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Vol. 35 No. 3
May-June 2013

Bookworm | Books and publications hot off the press.
See also www.iupac.org/publications

Lexicon of Chemical Terminology

French>English, English>French
Jean-Claude Richer, editor.
Lavoisier, Paris, 2012
IBSN 978-2-7430-1428-5

As nomenclature is the privileged domain of IUPAC, and as the official language of IUPAC is English, it may be surprising to find an analysis of a French-English lexicon in the IUPAC news magazine. However, it is not always easy to navigate IUPAC nomenclature and a translation into one’s own language. It goes without saying that such a book will be extremely useful for many chemists.

The book has a classical structure for a lexicon: two parts, French>English for the 617 first pages and English>French for the other 613 ones. For the French part, the first expression is “à champ élevé” (upfield) and the last is “zymurgie” (zymurgy). For the English part, they are “A-value” and “zymurgy,” respectively.

What kinds of words or expressions can be found in the lexicon? The names of the chemical functions, such as acid, aldehyde, ester, and so on. One might think that would not be useful because every chemist knows these names in both languages. Well, this is not exactly the case. Just take “aldehyde,” which is a very tricky one, since it can lead one to make errors in both languages. As a French professor of chemistry, I do know that more than half of my students (and many grown chemists) think that the word is a feminine one: “une aldéhyde,” while it is in fact masculine: “un aldéhyde.” So, when a French chemist wants to translate “aldéhyde” into English, he may be tempted to write “aldehyd” since the deletion of the “e” is a general way of moving from French to English; “acide” becomes “acid,” “carbone” becomes “carbon,” etc.

The problem of the final “e” is a frequent one: why should we write penicillin, erythromycin, glycan, second, ion pair, but methane, sulfamide, adrenaline, hormone, theophilline, all of these 10 words harboring a final “e” in French? There are other traps such as sulfate, sulfite, in English as in French, and sulfur for “soufre” (and not “souffre,” dear French students!), but to sulphur, to sulphate, where French keeps the “f”.

The reader of this review can see that I have spent many nice hours reading this book. Of course, I must admit that I am a fan of correct spelling, and I am sure that this book will appear in every laboratory library, at least French ones. It will be of outmost use to those who need to write a paper in English. Of course, the reverse process is not as frequent, but when English or French chemists write in French, it is important that they know for instance which accent has to be used: propénamine or propènediamine.

I have some criticisms of this tome. For instance, why give the names of so many reactions that feature the name of the inventor, such as Birch reaction, Diels-Alder reaction, Grignard reaction? It seems safe to assume that in French they would simply be “réaction de Birch” and so on. The same holds for reagents, furnaces, rules, relations, etc. It would have been better to give one example, and eventually add those where the name is different, such as different ways of spelling foreign names. Also, I discovered that the French word “relation” can be translated either to “relation” or by “relationship”; I don’t know why, but I trust the author on this one. Some useful words, although not purely chemical terms but which are very useful, could have been included, such as patent, pattern, molecular modeling (or modelling, USA).

But, what a delightful time I spent learning that “eau de menthe poivrée” is “peppermint water,” “eau de menthe verte” is “spearmint water,” is “essence de cannelle-giroflée” is “clove bark oil,” “essence de cassis” is “oil of ribes nigrum” and so on. Such a book could only have been written by a Canadian person, who possesses equal command of both the English and French languages, and we have to thank and congratulate Jean-Claude Richer for this accomplishment.

www.lavoisier.fr/livre/notice.asp?ouvrage=2638112



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