Animals and Aminals (and two kinds of metathesis)

unless you've been living under a rock earthwormUnless Even if you’ve been living under a rock, you know what an animal is. But do you know what an aminal is? Well, it’s two things:

(1) A metathesis of the word “animal”
(2) A chemistry term for a particular arrangement of atoms (functional group).

And do you know what a metathesis is? Well, it’s two things:

(1) A Nobel Prize-winning chemical reaction that has become wildly popular over the last couple of decades.
(2) A rearrangement of letters, sounds, or words; such as the difference between animal and aminal.

Aminal does not rhyme with animal. Instead, the accent is on the last syllable: am-in-AL. It’s an organic chemistry term, and refers to a sequence of atoms that looks like the following:

metathesis animal aminal

Specifically, an aminal consists of a carbon atom with two nitrogen atoms attached to it by single bonds. If, instead of two nitrogens, a carbon is bound to just one nitrogen and one oxygen, that cluster of atoms is called a hemiaminal (sort of a half-aminal).

aminal metathesis

Metathesis is a term with both a linguistics meaning and a chemistry meaning. In linguistics, metathesis is when two letters or sounds within a word switch position. Little kids frequently perform unintentional metathesis when they speak:

nakpin vs. napkin
pasghetti vs. spaghetti

Adults do it too:

nucular vs. nuclear
Feburary vs. February

Linguistic metathesis can also be when two sounds or words in a sentence switch positions. Alcohol tends to facilitate this type of metathesis:

I’m not as think as you drunk I am.

Metathesis in chemistry is the same as metathesis in linguistics, except that it is carbon atoms – rather than letters or sounds – switching position:

olefin metathesis aminal animal

This is a chemical reaction that doesn’t just happen on its own – large teams of researchers have invested many years into developing conditions to make this happen in a controlled and predictable way. It requires a special metal catalyst – usually involving ruthenium or molybdenum – to help the carbons swap positions.

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2 Responses to Animals and Aminals (and two kinds of metathesis)

  1. free-radical says:

    v.v. interesting post… i wonder if my university professors also teach uslike this

  2. This makes me think of all the times I’ve mispronounced “animal” on purpose just for comedic effect. Now I know I’m always referring to something real ;)