovered metals, and which, though originally Latin, is now naturalized in our language.

Potassium and Sodium are the names by which I have ventured to call the two new substances:
Potassium/ Sodium named 1807

Alumium named 1808.

Last edited by Eddylizard; 22 February 2007 at 01:08 AM.
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  #17  
Old 22 February 2007, 06:53 PM
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Since reading this thread I have become puzzled. Alumium was Davey's first name for his metal before changing it to aluminum. When he realised that aluminum was (apparently) inconsistent, why did he not return to his first name? Alumium has the 'correct' suffix so why did he invent a third name, i.e. aluminium?
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  #18  
Old 22 February 2007, 07:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrew of Ware View Post
Since reading this thread I have become puzzled. Alumium was Davey's first name for his metal before changing it to aluminum. When he realised that aluminum was (apparently) inconsistent, why did he not return to his first name? Alumium has the 'correct' suffix so why did he invent a third name, i.e. aluminium?

Probably related to his experiments with Laughing gas.

Quote:
He studied the oxides of nitrogen and discovered the physiological effects of nitrous oxide, which became known as laughing gas. He "breathed 16 quarts of the gas in seven minutes" and became "completely intoxicated" with it.
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  #19  
Old 27 May 2007, 01:34 AM
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I seriously doubt that a spelling, or misspelling as the case may be, in a relatively obscure document would be the impetus to such a wide dialectal difference...
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  #20  
Old 27 May 2007, 01:57 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zakor View Post
I seriously doubt that a spelling, or misspelling as the case may be, in a relatively obscure document would be the impetus to such a wide dialectal difference...
Perhaps that would be because the metal was pretty rare at the time so ordinary people wouldn't have had any reason to use the word. Aluminum used to be a very expensive metal before methods of extracting it cheaply were found. Davy made some attempts but the process wasn't refined until many years later. In 1854, when Bunsen and Deville, coincidentally discovery discovered the same process independently. In 1866, Hall and Héroult, who were both 22 and again working completely independently, patented the process that would allow commercial production. One was in France and the other in the US. So one spelling difference by an early experimenter could certainly have made a big difference as the metal was previously something only a few people had even seen, and the process by which it would become common was simultaneously discovered on different continents. I suppose it wouldn't be that hard to at least confirm whether Hall and Héroult used the alternate spellings.

ETA -- Ah, I have found the patents on several sites on the web. Oops, I wrote the last ETA bfore checking closely. I thought they used alternate spellings but they didn't. Hall used "aluminium" too, even though he was working in Ohio. So the different patents couldn't be the source of popularizing the different spellings.

Last edited by ganzfeld; 27 May 2007 at 02:14 AM.
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