Thursday, January 30, 2014

Help Wanted: The Chemical Names Project

I have a bit of down time whilst waiting for Big New Job to start. After writing about the confusing naming for the aromatic compound nootkatone over at SciAm, I became curious: How do we learn chemical names? Is there some sort of definitive reference point for how to pronounce tricky compounds?

To-MAY-to, To-MAH-to
I propose a fun little experiment: Send me names of strange-looking chemicals, and I'll record myself attempting to pronounce them. Where possible, I'll consult NIST, the Merck Index, the dictionary, and the IPA system to try and provide the best possible answer.*

Ground Rules: The name should be no more than a few syllables long; I'm not looking to pronounce the full IUPAC name for maitotoxin! Regional differences (aluminum / aluminium) won't be accepted. Where possible, try to give me some sort of feel for the origin or etymology of the compound, so I can make a quality recording.

Here's my (short) list of contenders: nootkatone, phenolphthalein, azide, linalool, geissoschizine

Don't Delay! Submit your unpronounceable compounds in the comments today!

*For those who've never heard me speak, I pride myself on clear diction and a relatively flat American accent


  1. Have you seen Isaac Asimov's essay on the pronunciation of paradimethylaminobenzaldehyde? Bits of it seem to be part of the internet folklore, but not the whole thing.

  2. If you could get people to pronounce "phthalate" correctly, it would be a big public service.

  3. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to record yourself pronouncing the names of all those funky antibodies. Let's bap-i-neu-zu-mab the bejeezus out of that amyloid.

  4. Paracetamoxyfrusebendroneomycin?

  5. I once heard "acetone" pronounced "Ace-it-own-ee", not to mention the number of times I've heard "tool-een" for toluene.

    Perfluorosebaconitrile is fun, not the least because it has "bacon" in it.

  6. ‘upenamide (

  7. How about:

    Guggulsterone (steroid from guggulu resin)

  8. spirioiridotectals (I personally still wonder how to pronounce it...)

    A new family of triterpenoids...

    here is the doi:

  9. What about all the natural products with apostrophes in the middle? Palau’amine anyone?
    And, frankly, natural products in general: isodidehydrostemofoline, isolaurepinnacin, rubicordifolin?
    In other puzzling topics: why does Dirk Trauner list mesitylene among his finished natural products?

    1. If I remember rightly, they found that they could convert one polyketide nat. prod. into another via a series of pericyclic reactions, which spat out mesitylene as a side product.

    2. Found the reference:

  10. Ethyl triphenylphosphoranylideneacetate?

  11. Fornicatin (a terpene from fruiting body of Gandoderma fornicatum)
    Many steroids are rather challenging: Dunawithagenine, Digirezigenin, Jatrogrossidentadione, Schleicherastatin, Cryptotanshinone.
    My favorite is Guggulsterone:

  12. Please, pronounce "Alkane, alkene and alkyne". While they are really simple, the fun part here is the difference between the way these words are pronounced in English and in Russian languages, which amounts exactly to one double bond: "алкан" rhymes with "nun", "алкен" rhymes with "hen", and "алкин" rhymes with "inn". I am sure this has caused significant confuusion for many Slavic postdocs :)

  13. This is something what i was needed a lot. I want to do my chemistry homework but was facing problem in some questions so thank you for this.