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Time to Update the Table of the Elements

It seems like something we should do periodically (bada boom).

Brother can you spare some argentum? Maybe you could drop some in my stannum cup. Then I'd be totally aurum. Never heard of any of that stuff? I'd guess you probably have, just not in the words of the long dead Latin language.

Silver (argentum), tin (stannum) and gold (aurum) are pretty familiar materials to most of us, and if you've taken chemistry you've likely used the Latin abbreviations Ag, Sn, and Au without worrying too much about the odd choices for the shortened handles of these and and a few other elements like iron (Fe for ferrum), potassium (K for kalium) or lead (Pb for plumbum).

But I've had just about enough of this silliness. All roads may have once lead to Rome (plumbumed to Rome?), but no more. It might mean reprinting a few chemistry texts, but we'll need to do that as we work to eliminate Avogadro's constant anyway.

Just to get things rolling here are my suggestions for abbreviations for the Latin-named elements.

Sodium - So

Potassium - Pm Ps

Iron - Io

Copper - Cp

Silver - Sv

Tin - T

Antimony - At An

Tungsten - Tg

Gold - G

Mercury - Mc

Lead - L

There, that wasn't so hard!

Some of the new abbreviations are kind of awkward because the more sensible versions were taken by other elements. The fact that we have I for iodine, Ir for iridium, and In for indium left only Io for Iron. I would prefer for Io to stand for Iodine and I for Iron. Making that switch, however, would be risky because there would be no obvious way of knowing which element you're talking about, if you don't know when or where the chemical formula you're dealing with was first written down.

Oh well, nothing's perfect, but we can at least try to make things better. And an updated periodic table would definitely be better!


  1. Anglocentric much?

  2. Well, English is now the language of science, so I'd say I'm science centric (or anti-Latin). If the language of science were German, I'd have chosen different words, but even the German Physical Society presentations are mostly in English these days.

  3. "Well, English is now the language of science" as was Latin and Arabic in their own time.

  4. Exactly. But we are stuck in our time, so we should use the common language rather than moldy old Latin.

  5. Maybe. But you have to realize that the abbreviations might not be that outdated in other languages. For instance, in the German language Potassium = Kalium, hence K. Tungsten = Wolfram, hence W.

    If you're looking for a crusade that most, if not all scientists can agree on: try changing the sign of the electron charge.


  6. That's true. But if we're going to use English for most scientific communication, then then these seem the most logical choices to me. We could translate the elements and abbreviations into different languages for different countries, I suppose, but that would make international collaboration and publication very difficult.

    I agree with you and XKCD - it would have been nice if Franklin had picked the opposite signs for electric charges! It would be interesting to make a list of all the bad choices in science conventions that we could change to make more sense in the modern world.


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