Talk:The Elements (song)

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"Fair use" warning

Is the we-aren't-violating-copyright statement of "(fair use quote from a copyrighted work)" necessary? How is such a quote unlike any other quotes that we use in the biographies? Do we need to all such quotes in WP?

It's visually unpleasant and distracting. --Menchi 12:04 23 Jun 2003 (UTC)

I removed it. Evercat 12:26 23 Jun 2003 (UTC)
I removed the copyrighted lyrics from the song.
This is merely FYI: The names of the elements cannot be copyrighted. In fact, the only part of this song that would definately retain a copyright is the end about Harvard. (which we've retained) That said, I will also point out that while the names of the elements themselves cannot be copyrighted, the order and rhyme scheme can arguably be copyrighted. But since the rhyme scheme is dictated by "The Major General's Song," I don't think that this song has a very strong case for copyright. (Don't misunderstand, I am saying that it is copyrighted, but I think that there is a chance this copyright wouldn't stand in a court of law) - Skylark

Copyright infringement?

The above discussions are all quite old, and now the full text of the song is on this page again. Does this infringe copyright? Contrary to Skylark's argument above I would posit that both the idea of setting the elements to music and the actual lyrics are copyrightable, and now that Tom Lehrer has done it any other attempt would potentially be plagiarism. I would imagine that the process of writing this song was quite creative - Tom Lehrer probably worked out a verse metre that would support a rhyming scheme which fit all the elements in, and then cast around for a tune, rather than choosing the tune first. Whatever, I'm pretty certain that Wikipedia doesn't own the copyright of the lyrics of this song. (I'm not a lawyer. I'm also quite a new Wikipedian so be gentle with me.) --RobertG 16:47, 29 Apr 2005 (UTC)

I think RobertG makes a good point. Maybe it would be better if we reproduced only four or five lines of the song. That should be enough to give the reader a good sense of it. This might be more defensable as "fair use", though I am also not a lawyer. Jonathunder 20:09, 2005 Apr 29 (UTC)
Copyright does not protect/curtail ideas, but expressions of ideas. This means, as Skylark observed above, that the lyrics of the song are copyrightable. However, another song, listing the elements in a different order, would not infringe the copyright. The short quotations we have would be fair use, while the diagram is almost certainly fair use too, if it's any kind of use. 17:04, 19 October 2005 (UTC)
It's of NO discernible use. I should put back my joke about TomLehrerium. It's no worse. Wahkeenah 17:10, 19 October 2005 (UTC)

Someone had put the full lyrics back. Per the discussion above, I shortened it again to opening and closing lines, which probably is fair use. Please do not put the full song in again as that is almost certainly a copyright violation. Jonathunder 14:12, 22 February 2006 (UTC)

The lyrics for this or most any song are available from countless websites. Arguably, printing the lyrics makes since if there is some analysis of them. There ain't much ot analyze here, it's just a list of the elements. Maybe every song page in wikipedia should have a link to Google, so the users can look the lyrics up if they're that much in need of them. Wahkeenah 16:05, 22 February 2006 (UTC)

Attack of the humorless drones

Yeah, shoot me. Took this out:

So far, no one has seen fit to name any new element "TomLehrerium".

It would only include his last name: lehrerium (try saying that ten times in a row). But, um, this observation isn't so funny that we have to put it in the article so the readers can chuckle with us. No offense. 22:30, 12 July 2005 (UTC)

Made up Elements

I Heard that the song contained some made up elements (like Healthcare products he randomly included in the song). I don’t know which ones they were, but if somebody could confirm which ones they are it would be nice to see them in the article and be able to fallow a link to an article about them to find out what they actually are.--E-Bod 05:28, 16 April 2006 (UTC)

