Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style/Archive (chemical names)

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Spelling of scientific words (sulphate/sulfate)

The current guide says (under "scientifc style"):

In articles about chemicals and chemistry, use IUPAC names for chemicals wherever possible, except in article titles, where the common name should be used if different, followed by mention of the IUPAC name.

This is OK (I guess) but recently we have had a round of edit war followed by inconclusive (rather thin) discussion over at Talk:Global_warming#Standards_.26_Chemical_names over whether this policy applies to science articles in general, or just (as the policy above appears to say) for chemical names. I'm introducing the discussion here in the hope of getting some more opinions.

I would like to propose that the policy above be modified to include:

note that this policy applies strictly to articles whose main concern is chemistry, and not to science articles only peripherally concerned with chemistry, in which case the std wiki policy applies..

or somesuch. You might think that unneccessary, but see the discussion on the t:GW (William M. Connolley 18:49, 13 Oct 2004 (UTC)).

"Sulfur" will be acceptable the day "telefone" is. The same day Hell freezes over. Chameleon 18:56, 13 Oct 2004 (UTC)
To you perhaps. But "phantasy" is now an archaic spelling. [[User:Poccil|Peter O. (Talk)]] 19:18, Oct 13, 2004 (UTC)

Google hits:

Search pattern   All languages   English only
sulfur               1,760,000      1,130,000
sulphur              1,560,000        978,000
sulfur -sulphur      1,130,000      1,050,000
sulphur -sulfur        967,000        913,000

The form sulfur is currently at least acceptable to a large number of people (as is sulphur), however unacceptable it might be to one individual here. That's fact. And of course many who use sulfur in some contexts are quite willing to accept sulphur in others, and vice versa, or willing to accept both evenly, or don't care much at all, or follow their own preferences in their own writing and don't mind others doing the same. Jallan 20:41, 13 Oct 2004 (UTC)

Please please please. DO NOT use Google to try to prove any point about usage. Google only proves a point about usage on the Internet, and as there are probably more English web pages based in the United States than in the rest of the World put together, it proves little about usage in general. This should really be posted somewhere prominent, indeed there should probably be a Wikipedia namespace article on it. Mintguy (T) 23:04, 13 Oct 2004 (UTC)
I will continue to use Google to see what it says on usage issues. I don't always follow it, but it's often better than "my usage is usually normal so whatever I normally do must be the norm." What is the best spelling to use for a name that occurs in different spellings in different sources? Sometimes Google shows the opposite to what I think it should as to what the standard form should be. Sometimes further thought and research indicates that Google is probably correct. Sometimes there are good counter-arguments against what Google seems to claim. But Google can show, as in this case, that two different spellings are both widely accepted. I totally agree that in this case the ratio between the figures is not to be trusted. But Google is a useful tool for usage when, like all such tools, it is used with care and not used exclusively. Jallan 01:00, 14 Oct 2004 (UTC)
I agree with your conclusion in this case, but not your argument. Certain clear misspellings that would never be considered acceptable any time soon still remain popular, as evidenced by their many thousands of Google hits. Here are some simple examples:
  • cigarete (28,700 hits)
  • lvoe (14,500 hits)
  • copyrihgt (8,110 hits)
  • tonw (3,150 hits)
Derrick Coetzee 15:44, 14 Oct 2004 (UTC)
It can be useful tool when there isn't a USA vs. rest of the world debate going on and more generally when it used with an understanding that simply comparing hit counts doesn't always tell you anything useful. I agree with Derrick and was going to make the same point myself. In addition, I remember some time ago someone stating that out article on the Ardennes Offensive should be called "Battle of the Bulge" because of the huge hit count, ignoring the fact that "battle of the bulge" +diet gets almost as many hits as "battle of the bulge" +germans. Mintguy (T) 17:46, 14 Oct 2004 (UTC)
(William M. Connolley 20:57, 13 Oct 2004 (UTC)) What you say is true, but besides the point. I'm not arguing for a policy of spelling (for example) sul(f|ph)ur as sulphur in all articles, only that the std policy - in general, of spelling being left as with the originator of the article - be accepted to apply to all articles except those strictly concerned about chemistry. Note that there are exceptions: direction quotations should go with the original (hence I reverted the 1955 nobel for chemistry back to sulphur).
This was also discussed recently in the Darbot registration section of Wikipedia talk:Bots. Rmhermen 21:01, Oct 13, 2004 (UTC)
My comment and Google results were mostly pointed at User:Chameleon's odd point. But on the main issue, I can't see that the suggested addition would help. It would only move debate to the exact meaning of peripherally. Personally, I'm for scientific terms in scientific articles where they don't obscure meaning, and certainly sulfur doesn't obscure the meaning as a replacement for sulphur. (Where a new term that might be new to many would possibly obscure meaning, use both terms. An encyclopedia should inform.) But even if the new clause was included by consensus, I'd still feel that the global warming article was more than peripherally connected with chemistry. Accordingly, the proposed addition would accomplish nothing. If anything, the current clause should be strengthened. It seems to me odd to suggest that an article on chemisty should use sulfur while an article on atomic physics might not. Jallan 21:10, 13 Oct 2004 (UTC)
(William M. Connolley 21:40, 13 Oct 2004 (UTC)) I disagree with you over the chemical content of GW. The current policy *is* that a chemistry article should spell it sulfur but a physics article should spell it as the originator left it. I'm asking for that to be clarified.
I don't think the suggested additional words clarify. That is, anyone who believed that sulfur should be substituted for sulphur because the article was concerned with chemistry would say that same even if the new wording was added. Similarly, anyone who disagreed because they felt the article was not sufficiently concerned with chemistry would also still disagree. I don't care very much myself about the standards in this case. After all, sulphur, sulfur: it's the same thing. But my opinion is the suggested addition wouldn't help. Jallan 23:05, 13 Oct 2004 (UTC)

