The Chinese Periodic Table: 元素週期表 (Part 1)
In a language like Chinese that doesn’t use an alphabet-based language, naming the elements was not a trivial matter. When chemistry began to flourish in China in the early 1900’s, chemists got together to give each element a systematic name to prevent any ambiguities in communication.
Their first step in naming was to group the elements into four groups based on their physical properties at STP, with each to be represented by a common motif (what we call a 部首/"radical"):
- 气 (“gas”): Gaseous elements like hydrogen, oxygen, and xenon.
- 釒/钅 (“gold”): Metallic elements like sodium, copper, and lead (with the exception of mercury).
- 石 (“stone”): Solid nonmetals and metalloids like carbon, silicon, and iodine.
- 水/氵(“water”): The two liquid elements mercury and bromine.
After grouping the elements into these four groups, the characters were constructed based on three different methods: native characters, property-based, and pronunciation-based, .
Native characters are used for those elements already known to the ancients, either in pure or mineral form. These characters include gold (金, jīn, gold), carbon (碳, tàn, charcoal), mercury (汞, gǒng), and boron (硼, péng, from 硼砂/borax) among others.
Property-based characters include those for bromine, nitrogen, chlorine, and oxygen. These characters are constructed by adding on a different character to the radicals as mentioned above. For example:
- Bromine, known for its awful stench, is composed of the radical portion 氵 and the character 臭 (chòu; ancient pronunciation xiù) meaning “stinky” to create the character 溴 (xiù)
- Oxygen, the gas that the vast majority of living beings need to live, is composed of the radical 气 and the character 羊, which is an abbreviated form of 養 (yǎng) meaning “to nourish/raise”, to create the character 氧 (yǎng).
- Nitrogen, the primary component of our atmosphere, is composed of 气 and 炎, abbreviated from 淡 (dàn) meaning “dilute”, to create the character 氮 (dàn). (Nitrogen “dilutes” the breathable oxygen in the air.)
Pronunciation-based characters are constructed by adding on a character to the radical that is suggestive of its pronunciation in European languages. The vast majority of the elements, and any new elements that are discovered, are named using this method. For example:
- 砷 (shēn): arsenic
- 碘 (diǎn): iodine
- 鋁 (lǚ): aluminum
- 鈉 (nà): sodium (Latin: natrium)
- 鎢 (wū): tungsten (originally named wolfram)
But, as always, nomenclature will always have strange exceptions and variations, and this is no different. The characters in the image shown above are the standard for Taiwan; in a later post, we’ll talk about the standard for Mainland China and Hong Kong/Macau, and the different ways they differ.
I’m gonna depress the hell out of all of you. ready? ok go
so, that “stop devaluing feminized work post”
nice idea and all
but the thing is, as soon as a decent number of women enter any field, it becomes “feminized,” and it becomes devalued.
as women enter a field in greater number, people become less willing to pay for it, the respect for it drops, and it’s seen as less of a big deal. it’s not about the job- it’s about the number of women in the job.
observe what happened with biology. it’s STEM, sure, but anyone in a male-dominated science will sneer at the idea of it being ‘for real,’ nevermind that everyone sure took it more seriously when it was a male dominated field. so has happened with scores of other areas; nursing comes to mind
so the thing is, it’s not the work or the job that has to be uplifted and seen as more respectable. it will never work out, until people start seeing women as respectable
but there’s a doozy and who the fuck knows if it’s ever happening in my life time
"observe what happened with biology. it’s STEM, sure, but anyone in a male-dominated science will sneer at the idea of it being ‘for real,’ nevermind that everyone sure took it more seriously when it was a male dominated field."
Personal anecdote time! I’m in a biology graduate program. An acquaintance wanted to introduce some guy to me because his son was thinking about becoming an undergrad science major. When he found out I was in the biology department, he grinned and said, “Well, I guess that’s kind of related to science.”
I gave him what I hope was an icy look and said, “Isn’t it strange how men outside the field started saying that right around the time biology majors shifted from mostly male to mostly female?”
The guy got this look on his face like he was about to play the “just a joke” card, and then an older woman who had been standing nearby, talking to someone else, turned to me and said, “The same thing happened with real estate.” She went on to explain that, over the course of the career, the male-to-female ratio among real estate agents had dropped, and the pay and “prestige factor” of that job dropped along with it.
Nothing makes you look more suspicious than randomly laughing while doing science, because you know who else randomly laughs while doing science? Supervillians.
I am a senior MIT, a materials engineer, an honors student, and a woman. I also have been told hundreds of times that I don’t deserve to be where I am. The idea that there was some sort of quota for women would be repeated to me over and over in the…
We have all heard the disturbing reports: We need a million new STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) graduates, we’re in a crisis. We, as a society, seem to be suffering some kind of cognitive dissonance though, because with equal or perhaps greater fervor, we are systematically discouraging women and people of color of the population from pursuing graduate and undergraduate studies and careers in STEM fields.
EDIT: I fixed the link so it goes to the correct article now.