Silicon And Silicone Are Not The Same Thing

Silicon is element number 14 in the periodic table, and an essential component in the processors that power our computers and phones and lives. Silicone is the stuff which is used in breast implants and earbuds. The two words aren't interchangeable.

Picture: Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

Here's a full definition of silicon from our standard reference work, the Macquarie Dictionary:

A non-metallic element, having amorphous and crystalline forms, occurring in the combined state in minerals and rocks and constituting more than one fourth of the earth's crust; widely used as a semiconductor in solid-state electronics.

And here's silicone neatly explained by the same source:

Any of a large group of polymers, based on a structure consisting of alternating silicon and oxygen atoms with various organic groups attached to the silicon.

Silicone contains silicon, both in the spelling and in its composition. But the two words can't be exchanged: there is no such thing as a "silicone chip" or "silicon implants". Accuracy matters.

Lifehacker's Mind Your Language column offers advice on improving your writing.


    But....where do all the calculators go, Angus?

    This is one that I've seen and heard depressingly often from sources who really ought to know better.

      Exactly! I have IT friends who didn't know the difference. Silicone is soft and silicon is hard/crystalline.

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