  • If you've actually heard the song, you would know this is not true. Wahkeenah 08:38, 16 April 2006 (UTC)
As someone who's actually memorized the song, I can assure you that all elements named in it are real. Including "fake" elements would have ruined the entire song, since the whole point of it is showcasing a rhyming arrangement of a pre-existing set of words. Anyone can string together a patter song from arbitrary words, but fitting praseodymium in a meter takes some skill... 11:24, 6 May 2006 (UTC)
Right. Someone I know heard the song and thought Lehrer was saying "Southern Californium" at one point. Of course, it's "Sulfur, Californium, etc." I'm impressed that you can sing the song without stumbling over it. I expect that keeping the rhythm firmly embedded in your head is the key to getting through this or any of the other typical G&S tongue-twisters. Wahkeenah 11:48, 6 May 2006 (UTC)
Actually, the biggest problem I had was memorizing the order in which the elements appear, since it's easy to mix up lines without breaking the song—the Major General's Song is easier in that respect because it has much more distinctive lyrics (but it's harder because the lyrics are, shall we say, arcane). Singing The Elements is rather easy, especially the way Tom does it (relatively monotonous). The most difficult lines are of course the last ones: "and argon, krypton, neon, radon, xenon, zinc and rhodium / and chlorine, carbon, cobalt, copper, tungsten, tin and sodium". You can only sing this so fast before it becomes incomprehensible. 12:22, 6 May 2006 (UTC)
Yes, you have to research some of the terms in the Major General's song to find out what the hey he's talking about (I, for one, don't know what is meant by "mamelon" and "ravelin"). It's good to point out that Lehrer does the song in a monotone, not the actual way the M G song is sung (although the sheet music has it the normal way). If that fact is not already stated in the article, it could or should be [it is]. I can do the last line of "The Elements" OK, and it's easier to say it "Tungs'en" the way Lehrer did, or seemed to. One oddity is that Lehrer pronounces Iodine as "I-o-deen", which is not normal usage nowadays, at least not where I come from. But at least he says Aluminum rather than "Aluminium" the way the Brits say it. Wahkeenah 12:36, 6 May 2006 (UTC)
The article already has the information on how Tom sings it, so that's covered. As for the last lines: they do become a problem if you sing the song as fast as possible all the way, try it. :-) Though, "hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium" may actually be trickier. 12:57, 6 May 2006 (UTC)
Sorry to have to irritate Wahkeenah (heh), but "I-o-deen" is how we pronounce it in Britain - and "aluminium" was the original official way of spelling (and thus pronouncing) that metal, according to the IUPAC! :^) Still, I would expect Lehrer to say "a-LOO-min-um", since he is American, and the scansion is better for the tune... - HTUK 23:44, 6 September 2006 (UTC)
Last time I checked, Lehrer is American. And you're not irritating me. Was I irritating you, Mr. Brit? :) Wahkeenah 23:48, 6 September 2006 (UTC)
Sorry to interrupt this joyful repartee, but I'm sure there is a mistake in the online lyrics. In the lyrics, it says "lutetium," but Mr. Lehrer says "Rutecium." Believe me, I've listened to this song over and over, and this is a mistake. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 00:33, 16 March 2007 (UTC).
He probably intended "lutetium" (which is really pronounced more like "lutecium"). "Rutecium" is not an element, in any case. Double sharp (talk) 09:50, 24 December 2011 (UTC)

Periodic table

the "Periodic Table according to Lehrer" section gives a standard periodic table, with only the atomic numbers changed around. For a lark, I've created one that substitutes the elements and ignores the elements not mentioned in the song from memory. However, while it's closer to the "Periodic Table according to Lehrer", it's kinda creeping towards copyright infringement, though to be honest the one in there at the moment is on just as shaky ground. Any opinions on whether it'd make sense to replace it with the following?

Folded. Quite old really, and there are Templates now, maintained.
Group → 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
Period ↓
1 1

2 3

3 11

4 19
5 37
6 55
7 87

* Lanthanides 57
** Actinides 89

- DePiep (talk) 04:05, 8 May 2012 (UTC) (folded)

GeeJo (t)(c) • 13:50, 11 May 2006 (UTC)

Although I consider the periodic tables gimmicky and unnecessary, I don't really care either way. What I feel should be cleared up is the misconception that we would in any way be violating copyright with such a paraphrasing of the song. The song is copyrighted; the particular ordering of the elements is a concept and cannot be copyrighted.

The table is not a derivative work, since it does not incorporate copyrightable aspects of the original. Maybe the combination of the table and instructions to sing out the English names of the elements it lists, in order, to the tune of The Major-General's Song, plugging in small words to bridge the meter where appropriate might be considered a derivative work, but I doubt it.

Of course, this discussion is purely academic. The Elements would be the last song we would get in actual trouble for.

My initial remarks about the periodic tables notwithstanding: your version makes no sense. Those colored groups are there for a reason, and Lehrer's order doesn't preserve any of the regularity of the element groups. You can't very well go around calling krypton an actinide... 22:42, 11 May 2006 (UTC)

Well, actually, he does keep most of the noble gases together... (talk) 12:29, 31 January 2011 (UTC)
...but in this "Lehrer Periodic Table" the noble gases are next to each other horizontally, not vertically as they are in a normal periodic table. (The previous comment was by me.) Double sharp (talk) 09:51, 24 December 2011 (UTC)

Extend the song?

Well, since we now have nine more named elements discovered since this song was first recorded, what would you think about extending the song to mention those newest elements? Here's an extra verse that I came up with:

Hey wait a minute Tom! Before we reached the new millennium,
we did a lot of lab work, and we wound up with Roentgenium,
Hassium, Rutherfordium and Dubnium, Seaborgium,
Meitnerium, Darmstadtium, Lawrencium and Bohrium.

I know it's not great, but whaddaya all think?

-- Denelson83 05:54, 14 May 2006 (UTC)

  • That it's way too late at night. Extra credit if you can actually pronounce all of them. :) Wahkeenah 06:17, 14 May 2006 (UTC)
Very good, well done. However, the article is about Lehrer's song, not yours. Even if you managed to get round that, the extra verse would not be verifiable, and therefore should not be included. Extra credit if you write yet another verse containing all those badly-named ones at the end (unununium, ununbium, ununtrium and so on). Daniel () 18:34, 29 May 2006 (UTC)

Switch Hassium and Rutherfordium.TestingTesting 23:06, 29 September 2006 (UTC)

It doesn't matter if you come up with another verse, the song is already published on millions of albums and can't be changed. 00:24, 17 March 2007 (UTC)
That was from last May. I haven't heard any news about Tom rewriting his song, so I suspect this is a moot issue. Wahkeenah 04:11, 17 March 2007 (UTC)
I suppose it is, then. 13:37, 17 March 2007 (UTC)
Very nice, you should put it on YouTube!123Mike456Winston789 (talk) 22:12, 17 December 2009 (UTC)
Now we also need copernicium, and soon also flerovium and livermorium. Double sharp (talk) 09:49, 24 December 2011 (UTC)
Somewhere (possibly in the journal Chemical and Engineering News) about fifteen years ago, someone did actually write some extra verses to add on the elements beyond Nobelium that had been discovered (and named) since Lehrer wrote this. I'll see if I can locate the article.--Voodude (talk) 22:07, 14 January 2014 (UTC)

Colour of numbers in periodic table

What's with the different colours for the order number in the "Lehrer periodic table"? Shouldn't this be explained in the article somewhere? Grutness...wha? 11:27, 8 June 2006 (UTC)

  • It's "explained" by its author, above. It's an obvious copyright violation, but that's up to User:Rory096 to fret over. Wahkeenah 12:33, 8 June 2006 (UTC)

Removing "Lehrer periodic table"

The whole concept of a "Lehrer atomic number", on which the Lehrer Periodic Table is based, seems to be the invention of whichever wikipedian added that section, and so falls foul of WP:NOR. If we really wanted to report the ordering of all the elements in the song then we could do so in a plain and factual format, not embellished with our own creativity, provided that it's not a copyright violation (on which I don't know one way or the other). But anyway in my opinion the entire ordering is in any event not really necessary, beyond making the rather general observation that elements are grouped together according to the sound of the words rather than the ordering in the periodic table (and perhaps giving one or two examples of this), and as others have said there are numerous other sites where people can find the entire lyrics if they want them. Sorry, but I'm going to lose this section from the article. Arbitrary username 19:14, 23 October 2006 (UTC)

OK. —Daniel (‽) 20:44, 23 October 2006 (UTC)
OK by me. I always thought that table was a bit odd there, but somone had obviously gone to such work, I didn't want to remove it. It's probably more suited to a user page or something, though, if the creator wants it. Jonathunder 21:20, 23 October 2006 (UTC)
Yes by all means there may be a home for it elsewhere, if anyone wants to grab a copy from the page history. It's creative, and even quite fun, but unfortunately article space isn't really the place for it. Arbitrary username 22:19, 23 October 2006 (UTC)


What is the genre of this song? Elfred 18:22, 11 March 2007 (UTC)

Molecular comedy. - DavidWBrooks 18:42, 11 March 2007 (UTC)
Alright, comedy it is.

Full lyrics?

