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Dihydrogen monoxide parody

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Dihydrogen monoxide is a name for the water molecule, which comprises two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (H2O).

The dihydrogen monoxide parody is a parody that involves calling water by an unfamiliar chemical name, usually "dihydrogen monoxide" (DHMO), and listing some of water's properties in a particularly alarming manner, such as accelerating corrosion (rust) and causing suffocation (drowning). It often calls for dihydrogen monoxide to be banned, regulated, or labeled as dangerous. It plays into chemophobia and demonstrates how a lack of scientific literacy and an exaggerated analysis can lead to misplaced fears. The parody has been used with other chemical names for water, such as hydrogen hydroxide, dihydrogen oxide, and hydric acid. It is also used in many prank shows to scare people as they think it is a lethal acid.


In 1983 on April Fools' Day, an edition of the Durand Express, a weekly newspaper in Durand, Michigan, reported that "dihydrogen oxide" had been found in the city's water pipes, and warned that it was fatal if inhaled, and could produce blistering vapors.[1] The first appearance of the parody on the Internet was attributed to the "Coalition to Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide",[2][3] a parody organization at the University of California, Santa Cruz following on-campus postings and newsgroup discussions in 1990.[citation needed]

This new version of the parody was created by housemates while attending UC Santa Cruz, in 1990, revised by Craig Jackson in 1994,[3] and was published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact in March 1996.[4] It received widespread public attention in 1997 when Nathan Zohner, a 14-year-old student, gathered petitions to ban "DHMO" as the basis of his science project, titled "How Gullible Are We?"[5]

Jackson's original site included the following warning:[6]

Dihydrogen monoxide:

  • is also known as hydroxyl acid, and is the major component of acid rain.
  • contributes to the "greenhouse effect".
  • may cause severe burns.
  • contributes to the erosion of our natural landscape.
  • accelerates corrosion and rusting of many metals.
  • may cause electrical failures and decreased effectiveness of automobile brakes.
  • has been found in excised tumors of terminal cancer patients.

Despite the danger, dihydrogen monoxide is often used:

  • as an industrial solvent and coolant.
  • in nuclear power plants.
  • in the production of styrofoam.
  • as a fire retardant.
  • in many forms of cruel animal research.
  • in the distribution of pesticides. Even after washing, produce remains contaminated by this chemical.
  • as an additive in certain "junk-foods" and other food products.

A mock material safety data sheet has also been created for DHMO.[7][8]

Molecular terminology and naming conventions[edit]

The water molecule has the chemical formula H2O, meaning the molecule is composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Literally, the term "dihydrogen monoxide" means "two hydrogen, one oxygen": the prefix di- in dihydrogen means "two", the prefix mono- in monoxide means "one", and "oxide" designates oxygen in a compound (the consecutive o's that would occur in "monooxide" are combined into one).[9]

Using chemical nomenclature, other names for water include: hydrogen oxide; hydrogen hydroxide, which characterises it as a base; and several designating it as an acid, such as hydric acid or hydroxyl acid. The term used in the original text, hydroxyl acid, is a non-standard name.[10]

Under the 2005 revisions of IUPAC nomenclature of inorganic chemistry, there is no single correct name for every compound.[11] The primary function of chemical nomenclature is to ensure that each name refers, unambiguously, to a single substance. It is considered less important to ensure that each substance should have a single unambiguous name, although the number of acceptable names is limited.[11] Water is one acceptable name for this compound, even though it is neither a systematic nor an international name and is specific to just one phase of the compound (its liquid form). The other IUPAC recommendation is oxidane.[12]

Public use[edit]

