Field of Science

An element by any other name would smell as sweet

Elemental naming was as fraught in the 19th century as it can be today (though now the IUPAC has rules and committees). Alternate names and symbols for elements persisted not merely for decades, but in some cases more than a century.

I've recently skimmed a number of articles about glucinium (Gl). Not familiar? It has 4 protons and these days is known as beryllium for the gemstone beryl, in which it can be found. Beryllium salts can taste sweet, hence glucinium. Beryllium was suggested early on an option, since the sweet taste of its salts was not a unique characteristic. Other metals, including lead and yttrium, form sweet tasting salts. Still, in 1890 many authors were insisting that glucinium was the preferred name, suggesting that the arguments were continuing nearly a century after the initial discovery. It took more than 150 years for the chemistry community to settle on beryllium.

Other elements have endured dueling names, including colombium (now niobium) and the sounds-too-awkward-to-be-real jargonium (hafnium!).

In searching for an appropriate image, Google turns up lots of bathtubs, including this one. Not only does an antiquated elemental name appear in the description of this wild tub, but the term angstrom as well. Translation software, I'm sure, but what is being (mis)translated?

And I couldn't resist the post title, as one of my fellow Fellows at the Chemical Heritage Foundation is a Shakespeare scholar.


  1. That reminds me that I always loved the names jargoon, jargon, jacinth, hyacinth and zircon.

    That hot-tub advert must be influenced by the early work of William Burroughs. I am sure this is the original text:

    Costa del Sol Hot Tubs bumf

    While it has some translator effects I think it must have been put through a spam camouflager as well. Unfortunately, no glucinium in the original second sentence.

  2. It's quite a pastiche, in either form...


Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS