That's a Funny Name
License: CC BY-NC 3.0
How would the Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Roger Kornberg introduce himself? For student and in professional situations, it would be “Dr. Kornberg”. His wife might call him “Roger” or “Rog” (or “darling” – the rest of us don’t know him that well.) His kids would refer to him as “Dad” and their kids would probably just call him “Grandpa”. Names have meaning and communicate relationships.
News You Can Use
- In chemistry (as in other scientific fields), it is important to be very clear as to the name of a compound or material. Elaborate systems have been developed for precise nomenclature. However, there is another “language” often employed that has historical roots or indicates some specific use for a chemical.
- Acids developed common names long before systematic nomenclature was considered. Perhaps the best-known trivial name is “aqua regia” (royal water), a mixture of hydrochloric and nitric acids. The name comes from a property of this acid: it can dissolve gold. An old term for nitric acid is “aqua fortis” (fortified water), used to dissolve most metals except for gold. A dilute solution of acetic acid is used in cooking and cleaning and is referred to as vinegar.
- Some common bases also have trivial names. Caustic soda (NaOH) is used to clean metals. This compound also has the common name “lye” (thought to derive from old European roots indicating “bath” or “cleaning”). KOH has also often been called lye and was used in making soaps. An older remedy to revive people who fainted was sometimes called “volatile alkali” from the ammonia released when the bottle was opened.
- Watch a video about selecting names at the link below:
Show What You Know
Use the links below to learn more about trivial names. Then answer the following questions.
- What is muriatic acid?
- What does “muriatic” refer to?
- What is Nordhausen acid?
- What is battery acid?
- What are two common names for carbonic acid?