Tongue-in-cheek warning sign in Louisville, Kentucky[13]
  • In 1989–1990, several students circulated a dihydrogen monoxide contamination warning on the University of California, Santa Cruz, campus via photocopied fliers.[3][14]
  • In 1994, Craig Jackson created a web page for the Coalition to Ban DHMO.[3][6]
  • The Friends of Hydrogen Hydroxide website was created by Dan Curtis Johnson, partly as a foil on the Coalition page, claiming to oppose its "subversive agenda". The site points out that hydrogen hydroxide is "environmentally safe" and "enhances the functionality, growth, and health of many forms of life".[15]
  • In 1997, Nathan Zohner, a 14-year-old student at Eagle Rock Junior High School in Idaho Falls, Idaho, gathered 43 votes to ban the chemical, out of 50 ninth-graders surveyed. Zohner received the first prize at Greater Idaho Falls Science Fair for analysis of the results of his survey.[5] In recognition of his experiment, journalist James K. Glassman coined the term "Zohnerism" to refer to "the use of a true fact to lead a scientifically and mathematically ignorant public to a false conclusion".[16]
  • In late 1997, drawing inspiration from Jackson's web page and Zohner's research, Tom Way created a website at DHMO.org, including links to some legitimate sites such as the Environmental Protection Agency and National Institutes of Health.[17]
  • On April 1, 1998 (April Fools' Day), a member of the Australian Parliament announced a campaign to ban dihydrogen monoxide internationally.[18]
  • In 2001, a staffer in New Zealand Green Party MP Sue Kedgley's office responded to a request for support for a campaign to ban dihydrogen monoxide by saying she was "absolutely supportive of the campaign to ban this toxic substance". This was criticized in a press release by the National Party,[19] one of whose MPs fell for the very same joke six years later.[20]
  • In 2002, radio talk show host Neal Boortz mentioned on the air that the Atlanta water system had been checked and found to be contaminated with dihydrogen monoxide, and set about relating the hazards associated with that "dangerous" chemical. A local TV station even covered the 'scandal'. A spokesperson for the city's water system told the reporter that there was no more dihydrogen monoxide in the system than what was allowed under the law.[21]
  • The idea was used for a segment of an episode of the Penn & Teller documentary show Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, in which actress Kris McGaha and a camera crew gathered signatures from people considering themselves "concerned environmentalists" to sign a petition to ban DHMO.[22]
  • In March 2004, Aliso Viejo, California, almost considered banning the use of foam containers at city-sponsored events because dihydrogen monoxide is part of their production. A paralegal had asked the city council to put it on the agenda; he later attributed it to poor research.[23] The bill was pulled from the agenda before it could come to a vote, but not before the city received a raft of bad publicity.[5]
  • In 2006, in Louisville, Kentucky, David Karem, executive director of the Waterfront Development Corporation, a public body that operates Waterfront Park, wished to deter bathers from using a large public fountain. "Counting on a lack of understanding about water's chemical makeup", he arranged for signs reading: "DANGER! – WATER CONTAINS HIGH LEVELS OF HYDROGEN – KEEP OUT" to be posted on the fountain at public expense.[13]
  • In 2007, Jacqui Dean, New Zealand National Party MP, fell for the joke, writing a letter to Associate Minister of Health Jim Anderton asking "Does the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs have a view on the banning of this drug?"[20][24][25]
  • On April 1, 2009, then-Canadian Member of Parliament, Andrew Scheer (who was later elected leader of the Conservative Party), used the DHMO parody as the basis for an April Fool's Day "media release" on his website, in which he claimed to have presented a bill to ban the substance from all federal government buildings.[26]
  • In February 2011, during the campaign of the Finnish parliamentary election, a voting advice application asked the candidates whether the availability of "hydric acid, also known as dihydrogen monoxide" should be restricted. 49% of the candidates answered in favor of the restriction.[27]
  • In April 2013, as part of an April Fools' Day prank, two radio personalities at Gator Country 101.9, a station in Lee County, Florida, were suspended for a few days after telling listeners that dihydrogen monoxide was coming out of their water taps.[28][29] The prank resulted in several calls by consumers to the local utility company, necessitating that the company send out a press release stating that the water was safe.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "April Fool's Day, 1983". Museum of Hoaxes. Archived from the original on April 18, 2001. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  2. ^ Roddy, Dennis B. (April 19, 1997). "Internet-inspired prank lands 4 teens in hot water". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Archived from the original on June 23, 2021. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d Kruszelnicki, Karl S. (May 17, 2006). "Mysterious killer chemical". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on November 18, 2008. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  4. ^ Anonymous, "Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide!", Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Vol. 116, No. 4, March 1996, p. 74.
