The Roundaround Board of the Firststuffs


Inspired by Poul Anderson’s essay Uncleftish Beholding – wherein he explains the basics of atomic theory without using any English words of non-Germanic origin – I wanted to make a Periodic Table of the Elements (or, “Roundaround Board of the Firststuffs”, as he calls it) doing the same. I put one together (made with Crayon!) a few years ago, but updated/corrected some names and added the four elements the IUPAC settled on names for last year.

Click on the image to zoom in! (Opens in the same tab)

[Please note that I did this for kicks, and therefore can’t promise 100% etymological accuracy. I’m also not trying to imply there can’t be a better name for whichever element out there. But I did explain all my research and choices in a separate post (Read Here)]

I think it’s really cool to read the essay aloud and see just how much of the English vocabulary – especially scientific terms – derive from ‘other’ languages. It’s also fun as a person with a solid understanding of basic atomic theory to decipher the new “Anglish” words Anderson created. (I also really love the ending sentence: “Soothly we live in mighty years!”)

Similarly, if you bother to read through the ‘Board’ I’ve made, you’ll see very few elements retain their original names, even with the obvious changing all the –iums, –ines, and –ons to –stuffs. And yet – with all this relabeling – it’s no less scientifically accurate. An element’s name is the least important part of it.

Science doesn’t care what we decide to call things. None of the Hydrogen atoms (whose total mass makes up 75% of the baryonic matter in the known Universe) cares we don’t call it Waterstuff, just like Pluto doesn’t care if people don’t want to call it a planet.

[Edit: I forgot to add that, in addition to the standard 26 letters in the alphabet, I’ve reintroduced two letters from older English: the “thorn” (þ), which makes a “th” sound, and the “ash” (æ), which makes a sound – as one might guess – between an a and an e.]


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