Periodic table of the elephants

the names of some elements by popularity

"Name an element" responses. N = 400

It's competition time! And while there may be no point(s), that doesn't mean there can't be prizes!


Update Tuesday 2nd July, 7pm: If you have never commented on this site before, your entry will be held in a moderation queue. Re-submitting the same comment will lead to an error message. Don't worry, I am approving all valid entries regularly.

Update Tuesday 9th, 7pm: The competition is closed. The winner of the judge's prize is announced here. The poll for selecting the "people's choice" prize is here.


Earlier today, Jamie Gallagher tweeted a picture of the answers people gave when asked to name an element. I re-tweeted it on the basis that it was worth at least few seconds of attention & some of my followers might be interested.

Then, @spookyjulie replied:

[I] read that really quickly as "name an elephant". Then got really confused by the image.

For some reason, it then struck me (as these things do...) that "Bismuth" would be a great name for an elephant. Jamie agreed, saying

It is big, heavy and lovely to look at.

While I hadn't thought of it that way, I quite like the post-hoc justification for my feeling.


So now I would like to play a game, which I'm apparently calling the Periodic Table of the Elephants. I would like you, dear reader, to submit your own suggestions for what other things or ideas the names could be named after elements.

It's a bit like the Meaning of Liff, a book by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd wherein the names of places in the UK are re-assigned to things which otherwise have no name. One of my favourites is Shoeburyness:

The vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat which is still warm from somebody else's bottom.

(You can read all the original entries here; I've also been hearing rumours of a much-anticipated sequel...)

The first entry is "Bismuth: a good first name for an elephant", but I'm sure you can do better! And as if the fun of the game weren't enough, whoever writes the best/funniest/prettiest/least expected answer will win a postcard from the CERN gift shop (at my own expense, no less - don't I treat my readers well?!), whereupon I will write out the winning entry. I will even stick it in the post, with a stamp and everything! How old-fashioned.

The LHC fuses with the stars

One of the postcards in the CERN gift shop. Note: the winner may receive a different postcard, depending on availability. But don't worry, they are all awesome. Copyright: CERN



  • You can enter by leaving a comment on this post (below).
  • The deadline for entries to be considered for the prize is this time next week, i.e. 8pm (Swiss time) on Monday, 8th July 2013. Late entries will most probably be read, but not included for the prize.
  • You can enter as many times as you like.
  • If you submit more than one entry, they can be for the same element, or more than one.
  • You don't have to post separate comments for separate entries, but you can if you want to (e.g. if you submit one then think of another the next day).
  • You do not have to enter in English - any language will do.
  • You can use an element someone else has already done.
  • Keep your answer short. It doesn't have to fit in a tweet, but any more than about 30 words and I might think you're trying too hard.
  • This whole affair is entirely at my own discretion, the winner will be picked by me against no fixed set of criteria, other than surprise & delight at your answers. There could easily be more than one winner. I might even make categories!
  • Good answers will probably not have any connection to reality. For instance, "hydrogen" being re-assigned to anything to do with water will most likely be viewed as fairly predictable. Something to do with the city of Hyderabad would be better. Except now I've given you that one. Similarly for helium and the Sun, etc. For ideas about the kind of answers I like, you might want to take a look at a similar competition I ran last year.
  • You don't have to mention elephants.



On the off chance that it isn't obvious to a moron in a hurry, I would like to make it clear that this competition is meant entirely as a bit of fun for me on a personal basis. It is in no way endorsed by CERN, John Lloyd, the estate of Douglas Adams,, Nature Publishing Group, Spektrum der Wissenschaft, or elephants. By submitting an entry, you agree not to hold me to anything that you couldn't hold me to had you not taken part. Or else.


Over to you:

  • Is there a name of an element which you think would suit something else?


In case you can't remember the names of the elements, here's Tom Lehrer to help you out:



That being said, a few more since been disc'arvard...


