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You Say 'Aluminum,' I Say 'Aluminium'

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What follows is my account of a conversation between me, my partner, and our friend Jarrod Chlapowski. It's October, and we are three miles into what was meant to be a short walk through the museums and parks of sunny San Diego. My accent has been the source of endless amusement all weekend.

My partner, to me: "Tell him what you call aluminum."

Me: "Do we really have to do this now?"

My partner: "Tell him what you call it!"

Me: "Aluminium."

Jarrod, laughing: "What did he say?"

Me: "Aluminium."

Jarrod, still laughing: "Alu-minging-ham? Like Birmingham?"

Me: "No, it's pronounced 'alu-min-ium,' like 'condominium.'"

Jarrod: "Why don't you call it 'aluminum'?"

Me, annoyed: "Because it's not 'aluminum'; it's 'aluminium'!"

Jarrod: "No, it's not."

Me, firmly: "Yes, it is!"

Jarrod: "Well, we don't call it that."

Me: "Well, the rest of the world does!"

Jarrod: "Whatever. If it weren't for us, you'd all be speaking German or Russian."

Me, insisting: "It's 'aluminium'! Every other element in the periodic group it's in ends in '-ium.'"

My partner, to me: "I swear you make sh*t up and expect people to believe it just because you've got a British accent."

Me: "It's true! Look up the periodic table on your phone and tell me I'm wrong."

We stop walking for a moment as all three of us dig out our iPhones.

Me: "Look, here it is!" [Reading:] "'Group 13... of the periodic table, comprising... aluminium, gallium, indium, thallium, and ununtrium.' Not 'gallum' or 'idum' or 'thalum' or however you'd care to pronounce the last one once you've bastardized it."

My partner: "What about boron?"

Me, irritated: "What about it?"

My partner: "Group 13 of the period table is called the boron group. The first member is boron."

Me: "And??"

My partner: "Well, boron doesn't end in '-ium.'"

Jarrod: "Which would mean 'aluminum' wouldn't have to end in '-ium.'"

Me: "Right, but boron isn't a metal, is it?"

Jarrod: "What is it, then?"

My partner: "It's..." [reading from Wikipedia] "a metalloid."

Me: "Exactly!"

Jarrod: "What's a metalloid?"

Me: "Clearly not a metal."

Jarrod: "You don't know, do you?"

Me: "No, but look at the periodic table again: boron's not coloured in grey like other elements of Group 13, is it?"

Jarrod: "What does the grey colouring mean?"

My partner, reading again from Wikipedia: "They're post-transition metals, apparently."

Jarrod, studying his iPhone: "But so is tin, and that doesn't end in '-ium.'"

Me, growing impatient: "Look, we called it 'aluminium' before your country was even discovered, OK? It was probably invented by an Englishman, Lord Aluminium or something, in the 1500s."

Jarrod: "Bullsh*t!"

Me: "Darwin invented evolution. He was English! Sir Isaac Newton invented gravity. He was English, as well!"

My partner: "Sir Isaac Newton didn't invent gravity; he just realised it existed."

Me: "He invented it! And a good thing, too, because before he did, people were just floating off into space, and life was a good deal more perilous."

Jarrod: "Anything that's ever been worth inventing was invented in America."

Me: "Sir Frank Whittle invented the jet engine. English. John Logie Baird invented the television. He was English, as well!

My partner: "He was Scottish!"

Me: "It's the same thing!"

My partner: "I don't think the Scots would say that."

Me: "And, of course, William Shakespeare invented the English language."

Jarrod: "He was American."

Me: "Who was?"

Jarrod: "Shakespeare. They have his original Globe Theatre here in San Diego. We just passed it."

Me: "Now who's being stupid?"

Jarrod: "You guys still have a monarchy! We moved on from that over 200 years ago!"

Me: "Actually, we did that first, as well. Cromwell abolished the monarchy and founded a republican commonwealth in 1649. We just reintroduced the monarchy a few years later."

My partner: "Why is it all Brits think they're so superior?"

Jarrod: "I know, right?" [In a supposed British accent:] "Will the honorable gentleman on the right please recognize that I find his perceived eloquence quite distasteful?"

My partner: "Or a great one is..." [in an equally high-pitched voice:] "'I'm the Queen of England! Off with his head, I say!!'"

Me, despairing: "Why is it Americans always put on Dickensian accents when they mimic a British accent?"

My partner: "Anyway, it doesn't matter if you did some things first. We do them better. It's like New England. It's better than England. It must be: it's newer!"

Jarrod: "Yeah, what's better: York or New York?"

Me: "I'll have you know York has some very fine qualities."

My partner: "And America's bigger than England. Everyone knows bigger is better."

Me: "The fact remains: you need to add an 'i' to 'aluminum' and call it 'aluminium.'"

Jarrod: "Are you certain everyone else calls it 'aluminium'?"

Me: "Jarrod, where does Chlapowski come from?"

Jarrod: "Georgia."

Me: "The one next to Armenia?"

Jarrod: "Duh, the one next to Florida!"

Me, confused: Not where did you come from... where does the name come from?"

Jarrod: "Originally? It's Polish."

Me: "Well, what do you think they call 'aluminium' in Poland?"

Jarrod: "'Aluminumski'?"

Me, shouting: "'Aluminium,' you retard!

Jarrod: "You can't say 'retard' in America."

Me, annoyed: "Well, you can in England!"

My partner: "That's because everyone in England is retarded: too many years of inbreeding."

Jarrod, to me: "Whatever. Look, I hope one day you're stuck in the woods with a bunch of Americans who only speak real English, and you have about five seconds to stop a bear from eating you. The only weapon you could use to defend yourself is an aluminum knife, just out of reach. By the time anyone around you works out what the hell it was you were asking them to pass you, it'll be too late."

Me: "We don't have bears in England."

Jarrod: "Well maybe you should go back and live there then!"