Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog


Chris Stewart, a long-time e-friend from South Africa just pointed out that we have a new element that craves naming:

“See this New York Times article…. I propose to call this new element Superunobtanium, a name that speaks for itself and which I believe to be quite apposite considering only 6 atoms of the stuff have ever existed on this planet. However, there seems to be a committee of fuddy-duddies tasked with naming these things in commemoration of people who had nothing to do with their discovery and I imagine they would frown on such an eminently sensible appellation.”

Unobtanium, of course, is a fictitious element used by physicists and engineers in thought experiments pertaining to devices that cannot be produced because the material they require is “unobtainable”. It is also behind all the squabbles in the 3-D semi-cartoon movie Avatar. It has the unusual superproperty of having exactly the properties required by the use to which it is put.

Chris is one of those techies who would be in constant need of both these elements. I am one of those non-techies who can only pull my jaw back up and wonder at the discussion. I would much rather discuss the far more critical issue of whether unobtanium should be spelled with an I or not: unobtanium or unobtainium? I think the former looks much more impressive. The Grand Panjandrum of Fuddy-Duddidom has spoken.

One Response to “Superunobtanium”

  1. Stargzer Says:

    Well, the fact that six atoms were made rules out “Unobtanium,” since this element in clearly obtainable, just not in molar quantities.

    I believe he’s referring to element 117, Ununseptium. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, the IUPAC, created rules for temporary names as placeholders in the periodic table of elements for as yet undiscovered elements. Wikipedia ( has an article on this Systemic Element Name. Briefly, it’s based on the atomic number of the element, in this case 117, so its name consists of the syllables “un” (one), “un” (one) and “sept” (7) for 117 plus the suffix “ium” which designates a a transuranic element, an element with an atomic number greater than 92, the element Uranium.

    I can just see the next Star Trek movie: “Star Trek Ununennium — The Undiscovered Element.”

    The discoverers of the new element have the right select a permanent name for the new element, but there have been controveries. See Wikipedia (

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