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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 29.djvu/539

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knowledge of the rate of his clock, which is kept under as uniform conditions of temperature and moisture as possible. There must be something radically wrong, either with the observer or his equipment, if he can not give the time of noon within a very few tenths of a second.




TO many intelligent and cultivated persons not specifically instructed in chemistry, this word recalls confused memories of colored liquids, glistening crystals, dazzling flames, suffocating fumes, intolerable odors, startling explosions, and a chaos of mystifying experiments, the interest in which is proportional to the danger supposed to attend their exhibition. Further reminiscences are of many singular objects in wood, metal, glass, and earthenware, of flasks and funnels, of retorts and condensers, furnaces and crucibles, together with bottles innumerable filled with solids, liquids, and gases, the whole paraphernalia connected by glass tubes of eccentric curves, and displayed in inextricable confusion and meaningless array. Behind this chaos arise vague memories of one discoursing learnedly in a polysyllabic jargon, and attempting to explain the unusual phenomena by the aid of abstruse hypotheses, but utterly failing to remove the sensations of awe and of mystery bordering on the supernatural which overwhelm the hearer—impressions that have clung to chemistry ever since its entanglement with the superstitions of alchemy, astrology, and the "black art."

Persons who undertake to gain through chemical literature a knowledge of what chemists are doing in and for the world encounter a discouraging nomenclature which repels them by its apparent intricacy and its polysyllabic character. Their opinion of the terminology of an exact science is not enhanced when they learn that "black-lead" contains no lead, "copperas" contains no copper, "mosaic gold" no gold, and "German silver" no silver; that "carbolic acid" is not an acid, "oil of vitriol" is not an oil, that olive-oil is a "salt," but "rock-oil" is neither an oil nor a salt; that some sugars are alcohols, and some kinds of wax are ethers; that "cream of tartar" has nothing in common with cream, "milk of lime" with milk, "butter of antimony" with butter, "sugar of lead" with sugar, nor "liver of sulphur" with the animal organ from which it was named.

Readers of chemical writings sometimes fail to appreciate the advantages of styling borax "di-meta-borate of sodium," or of calling

  1. From an address read before the New York Academy of Sciences, March 15, 1886. Revised by the author.