  5. ^ a b c Mikkelson, David (December 12, 2017). "Is Dihydrogen Monoxide Dangerous?". Snopes.com. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Jackson, Craig (1994). "Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide!". Coalition to ban DHMO. Archived from the original on October 31, 1996. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  7. ^ "DHMO Material Safety Data Sheet". Improbable Research. March 24, 2010. Archived from the original on July 19, 2018. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  8. ^ "Material Safety Sheet – DiHydrogen Monoxide" (PDF). DHMO.org. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 31, 2017. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  9. ^ Van Bramer, S. E. (1996). "Chemical Nomenclature". Archived from the original on October 18, 2018. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  10. ^ "About Water". Bluelake Technologies. Archived from the original on March 8, 2011. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  11. ^ a b "Nomenclature of Inorganic Chemistry: IUP Recommendations 2005" (PDF). 2005. Archived (PDF) from the original on December 12, 2019. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  12. ^ Leigh, G. J.; Favre, H.A.; Metanomski, W.V. (1998). Principles of Chemical Nomenclature: A Guide to IUPAC Recommendations (PDF). UK: Blackwell Science Ltd. p. 99. ISBN 0-86542-685-6. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 26, 2011. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  13. ^ a b Halford, Bethany. "Danger! H in H2O". Chemical & Engineering News. Vol. 84, no. 43. Archived from the original on April 19, 2016. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  14. ^ "Contamination Warning!" (PDF). UC Santa Cruz. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 27, 2020. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  15. ^ "Hydrogen Hydroxide: Now More Than Ever!". Armory.com. Archived from the original on May 23, 2014. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  16. ^ Glassman, James K. (October 10, 1997). "Dihydrogen Monoxide: Unrecognized Killer". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on June 19, 2018. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  17. ^ Open access icon"Press Kit". DHMO.org. Retrieved November 25, 2018.(password-protected) username is press and password is press
  18. ^ "Campaign launched against dihydrogen monoxide". Deutsche Presse-Agentur. April 1, 1998.
  19. ^ "Greens Support Ban On Water!". Scoop Independent News. October 25, 2001. Archived from the original on December 13, 2018. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  20. ^ a b Gnad, Megan (September 14, 2007). "MP tries to ban water". New Zealand Herald. Archived from the original on November 26, 2018. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  21. ^ Dave (June 5, 2012). "Neal Boortz to Hang Up the Headphones". Fellowship Of The Minds. Archived from the original on November 26, 2018. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  22. ^ "Environmental Hysteria". Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. Season 1. Episode 13. April 18, 2003.
  23. ^ "Local officials nearly fall for H2O hoax". NBCNews.com. March 15, 2004. Archived from the original on November 26, 2018. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  24. ^ "Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 12 September 07". Scoop. September 13, 2007. Archived from the original on June 19, 2018. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  25. ^ "PDF file of related correspondence" (PDF). Scoop. September 13, 2007. Archived (PDF) from the original on January 8, 2018. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  26. ^ "Regina-qu'appelle mp tables legislation to ban dihydrogen monoxide". April 1, 2009. Archived from the original on May 11, 2011. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  27. ^ "Pitäisikö lakia tiukentaa vetyhapon saatavuuden ja käytön osalta?" (in Finnish). Sosiaalinen Vaalikone. February 25, 2011. Archived from the original on May 29, 2013. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  28. ^ "Florida DJs Are Off the Hook for Their Successful April Fool's Prank". The Atlantic Wire. April 3, 2013. Archived from the original on November 26, 2018. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  29. ^ "Presenters suspended for April Fool hoax". Radio Today. April 1, 2013. Archived from the original on November 6, 2018. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  30. ^ "2 radio personalities suspended due to April Fools' Day prank". WFTV. April 2, 2013. Archived from the original on June 19, 2018. Retrieved November 25, 2018.

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