Elements: Symbols, Not Names, Are Universal

In the English language, the names of 88 of the 118 chemical elements end in ium or um. (one for each piano key!) The word-ending is derived from Latin and it denotes a metallic substance. It’s compatible with the fact that 80% of the Earth’s building blocks and synthesized elements are metals. The German and French languages also use the suffix but a little less frequently than English.

More noteworthy is that in the Italian language, which is the direct offspring of Latin spoken during the Roman Empire, the use of ium in naming the elements is non-existent. With the exception of manganese, nichel(nickel; there is no k in the Italian alphabet) and three of the seven noble gases ( argon, krypton and radon), the remaining 113 end in the letter o. In other words, they are no different from the multitude of masculine names than end with the same vowel: Allessio, Leonardo, Francesco, Danilo, Nicolo, Sandro, Tomasso, Federico, Giacomo, etc— all as if the elements were male soccer players!

Those fluent in Portuguese and Spanish may be upset because I have not yet mentioned that the elemental names in their languages mostly also end in o. But who was it that just won the Euros (2021) and then continued to extend their undefeated streak to 37 games? 🙂

Not to be too Eurocentric, in Hindi, a very common ending seems to be the equivalent of am or ama, as in:

हिलियम =hiliyam = helium
लिथियम = lithiyam= lithium
बेरिलियम =beriliyam = beryllium

कैलीफोर्नियम =kaileephorniyam =californium
आइन्स्टाइनियम = aainstainiyam = einsteinium

And in Arabic, the language of the culture that, for centuries, kept math and science viable while Europe dabbled in darkness, there is a ywm, yum or the straight-out ium equivalent of our um and ium.

هيليوم =hylywm = helium
ليثيوم=lithyum = lithium
بريليوم=brilyum =beryllium
نيوديميوم=nyudymywm = neodymium
بروميثيوم=brumithium = promethium