43 Responses to “Periodic table of the elephants”

  1. Becky Wragg Sykes Reply | Permalink

    1st one "seaborgium": elite section of the Borg who aren't actually assimilated & live in a pleasure yacht on an ocean world

  2. Craig McInnes Reply | Permalink

    Manganese, the irritation caused by anime filler episodes (ran to prevent the anime catching up with the manga) eg. "why's he so angry every time he watches Naruto?", response "bad case of manganese".

    Dubnium, the point where the bass "drops"

    Cerium, the unjustifiable feeling of annoyance at spotting adults reading Harry Potter books.

    Einsteinium, those spots you see after rubbing your eyes. eg. "wow, Einsteinium Maximum in my eyes right now!"

    Xenon, genuinely would be a great name for a burger (I'd probably give it if I ate one in a restaurant too). joking aside, I'd eat a xenon(TM) burger.

    Cobalt, that feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach preceding the urge run out of your own wedding. (full disclosure, I've never been married...or come close)

    Bohrium, the feeling before physics lectures

    Plutonium, the feeling moments before stepping inside of Disneyland

  3. Sean Ellis Reply | Permalink

    Phosphorus: Luminescent stretch of sea between east and west Istanbul.

    Argon: An absent pirate.

    Scandium: The indefinable quality with which all IKEA furniture is imbued.

    Zinc: A German washbasin.

    Dysprosium: An ability most sublime / to be able to write naught but rhyme. / It's quite cute at first / but it soon becomes worse / when you have to do it all the time.

  4. Nick Reply | Permalink

    Manganese: language used in comics.

    (Oh. Just realised, this is Meaning of Liff. You need to start an equivalent Ubxridge English Dictionary version.)

    (Also, I presume that family members of the blog author are excluded from winning the barely coveted prize.)

    • Alex Brown Reply | Permalink

      Uxbridge-style entries will also be considered.

      Should I take it that you miss me and want a postcard?

      • Nick Reply | Permalink

        You need two categories, I think: UED and Liff. Sorry if that blows the postcard budget.

        • Alex Brown Reply | Permalink

          It looks like it's going that way. I might also make categories by period, block, row etc. We'll see how it goes.

  5. Nick Reply | Permalink

    Tantalum: the sound made by people humming along to any tune that goes slightly faster than they can manage, e.g. the William Tell Overture or Offenbach's Can Can.

  6. Nick Reply | Permalink

    Lanthanum: the name of a rather forbidding country house in an E. M. Forster novel.

  7. gfamily Reply | Permalink

    Halfnium: formerly known as halfhalfniumnium.

  8. flammableflower Reply | Permalink

    Iodine - (adj.) (in speech) something terribly pertinent, and previously unnoticed, that causes the recipient of the words to feel a droplet of sweat to slowly run down their spine whilst they attempt to feign indifference with a fixed smile.

  9. Don Reply | Permalink

    Beryllium: collection of paintings of fat ladies.

    Caesium: Act of killing an emperor.

    Praseodymium: Where he got killed.

    Boron: Someone who is stupid and uninteresting

    Silicon: Stupid fraud..

  10. Jessica Reply | Permalink

    Sodium - a rather damp and squishy feeling.

    Beryllium - somehow being related to one's maiden aunt.

    Iridium - what gives the beautiful gloss on a pair of hat propeller wings.

    Germanium - being obliquely relevant

  11. flammableflower Reply | Permalink

    Argon - an annoying little thread spotted on hems and seams of clothes that unravel within seconds of being observed.

  12. flammableflower Reply | Permalink

    Potassium - small, carved wooden trivet which is ornately carved and received as a present from a distant relative who bought it as a souvenir in Eastern Europe. Too ugly / unfashionable / twee to display. Breaks after second usage.

