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Why be cyrptic about chemisty?

Posted: October 11th, 2009, 1:15 am
by wanabe
I am currently taking a chemistry class. The language to me seems quite cryptic; in as far as taking CO_3^2- and calling it carbonate. Or: C_2H_3O_2^2- and calling that acetate. Last one: PbCl_4 and calling that lead(IV) chloride.

It seems like a lot of time and energy could be saved by simply calling the elements by their names and adding respective scripts when "translating" chemistry to English. If there is a common name than use it; such as water:H_20.

If any one is a chemistry buff and wants to elaborate on how this can't work, and maybe even enlighten me as to how to make sense of this better, it would be much appreciated.

Or to simply discuss simple compounds (as that is all I'm able to do so far) just to practice the language that would be nice as well.
Ok, let me see if I can make this more clear as people are not understanding what I'm asking, or just want to have an answer.

There is a name that is pure chemistry for something example: CO_3^2-; That is "carbonate". How would one naturally translate CO_3^2- to "carbonate" unless someone told them; they could not! Why not to make things less cryptic; call it "carbon-oxygen_3^2-"(=CO_3^2)-.The meaning of the numbers could be taught in a day, if it takes that long. Based on what I know of chemistry, there is no good reason, other than the historically fallacious: "thats how its done". OR there is the: "its shorter". To that I say: it's shorter to say, but takes 10 times longer to learn. It's difficult enough as it is to memorize the innumerable qualities an element can have, let alone a compound. Why gum it up with some hybrid language that is a class all in it self?

Hope that helps.

Re: Why be cyrptic about chemisty?

Posted: October 11th, 2009, 2:19 pm
by ape

Think of it like math:

Rather than writing five only, we mostly write 5.

So too rather than writing Sulphuric Acid only, we mostly write h2so4.

So both the 'why' and the 'why not' are valid: you may chose the why or the why not at any time and switch them up from any time to any time.

Posted: October 11th, 2009, 2:29 pm
by wanabe
I thank you for your contribution ape, but that is not the answer I was looking for.

I was asking why it is done a certain way. I can think of lots of ways to say chemicals, that is not the problem.

Posted: October 13th, 2009, 12:06 am
by Felix
It's a matter of being precise, the symbols tell you the type and proportions of the elements that are combined to make up the compound.

Posted: October 13th, 2009, 1:05 am
by wanabe
To all,
Please read the new edition of the Original post, in addition to the original post.

Posted: October 13th, 2009, 5:27 am
by Felix
As I said, the chemical terminology is very precise and common names are not. The common word for a chemical compound may not accurately describe the same compound that the chemical symbols represent. For example, here is an article on why H2O is not water:

Common names are probably fine for simple chemical compounds, but they'd just be confusing for more complex ones. For example, describe this one in nontechnical language: 2-Ethyl-1-Hexanol, 3-Ethyl -2 -Hydroxy-2-Cyclopenten-1-One.

Posted: October 14th, 2009, 4:36 pm
by Alun
Part of the answer is that languages are really hard to build because they stem from traditions. The other part is that chemistry involves a ton of chemical names, so having a more complicated, but more efficient and more precise, way to name things really is helpful. If a paper refers to 1,3,5-tris(2,4-dimethylbenzyl)octane, there's only one compound that fits that name--even though a lay-person would have a hard time understanding the name.

More casual names of inorganic compounds like "carbonate" and "cuprous bromide" are named that way because they emphasize important properties of the compound. E.g. carbonate and sulfate are not just talking about cation-oxygen ratios (which differ), they're talking about the charge. This would not be obvious if you said carbon 3xoxygen, vs. sulfur 4xoxygen.

Posted: October 16th, 2009, 11:23 pm
by wanabe
Alun, that is why I suggested to keep the sub(# of atoms)/super scripts(charge) where they were, and use the name of the element for communication purposes. The abbreviated element name for calculations.

