Submitted by Hairy Scot on October 12, 2012

“Liquid water”?

The phrase “liquid water” seems to have become very much in vogue with science correspondents in the media. Does the fact that most of us probably view water as being liquid not render this particular neologism redundant, and reveal it as another example of members of the fourth estate, or perhaps the people they interview, trying to be ultra clever? Shall we all now be required to start referring to ice a “solid water” and steam as “gaseous water”?

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Depending on the context 'water' can be used to describe the liquid state of a collection of H2O molecules, any collection of H2O molecules or even a single H2O molecule (in which case trying to describe it as being solid, liquid, gas, etc. without consideration of the other matter around it is essentially meaningless).

So, while it may sound strange it is indeed correct when using the following definition of the word: "a collection of H2O molecules." Because, of course, a collection of water molecules, depending on their temperature and pressure, could be in one (or perhaps more) of several different states.

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I've heard news reporters refer to tornadoes as "storm funnels". I didn't realize that "tornado" was somehow a pejorative or culturally insensitive term. "Avalanche", "mudslide", and "sink hole" must be really offensive to the environmentally aware. Let's all work together to stop water, wind, and rock related ignorance!

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That should be "as being odd"

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@Warsaw Will
Article was indeed related to cosmology, and while I do take your point on the topic, something about the phrase does strike me being odd.
But then maybe that's just me.

:-))

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That should be - for 'many TEFL teachers', not 'any'.

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@Hairy Scot - unfortunately you don't say what the Independent article was about, but all the recent instances of liquid water I've found in the newspaper refer to cosmology, apart from one which is about the Antarctic. The most recent, from 11 October is in an article about a newly discovered planet with "surface temperatures reaching a blistering 2,150C with no possibility of liquid water and therefore life." - I think for cosmologists and geologists the state of that water is very important in terms of supporting life. I think what you've stumbled across is simply a scientific term, used especially amongst cosmologists and perhaps geologists, and nothing to get worried about.

If I can give an analogy - to the general public 'Classical music' means a type of composed 'serious' music written any time between the 17th century (or even earlier) and today. But to musicians themselves, Classical Music is a much more specific term, referring to a particular style of music composed between about 1750 and 1820.

Just as until I started reading language websites I thought redundancy more or less only related to people being laid off work. The way you use it is very specific and probably not known to the general public, (in Britain at least; I think this is rather an American preoccupation). It doesn't even appear in the index of Michael Swan's Practical English Usage, the bible for any TEFL teachers. But on this forum you're speaking to a relatively specialist audience (some of whom seem to think this is a very important issue) and you use it in a way you assume they'll understand.

What I'm trying to say here is that specialists often use words in different ways to the general public, and as you originally said, you have seen this mainly in science reports, and I would hazard a guess, mainly to do with cosmology. I'd be interested if you can give us any examples of the term 'liquid water' being used outside articles on cosmology or geology.

http://www.independent.co.uk/search/simple.do?d...

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Have seen it used in a number of reports, latest of which was an article in The Independent.
IMHO to the man in the street the terms ice, water, steam, all refer to H20 in its various forms and that differentiation would only be required for any exceptions to that such as "dry ice", "frozen CO2","methane gas", etc etc.

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@Hairy Scot - Is it mainly about Mars that you have been hearing it? It seems to be used quite a bit to talk about water on Mars and other cosmic bodies such as Jupiter's moon Europa.

There seems to be a good reason, in line with what Bruce François said. Firstly, scientists are obviously interested in the presence of water, to see if life could have been possible. But most water on these bodies seems to exist (or have existed) as ice or as vapour, so when they find evidence of running water, they simply use the term liquid water to differentiate it from those other states.

What's more, there also seems to be dry ice (CO2) on Mars, so they need to use the term water ice for the H2O variety rather than just saying ice, just as we refer to water vapour, to distinguish it from any other type of vapour..

I think this is probably simply a scientific convention to avoid any confusion rather than anyone trying to be clever.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_on_Mars
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dry_ice

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To answer your two questions, no and no.

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Where are you seeing this prevalence of use? I've only seen people use "liquid water" when they are clarifying that the water's state it is not solid or vapor. You might not believe the clarification is necessary, but others might so the speaker (or author) employs its usage.

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