Could someone post the full lyrics here? I've looked on the internet, and every copy of the lyrics I find sounds wrong when I listen to the song. In part of the song, Lehrer says "Europium, zirconium, lutetium, vanadium." However, it sounds a lot like he is saying "Europium, zirconium, rutecium, vanadium," and Rutecium is not an element. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Elfred (talkcontribs) 22:36, 15 March 2007 (UTC).

You'll see considerable discussion about this above on the page - the consensus was no, that would not be fair use. - DavidWBrooks 22:52, 15 March 2007 (UTC)
It isn't illegal to post lyrics to a song if you give credit to the original owner, buddy. But that wasn't my point. I was talking about the apparent mistake in the lyrics.
yes it is 23:07, 4 April 2007 (UTC)
No, it's not. 23:48, 4 April 2007 (UTC)
Boy, this is edifying: The "wisdom of crowds" at its finest. - DavidWBrooks 01:00, 5 April 2007 (UTC)
That song is a tongue-twister. Don't rule out the possibility that he might have messed up. Wahkeenah 00:49, 16 March 2007 (UTC)
Alright. I was afraid that I had heard him wrong or something. Thanks! 04:11, 16 March 2007 (UTC)
Just to be sure, I listened to the song again. It is really hard to tell. It almost sounds like "rutecium", but I thing he got the "l" in there. He actually made a couple of other compromises, as it were: he kind of garbled "molybdenum" and near the end he said "tungs'en". Not bad altogether, presuming he did it in a single "take". Wahkeenah 04:38, 16 March 2007 (UTC)
Well, alright. I guess I just don't have very good hearing. =P And yeah, he garbled it, but you're right: Assuming it was one take, he did exceptionally well. I can hardly get the first half of the song. 00:23, 17 March 2007 (UTC) (aka Elfred)
I wouldn't argue that my hearing is any better. However, as tongue-twisting as the words are (both Gilbert's and Lehrer's versions) the G&S "patter" songs were written by Sullivan in such a way that the words flow fairly easily. Wahkeenah 04:15, 17 March 2007 (UTC)
That's true. 13:37, 17 March 2007 (UTC)


"the final rhyme of "Harvard" and "discovered" is delivered in a parody of a Boston accent, i.e. non-rhotic so that the two words rhyme." — I suppose this may also be a reference to the MIT, right? If so, it might be worth mentioning; I'm not going to put it in myself, though, since I'm just guessing. :) -- Schneelocke 07:46, 14 June 2007 (UTC)

I'm not sure I understand what you mean. - DavidWBrooks 10:09, 14 June 2007 (UTC)
I don't think there's any intention to refer to MIT. -- Ssilvers 00:57, 15 June 2007 (UTC)


I went and listened to my copy of the song, sung by Lehrer, and he does mispronounce "mercury" in the song. However, is there any evidence that we aren't all listening to the same mistake, rather than this being done on purpose? And how would anyone cite this? Thoughts? Loggie (talk) 17:03, 1 May 2008 (UTC)

Unless this has been discussed in a reliable source, I think that any discussion of it in the article is prohibited under original research. Best regards, -- Ssilvers (talk) 17:45, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
I've gone ahead and removed it, as it didn't fit well where it was, it doesn't strike me as noteworthy, and it's original research. Loggie (talk) 18:09, 1 May 2008 (UTC)

Quoting lyrics

As discussed above several times, quoting part of the lyrics to the song is permitted under WP:FU guidelines. -- Ssilvers (talk) 22:42, 2 May 2008 (UTC)

References in pop culture

You could think about adding a section about references in pop culture. I'm sure there must be plenty and I know of the top of my head that an NCIS episode featured it with a filter applied to the computer isolated about four elements whose atomic numbers had something to do with an off-shore bank account. Terrorist was caught yada-yada besides the point. If people can come up with a few more references maybe you should add a section. Althalitus (talk) 11:06, 5 June 2008 (UTC)

Table of elements

An editor added a new section with a table of the elements in the order sung in the song. Should we keep this or delete it? -- Ssilvers (talk) 02:36, 5 November 2009 (UTC)


I think he made a version based off of Greek elements.It took me a while but its there. "there's fire earth water and air"--Commander v99 (talk) 21:53, 16 April 2012 (UTC)

Not him, but I have heard that parody of his joke. - DavidWBrooks (talk) 01:50, 17 April 2012 (UTC)
Well, our article says he makes this "four elements" joke in spoken form at the end of some recorded performances, so I appear to be wrong. (astonishing!) - DavidWBrooks (talk) 01:51, 17 April 2012 (UTC)