We could do away with a lot of nonsense vocabulary, and still be able to communicate properties because the scripts are there.

They decided to make several names for the same thing, when they can always just call it what it is; it doesn't make sense.

Posted: October 17th, 2009, 6:57 pm
by Alun
Hmm... people cannot say sub/superscripts without spending a lot of time on it. Plus oftentimes the referent is something with the, e.g. carbonate involved, not just the CO3 anion. And the vast majority of possible compounds do not have multiple official names--there are just a number of very simple, common compounds that have more than one for historical reasons.

Obviously there are a lot of chemical names, and a lot of rules, but I'm not sure that they really overlap that heavily. Are you only asking about inorganics like carbonate, or is there another class of names for compounds that also overlaps?

Posted: October 17th, 2009, 11:43 pm
by wanabe
Carbon-oxygen-three-two-minus. Doesn't even talk that long to type, let a lone say. But yes that my be the “reason”.

One name is all that is needed. My conclusion is that they are holding on to historical fallacy, and the conspiracy theorist in me thinks that they make things complicated intentionally, so as to hide knowledge from the common man; to maintain socio-economic gaps.

I mean this: any time a compound isn't being referred to (in chemistry) by its chemical name; as in H20: There is an overlap.

Posted: October 18th, 2009, 12:26 am
by Alun
Well, I think you're missing a large point of modern nomenclature then. For example, I've been working a lot with a derivative of 4-bromobenzyl bromide lately. I cannot imagine trying to refer to the thing as 7-carbons-6-hydrogens-2-bromines. For one because it doesn't describe the molecule very well, and for another because that same name could imply a dibromoheptatriene and many other molecules.

Obviously it is frustrating when you're first learning it, but honestly, I'm usually more angry at what companies use to describe their chemical products. If I look at the ingredients of food, makeup, shampoo, etc., I almost always see very non-specific names. E.g. one product by Pantene advertises "amino protein," which is total gibberish. Every protein is composed of amino acids, so what is special about an amino protein?

In contrast, language in pure science is always about trying to have precise communication. Of course idiosyncrasies occur, but I feel like most of these either refer to extremely common molecules, or to important procedures that are named after their discoverer.

Posted: October 18th, 2009, 12:55 am
by wanabe
well what the heck alun, why didn't you say that before! you have been holding out!

does "7-carbons-6-hydrogens-2-bromines" lack a charge or isotope?

what is missing from that name?

Posted: October 18th, 2009, 1:11 am
by Alun
:oops: I mentioned organic compounds originally, I don't mean to confuse you. The main point of organic nomenclature is the shape of the molecule and the nature of the bonds. So 4-bromobenzyl bromide looks like this:
Where "benzyl" refers to the fact that the carbon attached to the right-most bromine is on a benzene ring. "Benzene," in turn, is actually a historical name, but it's so common that naming the ring "1,3,5-cyclohexatriene" would just be cumbersome.

In fact the special name "benzene" also reminds you that the molecule isn't just a cyclocarbon with double bonds, but that it has delocalized pi-bonds all around, so it's really an equal distribution of electrons around the ring. This makes it fall under the heading of "aromatic" molecules, which include other historically named molecules like furan.

TMI? Does your class even discuss organic nomenclature?

Posted: October 18th, 2009, 1:30 am
by wanabe
Organic chemistry is beautiful. Why do they not show all molecules organic or not, like that (are you a chemist of some kind?)?

No confusion at all.

Posted: October 18th, 2009, 4:06 pm
by hallam
One of the reasons all the sciences use cyphering (though not the only reason nor even the main reason), is to make it difficult for layman to understand what is happening and to have a universal language. If everyone could speak "Chemistry" then we wouldn't really need chemists to tell us or teach us what is happening.

Plus, using the symbols and coding allows for a more precise transference of knowledge especially between different spoken languages. CO_3^2 is carbonate whether you speak English and call it carbonate or not.