Dorky Poll: How Do You Say That Again?

I’m going to be at a media training session for most of the day. I had hoped to have a long and silly post about physics to schedule today, but, well, that didn’t happen. So here’s a silly poll to pass the time.

We normally deal in macroscopic quantities of this one, so quantum superpositions of answers are right out.


  1. #1 Don in Rochester
    December 6, 2010

    “Loom-num” is all you need to say.

  2. #2 mcxxiii
    December 6, 2010

    I voted for 5, but after having thoroughly considered my own pronunciation of it I think I have to revise that and say 4. I originally thought I pronounced it like [‘a lʊ ˌmi: ni ̝ɑm] (AH-lu-mii-ni-um), which has 5 syllables, and I probably would if I said it out very slowly and carefully to emphasize each syllable. But I think the last two syllables actually merge in normal speech so that it becomes [‘a lʊ ˌmi: ɲ ̝ɑm] (AH-lu-mii-njum). I am a little uncertain about the precise details of the transcription, that last vowel sound in particular, but otherwise I think that’s how I pronounce it.

    I am heavily influenced by my native tongue in this particular case, I fear.

  3. #3 Matt Bull
    December 6, 2010

    The history of its spelling and pronunciation is actually fairly interesting. The confusion lies with its discoverer, who, if I recall, was inconsistent. Google it.

  4. #4 Thomas Larsson
    December 6, 2010

    In Swedish 5, in English 4, in other lingos not.

  5. #5 Emory K.
    December 6, 2010

    This immoral poll is deeply offensive to my traditional Earth, Air, Fire, and Water beliefs.

  6. #6 Jolyon Bloomfield
    December 6, 2010

    Why, five, most certainly! In Australian, at least. In American, it’s four. For some reason, the spelling is different between the two of us – I use “Aluminium”, Al-u-mi-ni-um. All of my American friends, without fail, use “Aluminum”, pronounced Al-u-mi-num.

  7. #7 Thony Christie
    December 6, 2010

    In Swedish 5, in English 4, in other lingos not.

    Wrong! In English 5.

  8. #8 GrayGaffer
    December 6, 2010

    In Swedish dunno. But be clear about which English: American English spells Al “Aluminum” therefore 4 syllables, but the original UK English spells it “Aluminium” whcich is 5 syllables and no, the last two do not merge into one in normal speech. The emphasis in UKE on “min” does not allow it.

  9. #9 Cannonball Jones
    December 6, 2010

    Well done Thony and Jolyon. In English it is indeed, for some reason in American English it’s 4. Maybe they print the second ‘i’ too small to see it. Or maybe they’re too lazy. Or perhaps the whole ‘American obesity’ thing is just as big as they make out in the media and by the time they get to the end they’re too tired to puff out any further syllables. Whatever, they’re wrong.

    Oh, and stop forgetting the ‘u’ in words like ‘colour’!

  10. #10 Eric Lund
    December 6, 2010

    It depends on which English-speaking country you’re in. Americans need four syllables to say it. But if you are in some strange place where they think color is spelled with a U, then one of the quaint local customs is that you need five syllables. That’s because somebody in England insisted that chemical elements should end in -ium, rather than the proper combining form -um. Heli- (“sun”) + -um = helium, bary- (“heavy”) + -um = barium, so why not alumin- (from alumina, Al_2O_3) + -um to form aluminum? It’s just a coincidence that so many combining prefixes end in an I sound.

  11. #11 Knightly
    December 6, 2010

    I think it’s really pronounced in 5 syllables, spelled “aluminium.” We Americans shortened it to “aluminum” and pronounce it as such, to a point where my automatic spell checker tells me aluminium is wrong and aluminum is right.

  12. #12 Knightly
    December 6, 2010

    Also when I tried saying it as “aluminium” for a while people looked at me like I was an idiot.

    On the other hand, I was walking around saying, “aluminium,” so that may have been part of it.

  13. #13 onymous
    December 6, 2010

    the original UK English spells it “Aluminium”

    The word didn’t exist until the UK and US were separate countries, so it’s a bit facetious to act as if this was some ancient term that was corrupted by foolish Americans. Wikipedia tells me that Sir Humphrey Davy coined the name “aluminum” and others decided it should end in “-ium” to better accord with all the other elements ending in “-ium”. Both were in use for a while and a series of historical accidents led to different choices being preferred in different places.

  14. #14 Bashir
    December 6, 2010

    The question I always wanted to know is who is this Molly B Denum they keep talking about.

  15. #15 Bashir
    December 6, 2010

    The question I always wanted to know is who is this Molly B Denum they keep talking about.

  16. #16 GrayGaffer
    December 6, 2010

    @13: original UK English. No comment as to the originality of “Aluminium”. But there’s a little more details at :

    “Aluminium was also the spelling in the U.S. until 1925, when the American Chemical Society officially decided to use the name aluminum instead.”

    @14: so did the inhabitants of Molly-be-Damned. rent it for a good laugh if you haven’t already seen it. “The Brothers O’Toole”.

  17. #17 deviant
    December 7, 2010

    There’s metals that end in -ium. and those that dont. I dont get my metaphorical jammies in a twist about that.
    But Alumin(i)um is the only one that doesn’t pick a side. Maybe it sits teasingly astride a fence trying to get us humans to draft nerdy polls, which lead to discussions on pronunciations, and then to comments on linguistic proclivities, then to misguided accusations of superiority and then to war. Its Evil I tell you. Evil.
    Or it’s just a homey little fella who, if he could speak would say “you can call me Al”
    I guess we will never know.

  18. #18 Pineyman
    December 7, 2010

    It’s one. And I’ll call you Betty.

  19. #19 Mu
    December 7, 2010

    I know it’s supposed to be 5. I use 4. I’m lazy.

  20. #20 josh
    December 8, 2010

    Certain Europeans , adrift in the decadence and dissipation of their decaying culture, spell it with five syllables in a typically ostentatious display of their orthographical profligacy and superfluity, and pronounce it accordingly, with the singular affectation of an effete accent on the third syllable.

    Honest, red-blooded Americans are naturally inclined to an efficient, unprepossessing four syllables with a manly yet restrained accent on the second.

  21. #21 mjn
    December 13, 2010

    Here in Poland chemists have dispensed with the -/i/um suffixes and simply call the elements things like hel, gal, potas and so on (which makes elements 39, 68 and 76 look positively bizarre; itr, erb and osm). However, the “older” elements have local forms, and hence element 13 is glin -> 1 syllable.

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