Popular Science Monthly/Volume 41/September 1892/Changes in Chemical and Geographical Words

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search



"HOW do you pronounce quinine?" is a question that is often asked, and, unless the person appealed to is unusually dogmatic, the answer is never decisive. Webster's International Dictionary gives three forms as being in good use — namely, kwī'nīn, kwǐ'nīn, and kwǐnēn; the Century Dictionary gives two of these and a fourth form, kwǐn'ēn, kǐnēn', and kwī'nīn; while a fifth variant is found in Stormonth, which has only kwǐn'īn and kwǐnīn. Physicians and chemists, from having to use this word oftener than the general public, have been more annoyed by the conflicting pronunciations. Other words that have troubled the chemists are the names of the halogens, some pronouncing them chlō'rǐn, brō'mǐn, ī'ōdǐn, and flū'ōrǐn, while others said chlō'rēn, etc. A more serious difficulty is the liability to mistake certain substances for others, from the close likeness of whole classes of names, both when spoken and when written. This occurs with the chlorīdes and the chlorītes, also with the sulphīdes and the sulphītes. In order to do away with these difficulties, a proposition for a revision of the spelling and pronunciation of chemical terms was made in the Chemical Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at the annual meeting in 1887. Accordingly, a committee to make such a revision was appointed, and made its final report at the meeting of 1891. This report says:

During the past four years, your committee has sought to obtain from the members of this section, from leading American philologists, and from American chemists in general, an exhaustive and thoroughly representative expression of opinion on the questions coming within the scope of its commission, which has been essentially the attainment of uniformity in the orthography and pronunciation of the terms used in our science.

Three preliminary reports were distributed to American chemists in the years 1889, 1890, and 1891, inviting extended criticism and suggestion. The substance of the replies to these was carefully digested and submitted to the Chemical Section each year for detailed discussion and decision. The present and final report of your committee embodies the results of these four years of correspondence and discussion, as completed by the sectional action at the present meeting of the Association. It is presented in the hope that all chemists, especially those engaged in teaching, will cordially unite in the effort to bring about the desired uniformity in usage.

The reasons for the adoption of a few more radical changes in our nomenclature are to be found in the report for 1890. Those specially interested in the subject who have not attended the recent sessions of the Association may freely correspond with individual members of the committee, who will gladly furnish more detailed explanation of the principles involved.

The following summary of rules is not to be regarded as final. Your committee recognize the fact that, after a fair trial for a decade or even less, certain modifications will in all probability be generally regarded as desirable.

In conclusion, the committee express their sincere thanks to their many colleagues throughout the land, who have so promptly and fully responded to the successive requests for data, suggestions, and opinions.

(Signed)   T. H. Norton,
Edward Hart,
H. Carrington Bolton,  
James Lewis Howe.

Among the decisions of the committee (all being accepted by the Chemical Section) is to sound the i short in the names of the halogens, and the spelling is changed by dropping the final e, so as better to indicate this pronunciation: thus, chlorin, bromin, etc. The "pentalemma" of quinine is conquered by adopting a sixth pronunciation kwǐ'nǐn and the final e is dropped, making the spelling quinin. Similar treatment is accorded to anilin, morphin, glycerin, cocain, etc. The similarity between -ide and -ite is removed by changing the former to -ĭd, giving chlorid, bromid, oxid, etc.

Polysyllables in the metric system are regarded as compound words, each part with its own accent; thus, not centi'meter, but cen'time"ter. The spellings aluminum and asbestos displace aluminium and asbestus; gramme is preferred to gram (probably to avoid confusion with grain in indistinct handwriting); al'kalǐne retains the long i and its final e; al'loy, both as noun and as verb, is accented on the first syllable; and apparā'tus does duty in both the singular and the plural numbers. Quan'tiva"lence, ū'niva"lent, etc., have both a primary and a secondary accent, as has no'mencla"ture. A few more preferred pronunciations are con'centra"ted, mǒl'ecule, mǒlĕc'ular, and ǎldehȳde; both crystallĭn and crystallīne are accepted. Probably the boldest change in spelling is the substitution of f for ph in sulfur and all its derivatives. Phosphorus, however, remains unchanged.

Where two or more names are in use for the same thing, the chemists have given a preference to one of them. Thus, they advise the use of caffein rather than thein, hydrogen sulfid rather than sulfuretted hydrogen, valence rather than quantivalence, and univalent, bivalent, etc., rather than monovalent, divalent, etc.

A large number of other decisions have been rendered, but the foregoing are all that affect words that are in general use, or much used by teachers. The changes which the chemists have decided on are far from being radical. They are all plainly dictated by common sense, and it is to be hoped and expected that they speedily will become the prevailing usage.

