The Lingo Labyrinth: 5 Swedish Words You Already Know (Part 1): Chemistry
I thought I’d take a break from the Japanese words in English and switch over to Swedish ones, possibly inspired by my recent visit to the homeland. Betcha didn’t know there area whole slew of Swedish words we use in English too, didya? ^^
There’s not soooo many, but probably enough to help on Trivia Night, should the question ever come up. In that case, it’ll be your time to shine, you linguistic intellectuals, you!
Tungsten – This was my favorite element in chemistry class, and the source of many a terrible pun. This heavy metal literally translates to “heavy rock/stone”. Isn’t that just great? At this point, you’d think “Oh well that’s easy for the Swedes, since they came up with the name. Chemistry should be a cinch!” No, because someone had to go and be difficult. The name for the element tungsten is actually volfram in Swedish. “Whaaaaat?” I hear you say. For some reason or another, Scheelite (that’s an ore of tungsten) is called tungsten in Swedish, and the word volfram is used to distinguish the two. What’s even weirder is that using wolfram (with a w) instead of tungsten in English is perfectly acceptable. On top of that, the symbol on the periodic table is the letter “W”. Tungsten seems to be the preferred term among chemistry teachers, and I can only assume it’s because it rolls off the tongue more easily. And because of the puns. Oh, the puns.
Dynamite – From the Swedish word dynamit. Alfred Nobel was a Swede and invented the explosive stuff. ’nuff said. ….Actually, I tell a lie, that’s not all. Intellectual Swedes back in the day loved Latin and Greek, so the origin of the word comes from the Greek word dýnamis, which means “power”. Nobel initially sold it as “Nobel’s Blasting Powder”, but I guess that wasn’t as catchy. Or at least not as academic. Can you imagine patenting dynamite under the name “Nobel’s Blasting Power”? It sounds more like an infomercial product and less like anything that’s actually revolutionary… Another fun fact: there’s a lot of rock in Sweden. Like, a lot. Of the hard, grey kind. (Not just the electric guitar and loud drums sort.) So Nobel’s discovery was a true case of “necessity is the mother of invention”, because otherwise Swedes would have had a tough time building roads and railroads an’ all. (And that obviously would have sucked.)
Angstrom – Actually ångström in Swedish, which presents a whole new world of pronunciation issues that I won’t go into much detail on. (Think ong-struhm and you’ll be close enough.) It’s the measurement of 0.1 nanometers, which is one ten-billionth of a meter. My head is spinning already. Suffice to say, it’s a very, very small unit of measurement. The guy who came up with this was named Anders Jonas Ångström, and shamelessly used his surname to label his initially off-by-a-mile (relatively speaking, since he got the calculations wrong at first and when you’re dealing with 0.1 nanometers I’m assuming anything larger or smaller is a big deal) measurement.* Well, pride comes before a fall they say, and it seems that the International System of Units (yup, that’s a thing!) doesn’t recognise ångström as a formal contender on that list. Burrrrrn. Don’t worry, the Mr. Ångström has plenty of other accomplishments to show off about, though, perhaps not named after himself. Awww.
* Obviously it’s common practice to stick your name to discoveries in the world of scienceーand I’m quite sure one motivation factor to keep on experimenting. ^^
Nickel – A shiny metal (and known as the element “Ni” on the Periodic Tableーinsert Monty Python jokes hereー) that was often confused with silver, until Axel Fredrik Cronstedt came along and showed everyone what’s what. He named the metal “nickel” after a mythological German spriteーsurprisingly called Nickel (gasp1)ーthat lived in mines and was a bit of a jerk I’m told. The not-so nicely named metal has since then been used prolifically due to its ductile properties and slow oxidation rate. It has been used in both industry and consumer goods such as magnets, rechargeable batteries, electric guitar strings and coins (and now those hailing from the US know where the name for their 5 cent coin comes from!). However, due to many individuals being sensitive to the substance (including myself), the use of nickel in coins and jewelry (especially earrings for pierced ears) has been reduced, and at least in the EU is heavily regulated. (Yay for me, less so for that awful sprite.)
Ammonia – This not very pleasant smelling gas was coined by Swedish chemist Torbern Bergman, and named for the Greek ammoniakon, which means “belonging to Ammon”. Bergman had extracted said gas from salt deposits containing ammonium chloride that were found near a temple dedicated to Jupiter Ammon, in Libya. Random fun fact: The English Wikipedia article describes ammonia as a “colorless gas with a pungent smell”. This is true enough, but if we looks at the Swedish article and translate it we get “a colorless gas with a strong biting odor, reminiscent of old urine.” Sorry, but I think the Swedish version wins points for accuracy here, albeit doing so a bit graphically. Actually, while researching for this part I found a whole wealth of information about urine, that I will probably not be sharing on this blog, ever. Although you should never say never…
10 more words from Scandinavia all compiled in this handy video, made by the Swedish Lad.
General knowledge (what with being Swedish)
Brain pickings from friends