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  • Writer's pictureTim Coyne

The Mysterious 'p' in pH: Unraveling its Origins

The concept of pH, an essential parameter in chemistry used to measure the acidity or alkalinity of solutions, was introduced by Danish chemist Søren Peter Lauritz Sørensen in 1909. The notation "pH•" was originally utilized, with H• as a subscript to the lowercase p. Later, in 1924, the notation evolved to the modern pH to accommodate electrochemical cell measurements and definitions. However, the origin of the letter "p" in pH remains shrouded in mystery, with several intriguing linguistic theories proposed. Remarkably, Sørensen himself did not disclose the reason behind the "p" in pH, leaving scholars to speculate on the exact origin. Due to his background and the locations of his studies it could have been from many different languages.




The French Connection:

One theory proposes that "pH" might stand for "Puissance d'Hydrogène," a French phrase translating to "power of hydrogen." Considering the linguistic landscape at the Carlsberg Laboratory, where Sørensen conducted his research, the French influence remains plausible.


The German Twist:

Another hypothesis associates "pH" with "Potenz des Wasserstoffes," meaning "power of hydrogen" in German. German, as a dominant scientific publishing language during that era, could have influenced Sørensen's terminology.


The Dutch Influence:

In Dutch, "Potentia Hydrogenii" translates to "power of hydrogen," mirroring the German and French meanings. Given the linguistic proximity among German, French, and Dutch, a cross-linguistic influence cannot be disregarded.


Some other notable interpretations:

- "Potential" (General): Referring to the potential difference in measuring pH using potential differences

- "Potens" (Danish): Another term for "power"

- "Pondus Hydrogenii" (Latin): Quantity of Hydrogen

- "Potentia Hydrogenii" (Latin): Power of Hydrogen

- "Power" (General): Related to the significance of hydrogen ions in determining acidity and alkalinity

- "Ponderous" (Informal): An informal play on "Pondus Hydrogenii," meaning "heavy" or "weighty"

- "Perhydroxyl" (Speculative): A conjecture relating "P" to the perhydroxyl ion in water chemistry


Never-the-less in contemporary chemistry, the letter "p" in pH signifies "the negative decimal logarithm of" the hydrogen ion concentration. Despite the linguistic ambiguity, the pH scale remains a vital tool for analyzing the chemical properties of solutions including Water Treatment.


At Sterling Water Tech, our team of technicians is dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of water treatment systems' pH. Our expertise in water treatment solutions allows us to optimize your pH levels for peak performance and safety. Trust our professionals to navigate the complexities of pH in your water treatment process, ensuring your water quality goals are achieved with precision. Contact us today to discover how our unparalleled support and exceptional service can elevate your water treatment system to new heights. Together, we will decode the enigmatic language of pH and revolutionize your water treatment endeavors.

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