Thursday, 1 July 2004


Last week I posted an authoritative note about the curious way in which "aluminium" is spelt in North America. Since then I have discovered that a rather feeble spoof "explanation" of the misspelling has been put on the net by a bunch of jokers who call themselves the Los Alamos National Laboratory's Chemistry Division.

The home page is convincing enough, with the periodic table of the elements all done in rather jolly colours, but when you click on No 13, Al, you get this :

Wohler is generally credited with having isolated the metal in 1827, although an impure form was prepared by Oersted two years earlier. In 1807, Davy proposed the name ALUMINUM for the metal, undiscovered at that time, and later agreed to change it to aluminum. Shortly thereafter, the name ALUMINUM was adopted to conform with the "ium" ending of most elements, and this spelling is now in use elsewhere in the world.

Aluminium was also the accepted spelling in the U.S. until 1925, at which time the American Chemical Society officially decided to use the name aluminum thereafter in their publications.

If you read the first paragraph carefully you will get a buzzing sensation in the head; what has obviously happened is that in two places (which I have capitalised) the spoofers' (American) spell-checker has changed "aluminium" to "aluminum" so that the paragraph makes no sense at all. Oddly, this didn't happen in the second paragraph.

This only goes to show how careful you must be with proof-reading, even when you're only fooling about. It is really irresponsible of these people to get their joke wrong in this way; the American public is quite confused enough on this subject already.

For obvious reasons I am not running this post through my (International English) spell-checker before I publish it.

Still more about aluminium


Grumio said...

"International" English in the same sense that the "World" Series involves the World, of course.

Anonymous said...

Did you write this post tomorrow?

Tony said...

No, certainly not, don't be so parochial. We're a worldwide operation here at OMF International and I dated this post for the benefit of our readers in Kamchatka, who are already nearly two hours into July 1st.

Tony said...

You really must try not to give vent to so much anti-American bile. They're all right when you get to know them, you know.
The distinction between International English and American English seems to me to be entirely appropriate. It indicates that American is just a minor variant of this great world language (cf. pidgin English, Tasmanian English, etc., etc.)

And another thing. Why do so many people who comment on OMF - Anonymous is another of them - choose to raise such piffling points of controversy instead of dealing with the serious issues which are the subject of all my posts?

Astolath said...

May I concur...

Don't tar all Americans with the same brush as their incumbant President. As a nation, they've made their own significant contributions to the expansion of English. This is the land of T.S. Eliot, Edgar Allen Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, F Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce and Jerry Springer after all!

Tony said...

AND Harpo Marx

Grumio said...

...and The Onion

I couldn't agree more. I am sorry to have wasted the valuable bytes of this repository of weighty matters and it won't happen again.

Anyone know anywhere on the internet better suited to piffling points than OMF?