Geographical names are also undergoing a revision both here and abroad. There has been heretofore a most perplexing diversity in the spelling of many of them. Names of places in Asia or northern Africa, which are written by their inhabitants in Arabic or some other Eastern language, must be transliterated when they appear in the Roman alphabet. English-speaking geographers would transliterate these names after the analogies of their own language, French geographers would follow the different usage of their language, and the Germans would do likewise. If any language admitted an alternative way of spelling, some author would be sure to adopt it; so that, in the case of an important town in Syria (Beirut), no less than twelve ways of spelling its name have arisen among Western peoples.

Then there were names of places, rivers, etc., in the unwritten native languages of Africa, the Pacific islands, and America, concerning which the same diversity has prevailed. Sometimes a strange spelling has had the force to bring in a mispronunciation. The early English explorers found a nation of Indians in eastern North America whose name they spelled Algonkin. The French explorers, having no k in their language, and being accustomed to represent the k-sound by qu, spelled the same name Algonquin. Both spellings persist to this day, and many among us, the descendants of the Englishmen, having become acquainted with the form Algonquin through the eye and not through the ear, have given the qu its English value in pronouncing the word, and say wrongly, "Algonkwin."

In 1885 the Council of the Royal Geographical Society of England began a movement in behalf of systematic spelling in geographical names, which has yielded most gratifying results. The society adopted a system having the same basis that is employed for all scientific modes of spelling, namely, vowels pronounced as in Italian (or German), and consonants as in English. This system has been adopted by the British Admiralty Office, by the War, Foreign, and Colonial Offices, and by the last has been recommended to the colonies.

In September, 1890, the United States Board on Geographic Names was created by order of the President of the United States, for the purpose of securing uniformity of geographical nomenclature in Government publications.

The board consists of ten officials in the departments at Washington, with Prof. Thomas C. Mendenhall, Superintendent of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, as chairman. For spelling names from Oriental or unwritten languages, this board has adopted a system practically identical with that used by the British Government offices. Since France, Germany, and Spain have adopted methods substantially the same as this, the great map-making nations of the world are now in close agreement as to geographical spelling. The alphabet is used as follows by the board in representing the sounds of Oriental and unwritten languages: a as in father (Java, Somáli), e as in men (Tel el Kebír), i as in ravine (Fiji), o as in mote, and u as oo in boot. All vowels are shortened in sound when the following consonant is doubled. ( Yarra, Jidda). Doubling a vowel is necessary only where there is a distinct repetition of its sound. English i in ice is represented by ai (Shanghai), au represents ow in how (Fuchau), ao is slightly different from au (Nanao), and ei is scarcely to be distinguished from ey in they (Beirút).

Among the consonants, b, d, I, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, x, and z are the same as in English; c is always soft (Celebes), ch as in church (Chingchin), f as in English, and its sound is never represented by ph (Haifong), g is always hard, h is always pronounced when inserted, j as in English, and its sound is never represented by dj (Jinchuen), k as in English, and always takes the place of hard c (Korea), kh stands for the Oriental guttural (Khan), gh is another guttural as in the Turkish (Dagh, Ghazi), ng as in finger, also as in singer, q is not used, qu being replaced by kw (Kwangtung), y is always a consonant and is to be replaced by i wherever it has been used as a vowel (Mikindani). Accents should not generally be used, but where there is a very decided emphatic syllable or stress which affects the sound of the word it should be marked by an acute accent (Galápagos, Saráwak).

With regard to names in the United States the policy of the board is to make no changes unless a decided improvement can be secured thereby. Its first principle is that the spelling and pronunciation which are sanctioned by local usage should be adopted in general. Even where the present name is a changed or corrupted one, if it has become firmly established the board keeps its hands off. But where a choice is offered between two or more names for the same locality, all sanctioned by local usage, the opportunity to secure the most appropriate and euphonious one is improved. The possessive form of names is discarded wherever practicable, sometimes by dropping both the (') and the s, for instance changing Gedney's to Gedney Channel, in New York Harbor, and in cases where so much change has not seemed advisable, simply omitting the ('). By the latter procedure, which is practically changing to the plural form, Minot's Ledge, in Boston Harbor, becomes Minots Ledge. The final h is dropped from names ending in -burgh, and the ending -borough is shortened to boro. The spelling center is always used rather than centre. The board discourages the use of diacritic marks over letters, and hyphens between parts of names; where a name consists of more than one word it prefers to combine the parts into one. The use of the words City, Town, and Court House (abbreviated C. H.) as parts of place-names is deemed undesirable.

The first report of the board has been issued recently and contains a list of decisions made during the year which it covers. More than two thousand questions have been submitted to the board, and decisions have been given upon nearly all of them. Early in the year it was called upon to decide concerning several hundred names in Alaska, where the utmost confusion exists concerning geographic nomenclature. To the difficulty of transliterating Russian and Indian words into English letters is added the confusion caused by the fact that expedition after expedition, exploring this region, has assigned new names to the geographic features of the country, ignoring those already given. This state of affairs has induced the board to undertake a complete revision of Alaskan names, the result of which will be a geographical dictionary of the Territory. One of the three bulletins issued during the year contained a list of between five and six hundred decisions rendered at the instance of the Lighthouse Board, and fully a thousand questions were answered for the Census Office. The names of all the counties in the United States have been passed upon, and the approved list appears in the report.