  13. philbo Reply | Permalink

    Antimony - what you have to pay your wife before the divorce
    Arsenic - you cut yourself shaving, *where*???
    Aluminum - half-blind aluminium
    Selenium - what one of the Williams sisters appears to be made of. If she was Chinese.
    Hydrogen - Conceal Superbad actor
    Oxygen - element that creates cows
    Nitrogen - element that creates a line of crusaders
    Helium - element that makes you better
    Nickel - what Nicholas doesn't have
    Neodymium - what makes Matrix hero lose his IQ
    Neptunium - element for tuning neps
    Germanium - pot m plant
    Iron - Three steps before L. Ron
    Americium - Like Californium *50

    ..hmm, I think the other posters seem to be better than me at this game :)

  14. Alex Brown Reply | Permalink

    Thanks to everyone who has submitted an entry so far - picking a winner will be difficult!

    Keep 'em coming!

    • Claire Reply | Permalink

      Sean Ellis's "Argon: An absent pirate." did it for me :)

  15. Ernesto Reply | Permalink

    Quecksilber, the Lone Ranger's German fast horse.

  16. Murdo Muldoon Reply | Permalink

    Bumflufficum - the uniquely sudo-hairlike substance found on 14 year old faces

    • Alex Brown Reply | Permalink

      Thanks for this, although I meant for people to use actual names of elements from the periodic table.

  17. Ivan Reply | Permalink

    Potassium - a recreational suppository
    Bromine - the unkindness of siblings
    Mercury - a generic cause of poor visibility
    Radon - sun-tanned
    Bismuth - commerce among people with speech impediments
    Carbon - a on-road snack
    Fluorine - linoleum, carpet, etc
    Argon - doesn't hurt any more
    Promethium - egotism
    Neon - under control, subjugated
    Cobalt - a colleague from Lithuania, Estonia, etc
    Boron - pig husbandry in action
    Curium - preserving salt
    Vanadium - rescue service for light commercial vehicles
    Copernicium - fawning behaviour by police officers
    Krypton - entered quietly
    Antimony - the converse of quantitative easing

  18. viking Reply | Permalink

    Krypton--final resting place of Superman;
    Beryllium--new performance-enhancing drug that makes it glow in the dark

  19. BobMem Reply | Permalink

    Tungsten - Poor cherry-eating technique
    Cadmium - RSI of the wrist afflicting users of Computer Aided Design software
    Zirconium - Cheap carbon substitute
    Gallium - Large multi-decked sailing ship from C16-18
    Indium - Person from India or oppressed native.
    Ununpentium - 386 PC
    Livermorium - Person who likes to wear T-shirts with phrases like "I'm not here for a long time, just here for a good time" or "Live fast, die young".
    Europium - The Final Countdown!
    Thorium - Defrost setting on microwave oven.

  20. Helena Handcart Reply | Permalink

    Tungsten: temporary inability to recall the name of a person who one meets on a daily basis.

    Rutherfordium: feeling of panic when faced with a decision which is of no importance but which nonetheless has to be made, for example which parking space to use in a completely empty car park. The decision itself is known as the rutherford.

    Silver: the correct medical term for a muffin top.

  21. Helena Handcart Reply | Permalink

    For the Uxbridge English Dictionary...

    Sodium:'s irritating younger brother

  22. Carl Reply | Permalink

    Barium - a nudist colony
    Neodymium - the only thing that can kill Keanu Reeves
    Tungsten - the fur in one's mouth after a heavy night

  23. legion Reply | Permalink

    Molybdenum: pretty, shiny, confetti like sequins found in small plastic envelopes in children's crafting kits. Completely resistant to any known glue, and thus utterly useless for crafting activities.