"I would like to propose that the policy above be modified to include: note that this policy applies strictly to articles whose main concern is chemistry, and not to science articles only peripherally concerned with chemistry, in which case the std wiki policy applies.. "

Please do not insert this shortsighted, hasty and completely unnecessary clause in the style manual. Can you imagine the edit wars that will be created by such a thing? Each and every article dealing with chemistry in any way will have one. We've already had a war on Global warming because Connolley thinks that it is only slightly related to chemistry

(William M. Connolley 15:26, 15 Oct 2004 (UTC)) At this point, you've blown your case.

and therefore should remain exempt from IUPAC nomenclature (Vsmith and I disagree with that completely). Wikipedia should strive to attain the maximum amount of standardization between all articles, and especially SCIENCE articles, as possible. I wish to stress again, this is NOT a USA vs. whatever argument here, this is an international standard.--Deglr6328 23:13, 14 Oct 2004 (UTC)

(William M. Connolley 15:26, 15 Oct 2004 (UTC)) You can say that this isn't a USA-issue as often as you like, but it won't make it true.
Mr Connolley, please read the note I quoted below from from [World Wide Words], it is a British site and they are going along with IUPAC. Read it and stop your personal attacks and silly posts please. -Vsmith 16:09, 15 Oct 2004 (UTC)

The issue has been discussed in Wikipedia:WikiProject Science and the following is the reccomendation there:

In the interest of consistency and clarity the IUPAC standard should be used for chemical names in all science articles. Alternative spellings should be referenced in addition, especially when dealing with regional issues and historical development.
The IUPAC currently recommends:
  • Aluminium instead of aluminum
  • Caesium instead of cesium
  • Sulfur instead of sulphur

-Vsmith 22:27, 13 Oct 2004 (UTC)

