What Is the Scientific Name for Water?

By Staff WriterLast Updated May 27, 2020 7:20:10 PM ET

The scientific name for water is simply "water." Being a chemical compound, water has alternative names based on its chemical composition. Using the rules and conventions set by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), water may also be called dihydrogen monoxide, dihydrogen oxide, hydrogen hydroxide, or hydric acid. It should be noted that these chemical names for water are seldom used even by scientists. However, these technically correct chemical names for water have been used for pranks, hoaxes, and alarmist parodies.

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The Chemistry of Water

Water has been regularly providing humans with refreshing hydration, making it easy for some to forget that it is a chemical. Its chemical formula, H2O, is the most recognizable and familiar for most people. Water is the most abundant molecule on Earth's surface, making up between 70 to 75% of the surface in liquid and solid states. The Earth's atmosphere likewise abounds with water vapor.

Its chemical formula, H2O, means that it is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. The formula is represented by the chemical symbol "H" for hydrogen, followed by the subscript "2" for the number of hydrogen atoms and the chemical symbol "O" for oxygen. These two elements share electrons, which joins them together in a phenomenon called covalent bonding.

Uses of Water

Humans have been using water both for drinking and for household use throughout history. However, the agricultural sector and various manufacturing and processing industries are the biggest users of water.

Agricultural water is vital for the cultivation of fresh produce and for sustaining livestock. Cooling crops, frost control, and the application of fertilizer and pesticides also require agricultural water. The manufacturing industry has an even bigger requirement for water for applications like fabricating, processing, cooling, or transporting products. Water is likewise essential in industries such as mining, smelting, chemical production, and oil refinery.

Water in Chemical Nomenclature

The IUPAC is the world's authority in chemical nomenclature and terminology. Its primary role is to make recommendations for naming chemicals and set the standards for chemical terminologies for consistency and uniformity.

With these standards, water can be referred to in several unfamiliar yet technically correct names. Apart from those already mentioned, water may also be called hydrohydroxic acid, hydroxilic acid, and hydronium hydroxide. Because of the unfamiliarity of these names, some have used them to play jokes and pranks on people who have limited knowledge about chemical nomenclature.

Dihydrogen Monoxide Parody

One of the most popular practical jokes involving the chemical nomenclature for water is the dihydrogen monoxide parody. These jokes and hoaxes often involve a seemingly legitimate public advisory regarding the presence of a chemical called "dihydrogen monoxide, also known as DHMO."

The supposed public advisory will go on to list down the properties of water, including its corrosive properties, its ability to cause DNA mutation, its use as an industrial solvent, and its presence in most types of cancer cells. Authors of the prank often compose and deliver the warning in a highly sensationalized manner, ending with a call to ban the "dangerous" chemical substance.

Water Prank Origins

One of the earliest versions of the dihydrogen monoxide parody appeared on April Fools' Day issue of the Durand Express in 1983, which is a newspaper in Michigan. The newspaper reported that the substance found in the city's pipes produces blistering vapors and can be fatal if inhaled. The prank's first internet iteration is credited to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1990 when it issued warnings about a substance that causes severe burns and is also a major component of acid rain called "dihydrogen oxide."