An earlier Elements song

In the 19th century, someone tried to fit the elements into the tune of Gaudeamus igitur: [1], page 68. The elements are arranged in the order of descending electronegativity, first used by Berzelius. Burzuchius (talk) 17:37, 12 July 2012 (UTC)

Here's one that is set to Offenbach, sort of: [2]. Here's a rap version: [3]. I bet there have been lots of them. Partial credit: [4], [5], [6], [7] and [8]. -- Ssilvers (talk) 18:17, 12 July 2012 (UTC)

EL question

Hi Ssilvers and anyone else who might have this page on their watchlist. At some point in the past we had this [9] in the external links section. While the new one er I mean current one since I don't know when the change occurred - is fine I have an affection for this one. Particularly the way the list the elements that "Haven't Been Discovered" at the end. It actually gives there names of the elements while the current one only shows their place on the table. If you prefer the current one that is fine but I wonder if we could have both of them. If not no problems. Thanks ahead of time for any responses. MarnetteD | Talk 22:10, 5 November 2012 (UTC)

Hi, MarnetteD. Someone removed it on July 6, 2012. I don't know why. I'll add it back, but someone might take it off again as redundant. Yes, I do prefer the Timwi one, with its mapping of the periodic table. -- Ssilvers (talk) 00:42, 6 November 2012 (UTC)
Thanks for the reply and for adding it back. Of course the important thing is the song itself and it was a treat when I saw Daniel Radcliffe was so into it when he sang it on the Graham Norton Show. I wonder if Mr Lehrer has any knowledge of how long lasting his songs would be. I also wonder how interesting it would have been to be one of his students. Cheers. MarnetteD | Talk 00:56, 6 November 2012 (UTC)

The table

This article is about the Tom Lehrer's song not about actual table. We do not need a huge copy of the table (see WP:UNDUE) at the bottom of the article. The one in the top right is sufficient for the readers needs. The large one overwhelms the article with info that the reader is not looking for. Anyone who does become interested in the table has a link in the lede and can click on the table that already exists. MarnetteD | Talk 02:08, 16 April 2013 (UTC)

You're right. -DePiep (talk) 12:16, 16 April 2013 (UTC)
Thank you for your post and for your understanding. I do hope that you have listened to and enjoyed this song. Speaking as one who grew up enjoying Mr Lehrer's works it was quite fun when Daniel Radcliffe sang this one in his appearance on The Graham Norton Show last year. Cheers. MarnetteD | Talk 13:05, 16 April 2013 (UTC)
Thanks & understanding. Of course I enjoyed the song. The man was brillllllliant (remember: "counting down to zero in Chinese"?). It's just I wanted to see the element names he sings. Would it be illegal to write them in his sequence, his rhyming? -DePiep (talk) 22:12, 16 April 2013 (UTC)
I think so. There are a couple threads above this one where it looks like consensus was that the full lyrics should not be put in the article. There is also a hidden note in the article stating that we should not put in the full lyrics. Cheers again. MarnetteD | Talk 22:59, 16 April 2013 (UTC)
I agree with MarnetteD. Reproducing the entire song would be a copyright violation, and is also unnecessary. The article should discuss and explain the song (using reliable sources); it should not simply reproduce it. -- Ssilvers (talk) 22:59, 17 April 2013 (UTC)
No, not the lyrics. Just the order. The rhymings. "-ium" does not count. He had: plutonium -- polonium [10]. The rhymings! -DePiep (talk) 23:10, 20 April 2013 (UTC)

New verse

This doesn't need to go in the article, but...

There's dubnium, darmstadtium, lawrencium, and bohrium
seaborgium, nihonium, and also livermorium
roentgenium and tennessine, meitnerium, moscovium
and also oganesson, copernicium, flerovium
We must remember hassium and lastly rutherfordium
If there are any others, I'm afraid I haven't heardium.*

*not my lyric Squee3 (talk) 03:21, 19 February 2017 (UTC)

I'm not sure the fourth line works: I would probably stress oganesson on the penultimate. Double sharp (talk) 15:10, 20 February 2017 (UTC)
Okay. Fixed it. Squee3 (talk) 17:17, 20 February 2017 (UTC)
The more times I read this, the better it gets. ^_^ Double sharp (talk) 09:46, 23 April 2017 (UTC)

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