Chemistry Names

Subject: my book says
Date: 5 Feb 2000 13:32:09 -0500
From: zucker@csli.stanford.edu (Joshua Zucker)
Organization: Forum news/mail gateway
Newsgroups: geometry.college

One thing I learned much to my dismay is that the IUPAC standards for naming chemicals goes

methane
ethane
propane
butane

which are just idiomatic, but then

pentane
hexane
heptane
octane
nonane

Should it be either sex- and sept-, or ennea-? Mixing hex/hept with non is bad. But this is the standard adopted by the international committee!

I guess the real lesson is that we should just call them 5ane, 6ane, 7ane, 8ane, 9ane, ... and avoid all these kinds of mistakes.

--Joshua Zucker

Subject: Re: my book says
Date: 5 Feb 2000 16:05:07 -0500
From: masunaga@hawaii.edu (David Masunaga)
Organization: Forum news/mail gateway
Newsgroups: geometry.college

The fact that these words have entered the international scientific vocabulary makes word origins difficult to trace, especially the saturated hydrocarbons (-anes). The suffix for the unsaturated carbons (-enes) is of Greek origin, while other chemical compound suffixes like -ine is of Latin origin, and -one is perhaps Greek. Therefore, it may be idiomatic that there may be some inconsistency about the prefixes! And by the way, the eleven-carbon saturated hydrocardon is known as "UNdecane"...

Of course, the standard answer I've actually heard from several mathematicians with regard to IUPAC's inconsistent nomenclature is, "What do you expect from a group of chemists!"

aloha,
dave masunaga

Iolani School
Honolulu HI 96826

Subject: Re: my book says
Date: 6 Feb 2000 13:19:18 -0500
From: conway@math.Princeton.EDU (John Conway)
Organization: Forum news/mail gateway
Newsgroups: geometry.college

I think the correct thing to say here is that "chemistry is exempt" from the traditional proscription of macaronic words, and has been for a long time. The reason is that their system forces them to add fixed suffices to words that have many different origins. For example the "but" in "butane" comes through "butyric acid" from the Latin for "butter", but the "alk" in "alkane" is from "alcohol", which is a corrpution of the Arabic "al kuhl". (The suffix "ane" seems to have been a pure invention)

The choice of the number prefixes was deliberately made after some discussion - so at least they were aware what they were doing! JHC

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