Okay, let’s talk about something that affects me on a fairly regular basis.  I understand that this topic does not affect everyone; however, it certainly can raise my ire.  It doesn’t help that I am outnumbered out here in paradise. (Poor me, if this is the worst thing that I have to deal with, then I know I am doing just fine!)

It’s the age old debate between an old colony and its mother country. The Stars and Stripes vs. the Union Jack.  Yanks vs. the Commonwealth (although I am pretty sure that I can count on the Canadians siding with us on this one).  Which country is right?

        What is correct? Aluminum. or Aluminium.

[singlepic id=263 w=320 h=240 float=left]Ahh, easy one you say. It’s aluminium, especially if you ask the guys at the dive shop.  It’s NOT that I disagree with aluminium, although why the Brits and fellow Commonwealth-ers insist on adding superfluous letters to words is beyond me. I would just like to point out that there is ANOTHER internationally accepted form of the word – aluminum.

Let’s go back to the beginning.  In the early 1800’s, the English chemist Sir Humphry Davy supplied the term alumium and then adopted the word aluminum.  (GASP, you utter. I know I know. Shocking that the BRITISH chemist liked the word, which is now used by the Americans).  He based this word on the mineral called alumina, which was derived from alum, (a mineral) an Old French term coming from the Latin word, alumen.   In 1812, in his book, Elements of Chemical Philosophy, Davy wrote, “As yet Aluminum has not been obtained in a perfectly free state.”

However, someone working for the Quarterly Review, an academic journal, found aluminum to be dissonant.  Contributing his two cents, he suggested using the word, aluminium:

“Aluminium, for so we shall take the liberty of writing the word, in preference to aluminum, which has a less classical sound.”  (“Quarterly Review”, 1812).

It seems that the pro-aluminium team thought that their spelling flowed better with previously discovered elements, e.g. potassium, sodium, and calcium.  They failed to appreciate other elements, which ended with an –um suffix, e.g. platinum and tantalum.

The question then becomes: Why and how did aluminum become more popular in the States?

[singlepic id=262 w=320 h=240 float=right]Well, it seems a bit hazy exactly how aluminum became more accepted in the United States. (And before you start cracking about how lazy Americans are, I have heard it all before – so keep your funny little jokes to yourself, please).  I am going to suggest three different (and perhaps insufficient) reasons:

1)     Webster’s Dictionary listed aluminum in 1828; however, the Webster Unabridged Dictionary of 1913 delineated aluminium. Noah Webster wrote the first American dictionary and was a well-known linguist.  His dictionary captured language commonly used in the United States, which perhaps describes why his first dictionary shows aluminum.

2)     In the 1880’s, Charles Martin Hall, an American scientist, discovered a way to produce aluminum on a commercial viable scale.  Hall is an important player in this word puzzle. While advertising his refinement method (called the Hall-Héroult process), he used the word, aluminum. The prominence of this discovery might explain how aluminum became popular at the grassroots level.

In 1888, Hall along with others created the Pittsburgh Reduction Company.  In 1907, the company became the Aluminum Company of America, and in 1910, ALCOA became the accepted company name.  The popularity of ALCOA could be another reason why aluminum became popular with lay persons.

3)     Moreover, it appears that the journalistic community commenced using aluminum much more frequently after the turn of the century whereas previously it used the words interchangeably.

As with most institutions, the scientific bodies of both countries entered this debate fairly late in the game.  The American Chemical Society officially accepted the spelling of aluminum in 1925, while the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) recognized aluminium as the standard in 1990.  Hello, quagmire!  Never fear – it seems that the IUPAC acknowledges aluminum as an acceptable deviation.

Below is a list of websites where I found my information.  This short blog and its sources are by no means meant to be a comprehensive study of this conundrum.  Sairee Cottage would love to hear any thoughts or comments on our Facebook page.

FYI, Gordon and Sarah are HATING on me at the moment for providing a list of references.  They think that I am raising (or lowering, as Gordon just told me) the bar. Love it.










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