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September–November 2023

The IUPAC Orange Book: 14 years in the making

It’s November 2008, and the Officers of the Analytical Chemistry Division of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) are convening in Beijing. After discussing the lack of consistency of the third edition of the Orange Book – based on a report of mine, as division secretary – the group concluded that the Division should go for a complete update. ‘This demanding task will involve all the Division members … each [Titular Member] taking the responsibility for a sub-project.’ This was confirmed at the General Assembly in Glasgow in 2009. As Secretary, and about to become Vice President, then President and Past President, I would have plenty of time (six years of senior office) to complete the project. (Ha!)

What’s in the Orange Book?

The tome that is the Orange Book (Compendium of terminology in analytical chemistry) comprises 13 chapters, 666 pages, 4007 entries (3187 unique entries), 479 symbols, 636 abbreviations and acronyms.

The first definition is 1.1 analytical chemistry. The strangest (and most humorous) acronym is HOHAHA (homonuclear Hartmann–Hahn spectroscopy).

Decisions, decisions

Having decided to more or less start from scratch with the fourth edition, two further decisions had to be made. First, what was to be included and – more contentiously – excluded. Very quickly it was decided to stick to the terminology of principles and methods, and not have applications (as was found in the third edition). So, in came a first chapter on fundamental metrology and a last chapter on modern quality assurance. This added to a new chapter on chemometrics.

Second, the preparation of an entire book from scratch that would contain definitive terminology would have been a review nightmare. We therefore decided that each of the 13 chapters would be prepared as a IUPAC Recommendation published in Pure and Applied Chemistry, and the accepted and fully reviewed terms could be easily moved into the Orange Book. This was a good idea and eventually saved the project from falling in a heap, but the execution of the transfer turned out to be a bit more complicated than we hoped.

Editors … and editors

It might be thought that the job of an editor is to collect the chapters, make sure they are sensible and bring them together in a nice order for publication. This turns out not to be the case for a Colour Book. Even with a published Recommendation, the order of terms might need amending, duplications (surprisingly many) must be resolved, introductions to chapters harmonised and finally an index of terms and symbols created. Learning a lot about writing terminologies, I found myself a co-author on eight Recommendations in addition to writing the Recommendation for Chapter 2, so here the title ‘editor’ covers a bit more than usual.

Why did it take so long?

The 14 years went by with arguments within disciplines (notably radioanalytical with a first draft in 2011 and publication of the Recommendation in 2021), three deaths of people leading chapter projects, including Paul De Bièvre, to whom the Orange Book is dedicated; one member of the Division committee (I shall not name him) totally withdrawing after several years of coming to meetings saying his chapter was nearly finished – any day soon; and a couple of chapters that lingered in the editorial system perhaps a tad longer than necessary. The book was completed by 2021, then, after internal IUPAC reviews, submitted to the publisher (RSC Publishing) in 2022, and it appeared on 23 January 2023.

So, what took so long? Nothing in particular – this is how long these kinds of projects take.

D. Brynn Hibbert FRACI CChem is Secretary of the IUPAC Interdivisional Committee on Terminology, Nomenclature and Symbols, and editor of the Compendium of terminology in analytical chemistry (4th edn, Royal Society of Chemistry, 2023); Emeritus Professor of Analytical Chemistry at the University of New South Wales, Sydney and Emeritus Fellow of IUPAC Analytical Division.

This report is based on Brynn’s article ‘The IUPAC Orange Book – it’s all about the journey’ (Chemistry International April–June 2023). Extracts are used with permission of IUPAC.

IUPAC and the ‘Colour Book’ series

IUPAC was formed after World War 1 (in 1919) to be the authority on matters chemical – chemical nomenclature and terminology, including the naming of new elements in the periodic table; on standardised methods for measurement; and on atomic weights, and many other critically evaluated data. Its work on nomenclature (Red, Blue, Purple, White) and terminology (Green, Orange, Silver) has appeared in the ‘Colour Book’ series since 1958. In 1987, terms were brought together into the Gold Book, which has recently (2019) been updated as an online interactive version.

The first edition of the Compendium of nomenclature of analytical chemistry or Orange Book was in 1977, and the third edition in 1997. An online version, downloadable as a hyperlinked pdf, was published in 2009, the year the decision to embark on the fourth edition was confirmed. (Note: For some time, ‘nomenclature’ was in relation to both chemical names and terms used in chemistry. This word is now reserved for chemical names, and ‘terminology’ is used to describe the language of chemistry.)

First published in 2009 Teamwork ( and reproduced with permission of IUPAC.

Officers of IUPAC’s Analytical Chemistry Division and hosts in Beijing 2008: left, Past President Ryszard Lobinski; sixth from right, host Professor Zhifang Chai; fifth from right, Secretary Brynn Hibbert; fourth from right, President Ales Fajgelj; third from right, Vice President Walter Lund.

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