You say 'aluminum,' I say 'aluminium' let's call the whole thing off

News headlines are buzzing over Donald Trump kicking off a trade war. In amongst the smoke and mirrors of politics one thing is very clear, the name of the 13th element is pronounced differently in North America and Europe. In Europe the discussion surrounds US tariffs on steel and ‘aluminium’, while in North America it’s steel and ‘aluminum’: why the difference you may wonder? I am told it’s a classic case of the United States messing up the English language, like they did when they removed the U from color. But is this true?

Tracking the name of the 13th element back to its origins, it was first called ‘alumium’ by the English chemist Sir Humphrey Davy in 1808. Then in 1812, in his Elements of Chemical Philosophy, he called it ‘aluminum’, the same as in North America today. The use of ‘aluminium’ was subsequently adopted in Britain because it was considered to have a more classical sounding name.

Both ‘aluminium’ and ‘aluminum’ therefore evolved from a common extinct ancestor, ‘alumium’. Both terms are officially accepted today and it’s hard to argue one is more valid than the other.

And for the record, the origin of ‘color’ is from the latin ‘color’ and colour came from the Anglo-Norman ‘colur’. I’ll leave the final comment to the philosopher Bertrand Russell who said, “It is a misfortune for Anglo-American friendship that the two countries are supposed to have a common language.”

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