(William M. Connolley 15:26, 15 Oct 2004 (UTC)) You kind of forgot that you wrote that in on 10th Oct yourself. Probably just an oversight I imagine.
No, I didn't write it. It was there for discussion. I moved it to and adopted it as the policy for the science group. Check before making accusations - it is there in the history. I'm getting tired of these chidish rants with no substance. -Vsmith 16:09, 15 Oct 2004 (UTC)
Being from the US, I'm fond of the crazy aluminum spelling, but the IUPAC guidelines seem like the best way of keeping things consistent, and, as a bonus, strike a balance between the major dialects. I wholeheartedly support the recommendation above. Factitious 18:24, Oct 15, 2004 (UTC)

User:William M. Connolley has launched an edit and revert attack on the Wikipedia:WikiProject Science page in an obvious attempt to be disruptive and obscure the points made here. I am asking him to stop and engage in serious discussion. -Vsmith 17:20, 15 Oct 2004 (UTC)

I am proposing that the current guide under scientific style:
In articles about chemicals and chemistry, use IUPAC names for chemicals wherever possible, except in article titles, where the common name should be used if different, followed by mention of the IUPAC name.
be modified to reflect the Wikipedia:WikiProject Science recommendation above, as follows.

In the interest of consistency and clarity the IUPAC standard for chemical names and spellings should be followed in all science and science related articles, except in article titles, where the common name of a compound should be used if different, followed by mention of the IUPAC name. Alternative terminology and spellings should be referenced in addition when dealing with historical development and some local or regional issues.
-Vsmith 22:41, 14 Oct 2004 (UTC)

(William M. Connolley 15:26, 15 Oct 2004 (UTC)) Stongly disagree.
Suggest providing at least one example of how a IUPAC name would follow a common name in an article title. I can't figure out exactly what is required and don't think this should be required. A REDIRECT with the IUPAC spelling would probably be better. Also, the Wikipedia Style Manual recommends against the use of the word "alternative" in this kind of context. See Wikipedia:Manual_of_Style#Usage and spelling. Change to "Variant" here? The phrase "should be referenced" combined with "some local or regional issues" is confusing. The "should" is negated by the "some". Perhaps a better last sentence would be:

Variant terminology and spellings may also be used in addition to IUPAC recommendations where appropriate, for example in direct quotations and close paraphrases, in historical discussions, when treating local or regional issues, and for general clarification.

Jallan 13:54, 15 Oct 2004 (UTC)
Thanks for the pointers. I was not really happy with my wording of the last part. And the redirect idea is better and more consistent.-Vsmith 15:07, 15 Oct 2004 (UTC)


How about spelling out IUPAC on first reference? I never heard of it before I came to Wikipedia. Maurreen 04:07, 15 Oct 2004 (UTC)

(William M. Connolley 11:35, 15 Oct 2004 (UTC)) Interior Unit for the Promotion of American Cpelling?
Must you be so obnoxious here? Please stop this nonsense. Don't drag the legitimate disagreement we're having here into ad-hominems and underhanded jabs. The IUPAC has adopted what are traditionally British spellings for many other things, see: aluminium, caesium etc. and no one here, except you it seems, really cares a whit about such a petty thing anyway. --Deglr6328 17:46, 15 Oct 2004 (UTC)

Follow the links here IUPAC
The following quote is from [World Wide Words], (read the whole article for a good and humorous perspective on the issue):

Nobody is suggesting British people change these spellings for all purposes, only when using them in scientific contexts. The Royal Society of Chemistry rushed out a press release the next day to support the QCA, pointing out that standardisation is especially important for ease of communication (like looking things up in databases, for example, where variant versions of common terms are a bugbear). The Society added that standard chemical nomenclature already specifies the f forms of words like sulfur following agreement by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) in 1990.
-Vsmith 12:02, 15 Oct 2004 (UTC)

