Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

You say tomato…

Big news, everyone! The website for our next symposium (Feb 22-23, in NYC) is now up and running, and those of you with any interest in chemical neurobiology (or chemical biology in general) should check out the program and/or register (because, while we will have more space than last year, we do anticipate that the spots will go quickly).

One thing that’s been interesting to notice in the meetings I’ve attended this year is the specific pronunciation of some scientific words. Some distinctions are more obvious than others, or can be more clearly traced to one group of people:

Ligand – pronounced ‘lih-gand’ by chemists and ‘lie-gand’ by biologists (in my experience, anyway)

Chromatography – my analytical professor in grad school took great delight in mocking the American pronunciation of ‘chroma-TAW-graphy’ as compared to his British version of ‘chro-MA-TA-graphy’

but the origin of the differences between other pronunciations seem more subtle. For example:

Artemisinin – can be pronounced ‘AR-temisinin’ or ‘arte-MIS-inin’

Sonogashira – I am more familiar with ‘so-NAH-gashira’ but recently heard ‘so-NO-gashira’

For many of the words in this second group, it seems that the pronunciations used must be closely tied with where a scientist received their training on the topic. It makes me think that an ambitious linguist would be able to determine many people’s scientific pedigree without prior knowledge of their training. Although, whether the end result would be of any interest is a separate question?? Perhaps it’s better to call the whole thing off.

Catherine (associate editor, Nature Chemical Biology)


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    Paul H said:

    I noticed a difference in going from Australia to the UK, when the methyl group changed from meh-thill to mee-thiyle (if you get my phonetics)

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    Stu said:

    Americans pronounce (and spell) a lot of words incorrectly (OK, differently perhaps), especially chem-related ones. The first time I heard an American talking about an azide, I had no idea what they were talking about, what’s a zid? Over on this side of the pond, it rhymes with ‘ride’…

    Let’s call the whole thing off…

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    Jordan said:

    Some differences I found between Canada and the USA: amine (AY-meen in Canada, uh-MEEN in the USA); capillary (ca-PILL-ary in Canada, CAP-ill-ary in the USA); plus a few others.

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    CN said:

    At least, technically all of the above words are correct. I have the misfortune of repeatedly mispronouncing “cer-A-mics” as “CER-a-mics” (unless that’s only incorrect here in the U.S.). Still, ‘tis embarrassing to be corrected in the pronunciation of one’s own field of study.

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    High School Latin student said:

    It is almost painful to hear English native speakers reading Latin words, such as those in Linnaean taxonomy. What are these “Ee col-I” and “Zeenopus” things? Pain gets even stronger when I have to use these forms of Latin, in order to make myself understood. On the other hand, often non-English speakers try to read any abbreviation as if it is originated from English, even when they might come from phrases in another language.