Wednesday, November 14, 2007


During my first semester of grad school long ago, I took a Physical Organic class. It was a great class. The teacher was from Poland and spoke with a moderate accent, not thick enough to be indecipherable, but occasionally some words were totally different.

One day we were talking about diastereomers. Now, for the non-chemists out there, I'm not going to try to explain it. It would take more time that I want. For those of you who need refresher, Eliel defines diastereomers as: "Stereoisomers that are not related as mirror images. They usually differ in physical and chemical properties."

The correct (or at least most understood) pronunciation is: die'-ah-stair'-e-o-merz. OK, not the way Webster would have written it, but you get the point. Well, on day in class, my Polish prof pronounced it: dee-ah'-stur-oh'-murs (note the accent on the second syllable). Say it out loud. It sounds quite different than the "normal" way of saying it.

We were in class when this happened and it took a few minutes to figure out what he was saying. Yet, since we were familiar with diastereomers, we eventually figured it out.

However, this prof also taught Sophomore level Organic Chemistry. The students in that class had never heard of diastereomers before. As a result, the class of about 300 all learned to pronounce it as dee-ah'-stur-oh'-murs. It was hilarious to have a student come to the chemistry help center and ask for help on "dee-ah'-stur-oh'-murs" from the TA. I wonder how many of them still pronounce it wrong.


Ψ*Ψ said...

Since I'm from KY, I'm always a little afraid someone will correct my pronunciation. There's a reason I tend to use shorter words in conversation when I know longer ones...

Liberal Arts Chemist said...

Ah yes, whilst working in the UK I was constantly deaing with the "Mee-thyl" versus "Methul" pronunciation for the CH3 group. It was hilarious when a Big Noise from the Colonies visited the department and picked up the local pronunciation half way through his departmental seminar. They joked about that for the rest of the time I was there.

milkshake said...

you natives are the ultimate deahsturohmurs

I can live with the flow-ride in my tap water and Millow-s-wick on CNN - but the utterly debased american prenounciation of latin medical terminology makes baby Jesus weep

Chemgeek said...

Yes, but you gotta love my persistent Americentric prejudices.

And, if you want crazy pronunciation, you really should come to Minnesota.

Meredith said...

I am now taking another degree in the UK and we are going over this concept. In the UK, it is called diastereoisomers. So there is a whole additional syllable. In class, I corrected the prof when she tried to explain how it is said in North America. She said it as you put it initially (the proper way) but I learnt it during my first degree as die-ast-tomers, with a whole syllable (or sort of two) missing. I thought I was going crazy but I asked people from my first degree and they say it the same way, because evidently, that is how our prof said it. I figured this all out because I was listening to the lecture I mentioned above and got to thinking. Google brought me here. And a couple more places that read the word out loud to me. I corrected a prof and I was wrong, but definitely, was the way I was taught. Can anyone say awkward?