  24. Ivan Reply | Permalink

    Boron - A conference of tunnelling engineers
    Tantalum - Itching powder
    Gadolinium – Worrying that you might be homosexual
    Radium – The right mood for a bank robbery
    Actinium – The cast list
    Protactinium – Guidelines on how to break difficult news to people
    Berkelium – A school that provides lifestyle advice for annoying people
    Mendelevium – A spray for plants with foliage problems
    Meitnerium – That tingling sensation that occurs during courtship when you are sitting a bit closer to someone than you dared before
    Dubnium – Bushisms
    Rubidium – A kangaroo auction
    Lead – An efficient but very heavy lighting device
    Palladium – The unpleasant sensation of awaking to realisation of the consequences of having committed adultery with your spouse’s best friend
    Tellurium – Stories told in graphic detail

  25. viking Reply | Permalink

    rhodium---perfect name for a Rhode Island stadium

  26. Carl Reply | Permalink

    Nickel - small rural police station
    Technetium - sentient string vest

  27. Mark Lorch Reply | Permalink

    The steal someone's bottom - Arsenic
    An unkindly sibling - Bromine
    To continue drilling - Boron
    The hinged joint in a leg of a Japanese comic character - Manganese

  28. Sean Ellis Reply | Permalink

    Unununium - the sensation of groping for the name of an unfamiliar element.See also Erbium.

    Antimony - the feeling of a seed stuck between two teeth. See also tingrith (Liff).

    Flourine - descriptive of the smell of bleach.

    Astatine - the amount of time you wait at a bus stop before thinking "Sod it, I'll walk." Traditionally defined as 30 seconds less than the time until the next bus arrives.

    Cobalt - The mild dread that the blue glaze on your teapot is slowly poisoning you.

    Indium - Singular form of India.

    Samarium - The pleasurable way that gold dust trickles from the hand.

    Tungsten - The heft of a heavy rock.

    Nobelium - The disappointment that element 102 isn't an inert gas.

    Hassium - The stout, incredibly scratchy jute-like fibre from which cheap hammocks are made.

    Copernecium - The act of changing a hard to a soft "c" in a word just to make it sound right.

  29. Lilliants Reply | Permalink

    Antimony: (colloq. Yorks.UK) “Is he short of funding?”

    Actinium: (colloq. Scots.) “For Christ’s sake, give them a Fosters.”
    Hafnium: (colloq. Scots.) “I don’t have them.”
    Hassium: (colloq. Scots.) “Yes you do.”

    Cadmium: (colloq.) “Produce an image of them on the computer for me.”
    Chromium: (colloq.) “Put a shiny metal effect on them for me.”
    Fermium: (colloq.) “Cover these in fur for me.”
    Gallium: (colloq.) “Put them in the ship’s kitchen.”
    Holmium: (colloq.) “Here, hold these for me.”

    'Erbium: (colloq.) “Make them go to Monte Carlo, or bananas, or similar.”
    Helium: (colloq.) “That man is called Liam.”
    Iodine: (colloq.) “Dean lent me money.”
    Indium: (colloq.) “Dress these people in corduroy flares and thick-rimmed spectacles.”
    Rhodium: (colloq.) Give them long hair, sweaty t-shirts and a love of carrying amplifiers.”

    Argon: Agon
    Boron: A common response to, “You look like you have allergies, would you like to carry this cat out to that wheat field where you can empty the hoover?”
    Europium: Your stash of poppy seeds
    Krypton: What the government did to its people when Nelson Mandela was jailed.

  30. Dr. Ricky Reply | Permalink

    Iodine - well, in German, the element has the symbol J, not I.
    That's because in German, its Jod - pronounced with the Teutonic version of J -as in Johan.

    And "Jod" would make a great supervillain name. As in

    Kneel before Jod!

  31. Alex Brown Reply | Permalink

    Thanks to everyone who entered the competition, I'll announce my winner tomorrow along with details on how to vote for the "people's choice" winner.

    • Alex Brown Reply | Permalink

      Hi Dan,

      I wasn't aware of the this before the competition, but I have seen it in the meantime. It looks like a nifty project! Of course, I didn't for a moment think no-one had ever used the elephants/elements thing before...

      Thanks for the link!


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