Electron orbitals are referred to as s, p, d and f. I have read that there was a Latinate basis for this, but never found anything more specific. (Obviously, the discovery of electron orbitals by Bohr et. al. post-dated the fall of the Roman Empire by nearly 1500 years, so I realize that any such naming convention, if ancient Greek or Latin, would have been inspirational rather than originally sourced.)


The basis is actually pure English, not Latinate. They stand for: sharp, principal, diffuse, and fundamental. You might be interested in this: The Origin of the s,p,d,f Orbital Labels, which is a short essay by the historian of chemistry William Jensen.

  • $\begingroup$ There we go. . . $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Dec 13 '14 at 0:39
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    $\begingroup$ I have read the linked article. The author does not actually say that these letters stand for English words. He does indicate that they were first used by the Swedish physicist Rydberg in an article published in French in 1890 and then adopted by a number of German scientists writing in German in the early part of the 20th century. At that time English was not the language of international science and it is difficult to believe that these Swedish and German scientists would have invented an English-based terminology. $\endgroup$ – fdb Dec 13 '14 at 11:49
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    $\begingroup$ @EllieKesselman. Scharf, prinzipal, diffus, fundamental. "Pure English", as David H calls it. $\endgroup$ – fdb Dec 14 '14 at 0:01
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    $\begingroup$ @fdb Thank you! Pure German then? Is that the genesis of s, p, d and f then? Specifically, scharf, prinzipal, diffus, fundamental? Or is there further nuance? $\endgroup$ – Ellie Kesselman Dec 14 '14 at 0:31
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    $\begingroup$ David, would you mind editing your answer to contain or point to the comments by @fdb? $\endgroup$ – hjhjhj57 Dec 15 '14 at 20:56

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