The Grammarphobia Blog

An ion for an ion

Q: I’m uncomfortable with the dictionary pronunciations of  “cation” and “anion” (with the accent on the second syllable). I inevitably accent the first syllable, but I find that somewhat choppy. Any ideas?

A: We doubt that many people are losing sleep over how to pronounce these specialized scientific words.

A “cation” (pronounced kat-EYE-un) is a positively charged ion; an “anion” (pronounced a-NYE-un) is a negatively charged ion.

In an electrolyzed solution, a “cation” migrates to the cathode and an “anion” migrates to the anode.

We don’t see much chance that their pronunciations will change. The words simply aren’t being bandied about enough in the general population.

So if you’re using them in scientific conversations and want to be taken seriously, we’d recommend going with the dictionary pronunciations.

If the pronunciations sound like Greek to you, it may be because both words come from the language of Homer, Socrates, and Aristophanes.

The Greek verb katienai means to go down and anienai means to go up. The Greek ion, meaning something that goes, is from ienai (to go).

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