It is not just a case of making the British change. Americans would have to use "aluminium". I would be happy with this, though perhaps it should be only rigorously enforced in technical and scientific articles; how many Americans would remember to use "aluminium foil" in a cookery article! -- Chris Q 13:58, 15 Oct 2004 (UTC)
Couldn't agree more. Almost all of the "pure science" articles already use "aluminium" but some others about capacitors, rocket engines and whatnot still use the old spelling and should be changed. Next on the list. Cooking articles though will be ok as is and exempt from the changes as per the manual of style dictates.--Deglr6328 17:46, 15 Oct 2004 (UTC)
There. I just did like 20 aluminum-->aluminium fixing edits [1]. Are you satisfied that this is not a "US thing" now Mr. Connolley?--Deglr6328 08:02, 17 Oct 2004 (UTC)
Is there somewhere on the IUPAC website where these spelling preferences are listed? I'm all in favor of international standards and this seems like a very good solution, but if we are going to go by the IUPAC standard, we should be able to point to what it is. The best I could find were [2] (PDF) and [3], both of which list sulfur, but each lists aluminum and cesium as alternate spellings. Where is the "standard"? It seems like aluminium and caesium are only just barely marginally preferable in the IUPAC recommendations. [[User:Aranel|Aranel ("Sarah")]] 19:11, 15 Oct 2004 (UTC)
Info is hard to find it seems in the vast IUPAC list of reports, the Wikipedia:WikiProject Science page (that has been essentially vandalized by one of the parties here) has a link that does list it. Note - it may be a draft version. -Vsmith 20:43, 15 Oct 2004 (UTC)
Here's that link (PDF). For aluminium and caesium, alternative spellings of aluminum and cesium are said to be "commonly used". No alternative spelling is listed for "sulfur". Obviously this is only talking about scientific usage of the term. I think that the goal to follow IUPAC for naming of chemical elements and compounds in all scientific articles is laudable and correct. (Even if I do hate "aluminium", if only because it ruins an old cartoon where the aliens came from the aluminum planet "Munimula".) However, the original problem came up more because of definition of "what is a science article", which is a lot harder to judge. (Personally, I'd think global warming falls into that category, but one of the main contributors feels that it doesn't, or at least that it has little to do with chemistry, so that the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry has nothing to say to him in this context. But I can't see a different standard for physics and biology as compared to chemistry, either.
As regards the policy, I'd personally support the Vsmith formulation with the Jallan codicil. Mpolo 07:44, Oct 17, 2004 (UTC)
Should, in accordance with this rule on using IUPAC nomenclature, all instances (bar in article titles perhaps) of ethylene be changed into ethene, or glycerine/glycerol into 1,2,3-propanetriol (propane-1,2,3-triol?), or lecithin into phosphatidylcholine, or even sulphuric acid into sulfuric(VI) acid? All these are standardised systematic names which should be adhered to, but are evidently not. There is no reason that I can see to limit the rule to element names. If this rule should not apply to such names, then there is no reason to bastardise sulphur, either. I'd much rather go with the 'we accept all variant spellings' attitude ... —Sinuhe 14:06, 17 Oct 2004 (UTC)
Yes. Standardize and also include the common or more familiar name, such as glycerine and lecithin for clarity when the IUPAC name is drastically different or unfamiliar. Sulfur like aluminium is clear and not drastically different nor unfamiliar. I don't think the oxidation state (VI) is needed in sulfuric acid, hmm.. is that from IUPAC? Sulfur(IV) oxide and sulfur(VI) oxide are recommended for SO2 and SO3 although the di- and tri- prefixes are still commonly used. I'll have to check rhe nomenclature for polyatomic ions & acids. -Vsmith 15:12, 17 Oct 2004 (UTC)
As far as I know, unless you make the distinction sulphuric acid = H2SO4 and sulphurous acid = H2SO3 (as Wikipedia appears to be doing, of course not in keeping with IUPAC), then the former is sulphuric(VI) acid and the latter sulphuric(IV) acid.
Disregarding for the moment whether or not the IUPAC recommends using oxidation states in acids, the IUPAC would not recommend "sulphuric (X) acid", it would recommend "sulfuric (X) acid"
Darrien 22:02, 2004 Oct 17 (UTC)
And your point is? I did write sulfuric(VI) acid when giving the 'standard' name above; this has been merely discussing oxidisation states using spellings which I am more comfortable with. —Sinuhe 17:21, 18 Oct 2004 (UTC)
I think the article on glycerol would very quickly become less readable if 1,2,3-propanetriol was used in excess ...
We aren't talking about changing common chemical names to be consistant with IUPAC nomenclature. We're talking about changing the names of three chemical elements to the IUPAC recommended spelling.
Darrien 22:02, 2004 Oct 17 (UTC)
And just why should the three chemical elements be an exception to the 'variety of spelling' if nothing else need be consistent with IUPAC nomenclature? According to the proposed wording, all substances would be required to be named according to IUPAC. —Sinuhe 17:21, 18 Oct 2004 (UTC)
But what is more, if both sulphur and aluminum are, as you say, clear and would be easily understood, I really don't see the point in standardisation; it would not be any more useful than standardising Wikipedia as a whole to one brand of English.
Why would standardizing Wikipedia to one dialect not be useful?
Darrien 22:02, 2004 Oct 17 (UTC)
