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Re: ‘orgo’ as shorthand

April 18, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 16

Use of the word “orgo” in Bethany Halford’s story about organic chemistry education brought up some strong feelings in readers. So much so that detractors and defenders of the word took to C&EN’s website to voice their opinions. Some of their comments are highlighted below, as are the results of a Twitter poll conducted by fellow C&EN reporter Jyllian Kemsley (@jkemsley) gauging public perception of the word.

Please, do not ever shorten “organic” or “organic chemistry” to “orgo.” I cringed every time I saw that in the article and almost stopped reading it.

- Gail Shelly via C&EN’s website

“P-chem” is physical chemistry, “o-chem” or “orgo” is organic chemistry, “gen-chem” is general chemistry ... deal with it.

- Rick Venegas via C&EN’s website

I do not think shortening “organic chemistry” to “orgo” is an affront to the subject but rather simply recognizes that is what probably 99% of college students call it.

- Crystal Baus via C&EN’s website

Using the term “orgo” disrespects the discipline. Sounds like a monster (ogre? orc?) from Middle Earth and could be considered an affront.

- Jeff via C&EN’s website



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A.-J. Avestro (April 19, 2016 10:46 AM)
I'm under the impression that O-Chem is prefered on the west coast and orgo prefered in the midwest and east. At UC Berkeley, we called it O-Chem, which is consistent alongside Gen-chem, P-Chem, I-Chem, MatChem, Biochem, E-Chem, etc. etc. I never heard of 'orgo' until I moved to Northwestern for graduate school and it really made me cringe. It just doesn't make sense, unless we start calling the others inorgo, phys, gen(go?)... We're scientists; we tend to promote logic and systematisation as needed. This is why IUPAC nomenclature is still useful and relevant to teach students, as well as more contemporary classifications of functional groups and families of molecules -- it's to organise and at least get everyone on the same page, especially when commercial suppliers can't seem to agree on a compound name. Luckily, we also have CAS numbers when words no longer cut it.
Steve Lerman (April 20, 2016 2:11 PM)
In my day ('60s)we called them qual, quant, organic, and p-chem. I don't remember a cutesy nickname for general chem.
Kelly Janssen (April 20, 2016 2:42 PM)
I have never heard the term "orgo" before reading this article. I graduated from a west coast university with a chemistry degree two years ago. The term makes me cringe. It doesn't even make sense. What does the second "o" stand for?
G. McCauley (April 20, 2016 4:56 PM)
Since when did we get so lazy as to avoid pronouncing vegetables, carbohydrate, or chemistry?
George Damasevitz (April 20, 2016 9:05 PM)
"Orgo" has no logical roots other than the disdained an d irrelevant popular culture terms such as "orgasm" or "ogre"and who knows what else. It is a discipline with a huge vocabularity and historicically profound logical relationships which are well beyond the average student to grasp. When I started teaching 40 years ago, the subject was called "organic" chemistry, a name derived from logical and historic sources and remains as meaningful today as it was in Markovnikov's time. Lest you think I'm a conservative academic, I am not. I am a tree hugging supporter of Bernie Sanders and a registered Green Party citizens with strong ties to the Socialist Party and Social Justice.
David Coffin (April 20, 2016 10:10 PM)
In the Midwest in the 60's we just called it "organic". Very straight forward. I never heard of "ogro" until 5 or 10 years ago.
Pat Breen (April 21, 2016 8:15 AM)
I see nothing wrong with calling it Orgo. The fragile flowers out there who cringe when they hear it need to get over themselves, maybe take a vitamin or something.
Steve Bowlus (April 21, 2016 1:46 PM)
Actually, until this question was raised in C&EN, I had never heard organic chemistry referred to as "orgo." Since the early '70s, it has always been o-chem or just organic. Hated and feared, regardless of the monicker used, though.
Bill Clemons PE (April 22, 2016 11:44 AM)
There is a temptation to associate simple, fad terminology around how college kids feel about themselves and their studies. P-chem and O-chem are familiar vernacular from my school days. However, analytical chemistry was not referred to as A-chem. Use of the term Orgo may be an attempt to help sort thought process in a world dominated by electronic media.

Robert Buntrock (April 22, 2016 4:33 PM)
Interesting comments. As a born and raised Midwesterner and undergrad educated (55 years ago), we always called it inorganic. When I went East for grad school I began to hear "orgo", especially among pre-meds. When spoken the problem with organic or organic chemistry is the typical Med School recruiter question how did you do in organic which, to the unitintiat3ed, sounds like "inorganic".

I'm a lifelong organic chemist but it doesn't bother me what you call it as long as we're describing the same thing.

R. E. Buntrock, B. Chem. U. Minn. (organic) '62, PhD Princeton (organic) *67

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