Archive for the ‘Language of science’ Category

Our playful scientists

October 1, 2014

Sprites, elves, trolls, gnomes, and pixies!

From the NYT Science Times yesterday (9/30), “On the Hunt for a Sprite on a Midsummer’s Night” [oh, the rhyme; science writing has tons of language play] by Sandra Blakeslee, beginning:

Armed with sensitive cameras and radio telescopes, [Thomas] Ashcraft hunts for sprites — majestic emanations of light that flash for an instant high above the thunderheads, appearing in the shapes of red glowing jellyfish, carrots, angels, broccoli, or mandrake roots with blue dangly tendrils. (Weather buffs call the tall, skinny ones “diet sprites.”) No two are alike.

And they are huge — tens of miles wide and 30 miles from top to bottom. But because they appear and vanish in a split-second, the naked eye tends to perceive them only as momentary flashes of light. It takes a high-speed camera to capture them in detail.

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Perversion

September 27, 2013

From Gregory Ward, a link to a piece by Jesse Bering in aeon magazine on perversions, “Atheists and homosexuals were called perverts once. Why do we still see perversion where no harm is done?” (excerpts from his new book, Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us). The background:

In 1656, the British lexicographer Thomas Blount included the following entry for the verb ‘pervert’ in his Glossographia (a book also known by the more cumbersome title A Dictionary Interpreting the Hard Words of Whatsoever Language Now Used in Our Refined English Tongue): ‘to turn upside down, to debauch, or seduce’. … In Blount’s time, and for several hundred years after he was dead and buried, a pervert was simply a headstrong apostate who had turned his or her back on the draconian morality of the medieval Church, thereby ‘seducing’ others into a godless lifestyle.

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Scientor

January 4, 2012

Yesterday’s Scenes From a Multiverse:

Not Science Wizards, but Science Bastards. Hosted, of course, by a mad scientist.

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Nothing into something

December 4, 2011

From the New Scientist of November 19th (a special issue on “Nothing”), this cute play on words by Brian Greene in his introductory column (variously entitled “The importance of nothing” and “Nothingness: Why nothing matters”):

When applied to a region of space that by any intuitive, classical measure would be deemed empty, such quantum fluctuations ensure that particles pop in and out of existence and fields fluctuate frantically. And this activity can be measured. Place two metal plates close together in otherwise empty space and an imbalance in microscopic jitters outside and between the plates forces them together: nothing can make objects move. (link)

In addition to pieces on physics, the issue also has one on the history of zero and one on the construction of numbers from the null set.

 

Scientific metaphors

February 10, 2011

From the NewScientist of January 22, “Farming helps slime mould spores survive” by Bob Holmes:

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