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August 9, 2012
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I think I'm having - dare I say it - a senior moment, as I forgot to mention Warsaw Will in my last post. He too has been a long-term tolerator of DAW.
Typo - spot the missing comma, or is there one too many in paragraph one?
Hi Jasper/Jeremy,D A Wood: what do we make of him, as he's clearly not here to have sensible, and perhaps humourous (remember I am English!), repartee about the English language?It's pretty sad when someone feels the need to come over as superior, and more knowledgeable with regard to grasping the finer nuances of "proper" English, when in fact they are not: I suspect DAW has nothing better to do all day than expand his - apparent - encyclopedic knowledge of all subjects, even if he fails, often to understand his points of reference.Still, it keeps us amused - even if he is, as you say, an irritating prick.I actually enjoy banter, especially when it concerns different takes on our language by folk from other "English" speaking countries - as long as it's good-humoured and a little thought-provoking: unfortunately DAW meets none of these requirements.Cheers, Les.
Oh indeed, Jeremy, shurely they "have"!
Why do we actually bother continuing this dialogue with D A Wood, as he's clearly on some sort of - flawed - ego trip?Cheers, Les (London)
Perhaps D A Wood might try grasping the difference between disinterested and uninterested - although perhaps it might be too subtle!
D A WoodIt's ensure not insure: something/person is insured, and you ensure that something occurs - usually by your own, independent action. Must pay attention to detail.
Typo - of course I spell my name with a capital "L"!
Just so WW. I tried to inject a little humour (correct spelling) and civility when I replied to a D A Wood post, but it fell on deaf ears: all I got for my effort were ramblings involving sulfur (sic) and aluminum (sic again - in fact I'm quite sick of DAW). Ah well, c'est la vie.Cheers, les.
Hello again, Dale.Bit boring, but I thought you might like to know about "ium" versus "um", and the Noah Webster input. Cheers, Les.
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ALUMINIUM VERSUS ALUMINUM
Following up a Topical Words piece on the international spelling of what British English writes as sulphur, many American subscribers wrote in to ask about another element with two spellings: aluminium.
The metal was named by the English chemist Sir Humphry Davy (who, you may recall, “abominated gravy, and lived in the odium of having discovered sodium”), even though he was unable to isolate it: that took another two decades’ work by others. He derived the name from the mineral called alumina, which itself had only been named in English by the chemist Joseph Black in 1790. Black took it from the French, who had based it on alum, a white mineral that had been used since ancient times for dyeing and tanning, among other things. Chemically, this is potassium aluminium sulphate (a name which gives me two further opportunities to parade my British spellings of chemical names).
Sir Humphry made a bit of a mess of naming this new element, at first spelling it alumium (this was in 1807) then changing it to aluminum, and finally settling on aluminium in 1812. His classically educated scientific colleagues preferred aluminium right from the start, because it had more of a classical ring, and chimed harmoniously with many other elements whose names ended in –ium, like potassium, sodium, and magnesium, all of which had been named by Davy.
The spelling in –um continued in occasional use in Britain for a while, though that in –ium soon predominated. In the USA, the position was more complicated. Noah Webster’s Dictionary of 1828 has only aluminum, though the standard spelling among US chemists throughout most of the nineteenth century was aluminium; it was the preferred version in The Century Dictionary of 1889 and is the only spelling given in the Webster Unabridged Dictionary of 1913. Searches in an archive of American newspapers show a most interesting shift. Up to the 1890s, both spellings appear in rough parity, though with the –ium version slightly the more common, but after about 1895 that reverses quite substantially, with the decade starting in 1900 having the –um spelling about twice as common as the alternative; in the following decade the –ium spelling crashes to a few hundred compared to half a million examples of –um.
Actually, neither version was often encountered early on: up to about 1855 it had only ever been made in pinhead quantities because it was so hard to extract from its ores; a new French process that involved liquid sodium improved on that to the extent that Emperor Napoleon III had some aluminium cutlery made for state banquets, but it still cost much more than gold. When the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus in London was cast from aluminium in 1893 it was still an exotic and expensive choice. This changed only when a way of extracting the metal using cheap hydroelectricity was developed.
It’s clear that the shift in the USA from –ium to –um took place progressively over a period starting in about 1895, when the metal began to be widely available and the word started to be needed in popular writing. It is easy to imagine journalists turning for confirmation to Webster’s Dictionary, still the most influential work at that time, and adopting its spelling. The official change in the US to the –um spelling happened quite late: the American Chemical Society only adopted it in 1925, though this was clearly in response to the popular shift that had already taken place. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) officially standardised on aluminium in 1990, though this has done nothing, of course, to change the way people in the US spell it for day to day purposes.
It’s a word that demonstrates the often tangled and subtle nature of word history, and how a simple statement about differences in spelling can cover a complicated story.
God, you're a veritable font of knowledge DA!Nice to have a little bit of repartee without rancour - even if "I" am obliged to spell things correctly! Not sure who told you about those British place-name spellings/pronunciations but, Farnsborough doesn't exist - unless you mean Farnborough (as in Air force) - and it is definitely a three syllable word ( I live about thirty miles from it): god knows where you got Fanshaw from! Sloppy speakers might only have three syllables in Middlesborough, but it definitely has four. One slightly odd one is Edinburgh - it's not a "burg" like you might have in Amish county, but a fully-fledged four syllable word.
There are posters - and others - who are picky about English just for the sake of it, but I enjoy language and only comment when I feel genuinely moved. In my opinion Noah Webster's got a lot to answer for - but what do I know, as I only speak a language which, along with Chinese (all variants), is spoken the world over, albeit bastadised by some.Keep up the good work!Best wishes from the UK.Cheers, les.
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