Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2013 December 13
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paradox of "calcined ashes"
I've read about the term Alkali and I found this passage: "The word "alkali" is derived from Arabic al qalīy (or alkali), meaning the calcined ashes (see calcination), referring to the original source of alkaline substances.". I've noticed to the definition of "calcined ashes" and it seems for me like paradox because the meaning of ashes is something that was burnt, and if we say "calcined ashes" it seems like something unnecessary. Could it be that this words have been written by mistake or is there any explanation for that? Thank you. 22.214.171.124 (talk) 18:24, 13 December 2013 (UTC)
- Calcination is not the same as combustion - and this early usage must also consider the alchemical processes of calcination too. Rmhermen (talk) 18:55, 13 December 2013 (UTC)
- Calcination originally meant a reaction with lime (calcium). It has since taken on a broader meaning of thermal decomposition so that calcium is no longer necessarily involved. So originally ashes, after heating with calcium hydroxide, produced alkali. Thincat (talk) 23:17, 13 December 2013 (UTC)
"Which" and "that"
I'm English so I think I use "which" and "that" interchangeably as relative pronouns. However, the usage notes at wikt:which and wikt:that give a US perspective. If I am writing carefully on WP, should I make an effort to use "which" non-restrictively and "that" restrictively to avoid confusing or irritating people? Is there an easy way to remember, how should I say it, which is which? A mnemonic or a sentence where it is obvious? Thincat (talk) 22:39, 13 December 2013 (UTC)
- To answer the first point, WP:ENGVAR is the relevant policy. I can't answer the second, because I'm English and don't remember how American peeves go. --ColinFine (talk) 00:52, 14 December 2013 (UTC)
- "The book, which is on the table, is used" makes no claim about other books: it happens to be on the table. "The book that is on the table is used" implies there are other books elsewhere that are not used. That one is used, others aren't. The distinction should always be made. Engvar applies when there are two different forms, not when one variety just doesn't recognize a distinction. μηδείς (talk) 01:36, 14 December 2013 (UTC)
- In reality though, both British and US English do recognize the distinction in much the same way: that can only be used in a restrictive clause, while which can be used either restrictively or non-restrictively. There is sometimes a notion that which should be used only non-restrictively, but that is not, as is often claimed, a property of American English as such (let alone of all English), but a property of the prescriptive prejudices of certain American grammar teachers and copyeditors, which has never been followed in actual practice by good writers of English. See  for some background. Fut.Perf. ☼ 08:50, 14 December 2013 (UTC)
- Though, as an American who has worked as a copyeditor, I unthinkingly observe the restrictive/nonrestrictive usage of that and which in my own writing, I'm familiar enough with literature from across the pond that the restrictive use of which doesn't bother me at all. It certainly has extensive historical precedent, and there are plenty of examples of it in Wikipedia, which I tend to barely notice. It's worth noting that the opposite usage—the use of that nonrestrictively—isn't a problem, since no one uses it so. So the basic rule that we Americans follow is "If you're setting the relative clause off with commas, use which; otherwise use that". I think you probably already follow the first part of that rule, so the only question is whether you need to follow the second part. I think ColinFine is correct in saying that you don't need to do so when writing on British topics in Wikipedia. Deor (talk) 09:07, 14 December 2013 (UTC)
- I think even in speaking it is unusual for Americans to use which in restrictive clauses. It sounds awkward and slightly pretentious to American ears. Americans (apart from most professional editors) sometimes use which in restrictive clauses in writing perhaps because they are aiming for what they perceive as a higher register than their spoken language. Marco polo (talk) 15:22, 14 December 2013 (UTC)