Aluminum– The famous silverish-white metal, a.k.a element number 13 on the periodic table. We all know it. We all love it- our earth’s most abundant metal.
This week we are here to not only receive a grammar lesson but also to address the elephant in the room- well, one of them anyway. During your studious adventure to become a material handing aficionado, you may have noticed something unusual. No, “aluminium” is not a typo.
But what is it? It’s simple. Aluminium is just another spelling for aluminum. Aluminum without that extra ‘I’ is the spelling used in North America. The spelling with that extra ‘I’ is the spelling used…well, everywhere outside of North America.
Why Both Spellings?
The truth is, the significance of both spellings is completely justifiable. Neither version of the word is superior to the other.
Aluminum is the older spelling of the word. Aluminium is the later spelling of the word, however, it is more consistent with the spelling of the elements that were discovered after aluminum. The element was discovered in 1825, and before then, not many elements ended in –ium. Before 1825, the discovered elements were copper, sulfur, silver, tin, lead, etc. Most of the elements discovered after 1825 had that –ium ending, such as helium, titanium, calcium, and lithium.
But there’s no sense in dropping that old spelling, because there are lots of –um elements such as platinum, tantalum, and molybdenum.
Who is to Blame?
English chemist Sir Humphry Davy is the one responsible for this confusion. He is to blame for both spellings. As a matter of fact, there was even a third spelling at one. The original spelling of the word was alumium. Sir Humphry then changed the spelling to aluminum, and then five years later changed the spelling to aluminium. His colleagues preferred the harmonious –ium ending. If you didn’t already know, Sir Humphry Davy is also responsible for naming potassium, sodium, and magnesium.
The American vs. British spelling differences are actually not uncommon. Here are a few more examples: