Aluminium, aluminum
Posted: 07 August 2007 07:53 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I hadn’t realized that aluminum was the name given by Humphrey Davy himself in 1812. It didn’t take long for someone to step in and change it.

1812 SIR H. DAVY Chem. Philos. I. 355 As yet Aluminum has not been obtained in a perfectly free state.

1812 Q. Rev. VIII. 72 Aluminium, for so we shall take the liberty of writing the word, in preference to aluminum, which has a less classical sound.

OED says of the change in form

The termination -ium now preferred harmonizes best with other names of elements, as sodium, potassium, magnesium, lithium, selenium, etc.

Preferred by whom? Is the implication that the scientific world in general prefers the -ium ending? Do American scientists say aluminium?

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Posted: 07 August 2007 08:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I could swear we’ve done this before, but of course I can’t find a link.

OED says of the change in form

The termination -ium now preferred harmonizes best with other names of elements, as sodium, potassium, magnesium, lithium, selenium, etc.

Preferred by whom? Is the implication that the scientific world in general prefers the -ium ending? Do American scientists say aluminium?

Correction: The OED said that well over a century ago, when they started with the letter A.  And no, nobody in America says aluminium (unless they’ve got a bad case of Anglophilia).

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Posted: 07 August 2007 09:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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One old thread.  And another. And another. And another (albeit just a mention).

[ Edited: 07 August 2007 09:39 AM by ElizaD ]
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Posted: 07 August 2007 02:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I’ll add it to the Big List. It should definitely be there. One of the classics.

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Posted: 07 August 2007 08:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I did add it to the Big List.

But in my research, I discovered a major error in Wikipedia and other online sources. These claim that Webster’s 1828 dictionary used the aluminium spelling. This is incorrect. Noah includes only the aluminum spelling. Webster’s favoring of aluminum is undoubtedly the primary reason that this spelling caught on the the US.

The same sources tend to also claim that the Century Dictionary also favors the aluminium spelling. This is also incorrect, but in this case the 1889 dictionary lists both without preference.

Let this be a lesson in online research. Online sources will tend to copy one another, often neglecting to go back look at the original sources. Just because it is repeated often online does not mean that it is true.

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Posted: 08 August 2007 05:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Dave Wilton - 07 August 2007 08:37 PM

Let this be a lesson in online research. Online sources will tend to copy one another, often neglecting to go back look at the original sources. Just because it is repeated often online does not mean that it is true.

Say it ain’t so!

But seriously, why are you restricting this caveat to online research?  Old fashioned paper and ink research is the same way.  The main difference is that computers make the process of cutting and pasting easier.

The sad reality was brought home to me once I got serious about my early baseball research.  A great deal of the Received Truth dates back to rather bad early 20th century histories, and turns out to be largely bogus once you look at primary sources.  But even respectable academic histories repeat the old bogosities.

The good news is that the internet is making primary source research easier.  Various old newspapers are being digitized, and Google Books is my friend.  Even when it comes down to old fashioned microfilm work, having Worldcat available online makes life much easier.

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Posted: 08 August 2007 05:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I believe the problem is worse with online research. There’s a barrier to entry for getting something published in print (often not high enough, but it’s there). There is effectively none on the Internets. Add to that the ease with which one can cut and paste and suddenly bad information seems to be everywhere.

I recall my first research project as a defense contractor. I was studying energy consumption in North Korea. The project was being led by one of the foremost experts in North Korea (he had actually been there; which back in the 1980s was so unusual for an American to have almost been unique). I found that virtually all the sources had exactly the same estimates, which was a bit strange. There should have been some variation. I followed the trail of footnotes and in every single case all the sources eventually traced back to one--which had been written fifteen years earlier by the guy heading up my project. I brought the results to him and he said, “that’s what I thought; I just wanted you to see if anyone had anything new.”

I drew two conclusions:

1) Always read the footnotes and check those sources yourself.

2) Anyone who states a fact about North Korea is talking out his ass. (True in the 1980s; this may have changed somewhat since.)

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Posted: 08 August 2007 07:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I don’t disagree about the reduced barrier to entry, but I don’t see it as fundamentally different from olden days.  We have always had to assess the reliability of any source:  is this data from a peer reviewed journal article, or is it from a middle school textbook?

What the internets do is provide easy access to good-enough information.  That is the genius of Wikipedia:  not that it is reliable, but that it is reliable enough to be good enough for casual use.  The problem arises when people use it as if it were reliable enough for serious use.  We are in an adjustment period while people sort out what source is suitable for what purpose, but the problem is not new.

Bringing this back to the alumin(i)um question and language questions in general, there are piles of bad language books repeating bogus facts copied from previous bad language books.  In some instances these are not clearly identifiable as bad language books:  they are often put out by reputable publishers, and their authors have impressive lists of other publications.  This is a huge pitfall for the unwary.  This is much worse than the situation where someone tells me what Wikipedia says, since I know how much weight to give that.

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Posted: 08 August 2007 07:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I remember reading this one in Verbatim and it is now documented here:

http://www.snopes.com/language/mistakes/dord.asp

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