Read through the archives of the Manual of Style discussion for the various US/UK debates. It would, above all, be difficult to convince everyone upon which brand to standardise. —Sinuhe 17:21, 18 Oct 2004 (UTC)
That IUPAC should be able to prescribe English usage just because it is some international organisation is blasphemous;
That statement is absurd. Equating the use or misuse of a language to blaphemy is something I would only expect a hard-line nationalist to say. Nationalists are frowned upon here, if you want to be taken seriously, I suggest that you word your sentences carefully so you don't send a false impression.
Darrien 22:02, 2004 Oct 17 (UTC)
Exactly who said that nationalists are frowned upon here? And what connexion is there between being taken seriously and seeming nationalistic? Judge arguments and don't read between the lines.
Either way, however, I see no correlation between calling language prescription by some organisation blasphemous and nationalism. Have you ever heard of something called 'hyperbolic effect'?
No organisation can tell me how I should spell (unless I wish them to publish something I have written, perhaps). English has no academy to regulate spelling and grammar, and as a result, no one has definite say on how something should be spelt. And this 'no one' doesn't include IUPAC, either.
If you don't want to send a false impression and wish to word your sentences carefully, perhaps you ought to look at what a 'run-on sentence' is. —Sinuhe 17:21, 18 Oct 2004 (UTC)
so long that either word is standard English use, it should be dealt with exactly the same as any other regional variation: leave it the way the original author spelt it, or harmonise it with the article if written in another form of English.
Why? If one spelling is used predominantly, if not exclusively, in the field it is most associated with, why shouldn't we use that version?
Darrien 22:02, 2004 Oct 17 (UTC)
Sulphur is the predominant spelling in Commonwealth English, even in most of the published works in the sciences (almost all of my British chemistry books have sulphur with ph). And you are free to use your favoured version; just don't force it on others. —Sinuhe 17:21, 18 Oct 2004 (UTC)
The rule about diversity in spelling is not only quite firmly ingrained in the project, but also exists for a reason: namely, amongst others, to prevent edit wars (sometimes unsuccessfully, but nevertheless). Renaming substances with the superficial reason of standardisation
It sounds like you think that this is some kind of conspiracy. Again, something I would only expect a nationalist, and a quite paranoid one at that, to say.
Darrien 22:02, 2004 Oct 17 (UTC)
Your expectations seem to be rather wrong. Perhaps you should like to give them a rethink. —Sinuhe 17:21, 18 Oct 2004 (UTC)
with IUPAC nomenclature is, I think, hurting standardisation of articles to one variety of English,
It wouldn't be "hurting standardization" to an internationally accepted variety of English, would it?
Darrien 22:02, 2004 Oct 17 (UTC)
Are you claiming that neither Commonwealth nor American English is internationally accepted? And why are you placing 'hurting standardization' in quotes? It is not something I have written, so they must be 'scare quotes': why? —Sinuhe 17:21, 18 Oct 2004 (UTC)
and is bound to result, as evident from this very discussion, in ill will and resentment.
Whilst it is perfectly in order for sulphur to be under sulfur, caesium under caesium and aluminium under aluminium, there is no compelling reason to change the spelling in non-related articles, even if they are connected to science. Searchability is a problem either way, since most people who know one type of English will think their word should be the standard. Again, there seems to be little need to standardise merely in the sciences, and IUPAC may not be the proper standardisation body anyway. Why not standardise on the OED and go with sulphur and aluminium?
Because the OED favors one dialect more than the IUPAC? Because "sulphur" is etymologically wrong?
Darrien 22:02, 2004 Oct 17 (UTC)
You mean, because the IUPAC favours American English? ('Aluminium' is, after all, merely bringing the name to match the others ending in '-ium'.)
What etymology has with the spelling of sulphur is beyond me. Many words are spelt differently in English than in the language they come from. Besides, according to the COD, 'Latin sulfur, sulp(h)ur', which appears to suggest both forms were (and are) used in Latin.
When English spelling stabilised towards the beginning of the 17th century, sulphur was invariably spelt with ph until Noah Webster came along. And mind you, this was not standardisation as per etymology: you will doubtless agree that Webster often replaced the etymologically 'correct' form with another one ('deflexion' -> 'deflection'). —Sinuhe 17:21, 18 Oct 2004 (UTC)
It is, after all, considered to be closest to something which might be termed an authority on English (and no, I'm not actually proposing that, but IUPAC as standard is, in a way, not very neutral). —Sinuhe 20:09, 17 Oct 2004 (UTC)
How is the IUPAC standard not neutral?
Darrien 22:02, 2004 Oct 17 (UTC)
It is not neutral because it is the view of one particular organisation; to standardise on it means supporting this organisation's viewpoint in this issue. Ipso facto: not a completely neutral point of view if done knowingly.
In the end, I don't really care which term anyone in particular uses. I know I shall continue to use the one I am familiar with. However, that one should abide by IUPAC spelling when talking about elements and not in other standard nomenclature is rather two-faced and, in effect, purposeless. —Sinuhe 17:21, 18 Oct 2004 (UTC)