Among the United States names that have been revised are: Bering (Sea and Strait), in place of Behring, the h being a German addition to the original Danish name: Fort Monroe, this, not Fortress Monroe, being the name given to the works at Old Point Comfort by the Secretary of War in 1828; Pedee, for the river formerly called Great Pedee; Pittsburg (Pa.), without final h, this being really the official form of the city's name; Mohave instead of the Spanish form Mojave, and Blackwells Island in place of Blackwell's. Wood's Holl, the meaningless corruption of Wood's Hole effected by finical summer visitors, is not meddled with except to drop the apostrophe.

Among foreign names Colon has been adopted, to the exclusion of Aspinwall, Bermuda instead of The Bermudas, and Salvador (Central America) for San Salvador. The spelling Fiji is preferred to the now antiquated Feejee; Baluchistan has been adopted for Beloochistan; and a few other accepted spellings are Kaffraria, Chile, Haiti, Kamerun (Cameroon), Kashmir, Kongo, Puerto Rico, Sind (Sindh), and Tokyo.

The accepted forms are used by the Coast and Geodetic Survey, on its charts of the coasts of the United States; the Hydrographic Office of the Navy Department, on the charts of foreign coasts that it publishes; the Geological Survey, which is making a mother-map of the United States; the General Land Office, which compiles from its plats maps of most of the States and Territories; and the Post-Office Department, which decides the names of all post-offices. They are used more or less also by nearly every other bureau of the General Government—in fact, wherever geographical names occur in all printing done at the Government printing-office.

The new forms are also coming into use rapidly among publishers of books and newspapers and the general public. The American Book Company, which furnishes the greater portion of the school-books used in this country, has adopted the decisions of the board for all its text-books on geography. Publishers of atlases and other geographical works generally are using them, so that in a few years it will be easy to tell that a map is old from the fact that the old forms of names are engraved on it. Many newspapers also, that have received copies of the first report of the board, have stated that they should follow it.

The good work of the chemists and geographers in the interest of simplicity and uniformity gives hope that similar changes may be made in other classes of words. Medical terms might come next. Few persons would be sorry to see the æ and œ replaced by e and the silent consonants omitted in "hæmorrrhage," "gynæcology," "æsophagus," "diarrhœa," "phthisis," "pneumonia," "rheumatism," "ptyalism," "psora," etc. There is a growing tendency toward such simplifications on all sides, and the direct efforts that are being made in this direction are only furthering the progress of a natural evolution. It has been said that we ought to wait for these changes until the natural process makes them; but if men want to put city streets and blocks where there is a hill, they do not wait for geological agencies to level the hill. They go at it with steam-shovels, drills, and dynamite. Another objection that is made to all simplifications of spelling is that they remove the marks of derivation in words. In many cases this is untrue; in the others it is of no consequence. The Italian sees the Greek Φωτός and γράφείγ just as plainly in his fotografia as the Anglo-Saxon does in his photograph. As for the marks of derivation from Old French, the Teutonic languages, Arabic, etc., the majority of persons do not see them at all, and those who do and can interpret them are above the need of such aids. It is with words very much as with men. The influence of heredity makes it instructive to know the character of a man's parents and grandparents, but men do not go to business every day carrying charts on which their family trees are delineated. So with words; in every-day use only their present values concern us, and their histories should be left to the dictionaries as family trees are left to genealogical records.

A general simplification of English spelling promises to be one of the events of the near future. Articles in favor of it are appearing with increasing frequency in our leading magazines, the latest being by Brander Matthews, in Harpers' Magazine for July. The philologists as a body desire the change, and there is not one linguistic scholar of any prominence who opposes it. When publishing firms nowadays select editors to make or revise our leading dictionaries, they get spelling reformers, for all the men competent to do such work are of this class. The late President Porter, who edited the International Webster, has expressed himself in favor of simplification; Prof. W. D. Whitney, editorin-chief, and several of the other editors of the Century Dictionary, are active workers for this reform; Prof. F. A. March, who is in charge of the departments of spelling and pronunciation in the forthcoming Standard Dictionary, is President of the Spelling Reform Association, and many of the collaborators on this work believe in logical spelling. In England, Dr. James A. H. Murray, editor-in-chief of the Philological Society's Dictionary, the greatest lexicographic work on the English language ever undertaken, is an unhesitating advocate of orthographic reform, as is Prof. Walter W. Skeat, author of the Etymological Dictionary. If English spelling were to be made phonetic next year, or in 1900, a few persons might cry, "Give us back our silent letters," as the mob cried, "Give us back our eleven days," when the calendar was changed from old style to new; but only a few months would pass before all would be asking, "Why was this not done generations ago?"