Trivia · Word of the week

Word of the week: breakonium

Breakonium is, according to Nicholas Lezard in this recent piece in the New Statesman, “the most fragile substance on Earth”. I read the piece and laughed aloud, not for the first time when reading one of his Down and Out in London columns, and have been using the word breakonium ever since.

It’s not an officially recognized word, with a proper dictionary definition, at least not yet. A search for breakonium on The World’s Most Popular Search Engine currently yields “about 19 results”, most of them referring to that New Statesman piece, where it describes a set of wine glasses, bought in a charity shop:

“a set of wine glasses (absurdly cheap but, alas, made of breakonium, the most fragile substance on Earth, and all long gone)”.

It reminds me of a lone wine glass that I have had since the 1980s, which came from a service station. Back then there were all sorts of “free gifts” that you could get for filling up your car, or buying a large can of oil, and this isolated wine glass has endured for over 30 years. It could be made of “anti-breakonium”, the least breakable substance on Earth. Glass cafetieres, which a Canadian friend calls “bodums”, are probably made of breakonium, or something similar. Long ago my wife gave up on them in favour of a metal cafetiere, which has lasted several years.

I have recently spent time looking up the elements of the Periodic Table, and can confirm that breakonium is not there yet. There are four other elements that have been given new names in the last year by IUPAC (the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry). You can read about them in this piece, and trivia fans like me can start adding nihonium, moscovium, tennessine, and oganesson to our list of possible quiz answers. Indeed, at a Quiz Night earlier this evening the question master (Paul Sinha, from “The Chase”) mentioned tennessine in the context of a question about an American playwright, born in 1911, known by the name of a state rather than his first names Thomas Lanier. The answer was Tennessee Williams, and tennessine (atomic number 117, formerly known as unumseptium) takes its name from the same US State.


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