Aluminum and aluminium are two spellings of the same element that have caused confusion and debate for centuries. In this article, we will explore the origins of the element’s name, the differences between the spellings, and which spelling you should use.
The Origins of the Element’s Name
The earliest use of the element aluminum dates back to the early middle ages, in the form of a chemical compound named Alum. Alum is a sulfate salt of aluminum, but the existence of the metal was unknown at the time. In 1595, Andreas Libavius proposed Alumina as the name for the yet-unidentified soil that formed the base of Alum.
Sir Humphry Davy, a Cornish chemist and inventor, performed three unsuccessful attempts to isolate this unique element through electrolysis. In a publication made in 1808, he stated that he would have proposed the name Alumium for this elusive element. However, other British chemists decided to adopt the name Aluminium. This confusion began the debate on the ending of the word that continues to our day.
Aluminum vs. Aluminium
The termination -ium was quickly adopted in the United Kingdom, and therefore in most of the English-speaking world. However, in the USA, people used the -ium and the -um terminations in almost equal amounts. This changed in the early 1900s as the metal became a more widely available product. Most people likely relied on the Webster’s Dictionary, published in 1828, for this spelling. Noah Webster, the dictionary’s editor, favored the -um spelling so much that he omitted the -ium ending from his work altogether.
The Webster’s Dictionary’s entry likely caused the noticeable shift in the early 1900s towards the word Aluminum in the United States, which culminated when the American Chemical Society officially adopted that spelling, separating it from the way the British spell it. On the other hand, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) officially adopted the word Aluminium in 1990.
Should I be Using Aluminum or Aluminium?
The most comforting part of this story is that both Aluminum and Aluminium are accepted and correct. Aluminum is preferred in North America, whereas Aluminium is the spelling preferred in the United Kingdom and most other English-speaking nations. Just as it was back when Sir Humphry Davy published his results, it comes down to what you think sounds better for you.
So, whether you prefer Aluminum or Aluminium, it’s important to understand the differences in spelling and the history behind each. Now that you know the origins and differences between the two spellings, you can make an informed decision about which spelling to use in your own writing.
If you’re interested in learning more about the processes that allow aluminum to be so common in our modern society, check out our article on fabrication processes for this versatile metal.
Bor Aluminum – Content Producer