Quoting from IUPAC as an example:
...the use of the word 'acid' in any new name in inorganic nomenclature is discouraged. However, a number of the existing 'acid' names are so commonly used (sulfuric acid, perchloric acid, etc.) that it would be unrealistic to suggest replacing them altogether by systematic alternatives. Another reason to include them in the present recommendations is that the acids in question are used as parent structures in the nomenclature of certain organic (i.e. carbon-containing) derivatives so that the derivative names are directly or indirectly based on the names containing the word 'acid'. IUPAC pdf
Again the standards should be used whenever possible to avoid ambiguity. As the above note indicates sulfuric acid is valid. But, the ph version which instigated this debate is not. The IUPAC is an international group, neutral is irrelevant - standardization is relevant. And the standards are being adopted by British as well as American chemists. -Vsmith 03:40, 19 Oct 2004 (UTC)

Wider audience?

Maybe it would be good to invite people interested in chemistry to the discussion. Maurreen 22:12, 17 Oct 2004 (UTC)

They already are. Vsmith is a participant at Wikipedia:WikiProject Science, and I am a participant at Wikipedia:WikiProject Chemistry.
Darrien 22:26, 2004 Oct 17 (UTC)
Well, in that case, I'll go back to my regularly scheduled programming. :) Maurreen 22:51, 17 Oct 2004 (UTC)
What now? -Vsmith 23:39, 1 Nov 2004 (UTC)
If you want to pick up the discusion again, it'd probably good to do it at the main style guide talk page. You can move this discussion back there if you want. Maurreen 07:06, 5 Nov 2004 (UTC)