Today’s post is a special A to Z Challenge edition of Sciency Words, an ongoing series here on Planet Pailly where we take a look at some interesting science or science related term so we can all expand our scientific vocabulary together. In today’s post, A is for:
Chemists have several different ways to define what an acid is (specifically, they have three definitions for acids and bases). But in many if not most cases, the key distinguishing feature of an acid is what I like to call a “dangling proton.”
By that I mean there’s a single proton (a.k.a. a hydrogen ion) sort of sticking off the side of the molecule. This proton is only loosely attached, and it could easily break off given the opportunity. With that in mind, I’d like you to mean acetic acid.
You probably know acetic acid best for its staring role in vinegar. Vinegar is a mix of water, acetic acid, and sometimes traces of other things for flavor.
I probably first heard about acetic acid in school, long before I had any reason to care about chemistry. It wasn’t until more recently, when I committed myself to learning this science stuff for the sake of becoming a better science fiction writer that I really found out what acetic acid is.
I decided to start the A to Z Challenge with acetic acid because the name illustrates something that I think is an important thing to know about scientific terms: some of them are kind of dumb. The “acetic” in acetic acid comes from the Latin word acetum, which means acid.
So acetic acid literally means “acid acid.” Not very creative, chemists.
Next time on Sciency Words: A to Z Challenge, we’ll find out what the deal is with the name brontosaurus.