The recent threat of trading standards action against Welsh sausage maker Black Mountains Smokery has been the subject of much press interest here in the UK

The recent threat of trading standards action against Welsh sausage maker Black Mountains Smokery has been the subject of much press interest here in the UK. Its Welsh dragon sausages earned official wrath thanks to the potentially misleading name; bureaucratic intervention was inevitable once it became apparent that the sausages are in fact dragon-meat free. Of course, even those unaware of the Cymric penchant for a bit of symbolic Ddraig Goch would be unlikely to be too surprised to hear of the more prosaic porcine truth behind the ingredient list.  

The episode does, however, raise the subject of chemical-sounding products which, to the dismay of many chemists, don’t contain the chemical elements alluded to in their names. 

With a background in Group 16 elements, I was naturally intrigued by Selenium software. The hope was that it would use state of the art high level calculations to predict the effects that substitution of sulfur with its heavier congener would engender. It could provide a database of inorganic selenium systems alongside careful correlation of 77Se chemical shift data. It might even help to probe the murky world of biological selenium and aid the ongoing investigations into its beneficial effects on human life. Alas, nothing so grand; it turns out to be something to do with sending text messages. Or something. 

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, let’s face it, when a leading mobile phone network decides to purloin the primary molecular form of the lightest chalcogen you have to wonder what hope there is.  

And needless to say UK firm Brimstone Design has precious little to do with sulfur. There is a disturbing tendency for design and IT companies to latch onto those elemental names possessing a certain je ne sais quoi. Thus alkali earths rubidium, cesium (sic) and lithium have all been acquired as .com sites by IT-esque companies. Group 1 is not all IT doom and gloom; for example, anyone after ladies fashion bargains should dust down their map of Tasmania and head to Sodium, with its stores in Launceston and Hobart.  

It looks bad for the chalcogens (with no rush to brand polonium now). But wait, what’s this? A Hermle tellurium clock? Now that sounds more promising. Perhaps it has anthracite-black hands, carefully chiselled from a block of the solid element by teams of wizened artisans, all well-versed in the arcane art of chalcogen carving? Or maybe some atomic property of a tellurium isotope is used in the manner of caesium clocks, providing an exotic heartbeat to power the timepiece’s unimaginable accuracy? Or could it perhaps be that the clock face itself sparkles with reflections from a myriad of inlaid calaverite (gold telluride) crystals, each reflecting light with the kind of opulent arrogance that only super-rare minerals can provide?  

Well, no; the truth is more down to earth - quite literally in fact. The name is a play on the word tellus, the Latin for Earth, and reflects the fact that the clock design incorporates globes representing the Earth’s passage around the sun and the Moon’s around the Earth, thereby allowing the prediction of phases of the Moon. Swiss masters have also produced wristwatch versions; thus in addition to the Moon motion, the Ulysse Nardin tellurium J Kepler allows you to determine the time and place of sunrise and sunset anywhere on the planet. Amazingly it also includes a hand that tracks the lunar nodes, the times when the Moon crosses the ecliptic and so can potentially result in an eclipse. And the name given to mechanisms such as this? They are called dragon hands - you know, they might want to be careful there. 

Paul Kelly