Thursday, March 20, 2014

Crane nomenclature borrowing from equine nomenclature

Female cranes are known as mares, male cranes are known as roans and the chicks are known as colts [1,2].

Commonly, the term mare is associated with an adult female horse. The term roan refers to a particular color pattern—a mixture of white and color (for example, white or gray sprinkles on a brown coat)—found in animals such as horses and dogs. A horse showing this coat color pattern is called a roan. 

Somehow, these terms made it from the equine into crane terminology. Alex Shoumatoff notes (page 59 in [2]):

For some reason crane nomenclature is borrowed from horse terms. A mother crane is called a mare, the dads are roans. The terminology sounds like it was created out West.

Keywords: biology, ornithology, terminology, male, female.

References and more to explore
[1] Kachemak Crane Watch: SandHill Cranes, August 20, 2008 [].
[2] Alex Shoumatoff: Flight Club. Smithsonian March 2014, 44 (11), pp. 54-67.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The three- and four-syllable version of a chemical element name: alumin(i)um

Common ores of the metal aluminum are bauxite and alumina. The English chemist and inventor Sir Humphry Davy christened the metal, which he tried to isolate, after alumina. In 1807, he named the chemical element alumium and then changed the name to aluminum [1,2].  To conform with the “ium” ending of most elements, the name aluminium was adopted in 1812, after an anonymous reviewer objected Davy's naming suggestion in the Quarterly Review. But the reviewer forgot about platinum, molybdenum and tantalum—elements with names that also ended in “um”, like aluminum, without a leading letter “i” [2].

Hugh Aldersey-Williams has more to say about the spelling episode of alumin(i)um [2]:

America and France may have pioneered the development of aluminium, but they disagreed over its spelling. Even the great editor H. L. Mencken is at loss to explain this. In the American Language he is forced to confess: ‘How aluminium, in America, lost its fourth syllable I have been unable to determine, but all American authorities now make it aluminum and all English authorities stick to aluminium.’ Other sources suggest it may have been the doing of Charles Hall. The patents he took out while his commercial publicity material touted the merits of  ‘aluminum’, whether by intent or typographical error is not known. The shorter word spread and stuck in the United States; in France, Britain and the rest of Europe, the extra syllable remained.

The extra syllable was also around in the U.S. until 1925 [1]. Then the American Chemical Society officially decided to use the name aluminum in their publications. Ever since, scientists and engineers are doomed to live with a dual spelling policy for alumin(i)um—switching between aluminum and aluminium depending on which journals they read and where they publish. Fortunately, the element symbol Al is undisputed!

Keywords: chemical element, renaming, history, orthography, typography.

References and more to explore
[1] David R. Lide (Editor): Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. CRC Press, Boca Raton, 88th Edition 2007-2008; page 4-3.
[2] Hugh Aldersey-Williams: Periodic Tales: a cultural history of the elements, from arsenic to zinc. Harper-Collins Publisher, New York, NY 10022, 2011; page 260 [ tales].

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The aluminum-ore bauxite, named after the village of Les Baux in Provence, France

Les Baux is a small town near St. Reny in the Bouches-du-Rhône department of the province of Provence in southwest France. Les Baux-de-Provence, as this beautiful and scenic village is often named, is a listed heritage site located in the heart of the Alpilles regional country park [1]. Near Les Baux, the ore bauxite was first discovered in 1821 by the geologist Pierre Berthier [2]. In 1847, Armand Dufrénoy named the ore beauxite. In 1861, Henri Sainte-Claire Deville, who discovered a method to separate kilogram amounts of aluminum from the ore's Al-containing constituents böhmite (γ-AlO(OH)), diaspore (α-AlO(OH)) and gibbsite (Al(OH)3), renamed the ore to bauxite [3].

Hugh Aldersey-Williams summarizes the isolation of aluminum (moniker: silver from clay) from bauxite and the metal's usefulness in his Periodic Tales as follows [4]:

This now ubiquitous material—as vital to us as steel and more visible than any of the metals known in antiquity—was only isolated as recently as the 1820s, and it was not until the 1850s that an even remotely commercial way was found to separate it from its ore, bauxite, named after Les Baux in Provence, where it is still possible to see the bleached quarry works on the hill above the town. The process developed by Henri Sainte-Claire Deville in Paris involved heating compounds of aluminium with sodium metal, which was itself exceptionally hard to obtain, and this made his aluminium hugely expensive. Though it scarcely seems credible now, aluminium was hailed as a new precious metal to be placed along with gold and silver—its sheer cost and exoticism compensating for its low density and diffuse shine—and it was worked and flaunted in ways that reflected this status.

Today, the sound of the ore name bauxite can be recognized in many languages—with language-specific variations mostly limited to spelling:
  • Danish: bauxit
  • Dutch: bauxiet
  • Finnish: bauksiitti
  • German: Bauxit
  • Italian: bauxite
  • Polish: boksyt
  • Portuguese: bauxita (or bauxite)
  • Spanish: bauxita

Keywords: mineral name, renaming, place name, locality, aluminium ore, aluminum ore, quarry works, metallurgy, mining, history.

References and more to explore
[1] Les Beaux-de-Provence: One of the most beautiful villages in France [].
[2] Fact Index: Bauxite [].
[3] alu: Bauxite & alumina history [].
[4] Hugh Aldersey-Williams: Periodic Tales: a cultural history of the elements, from arsenic to zinc. Harper-Collins Publisher, New York, NY 10022, 2011; page 255 [ tales].