Attached to (and largely covering) the front of the May 20 issue of Science, an ad labeled “The Rabbit Monoclonal Advantage”, for rabbit monoclonal antibodies offered by the Epitomics company (“Better Antibodies ● Better Science”). I have nothing to say about RabMAbs, as they seem to be known in the trade, but I do have a bit to say about the company’s name.

The name is obviously based on the model of genomics, with an intrusion of epitome (or perhaps its derivative epitomic).

Genomics. From my posting on the libfix -omics, with /o/ (and the distinct libfix -nomics, with /a/):

a separate libfix developed from the model genomics, ‘the study of organisms in terms of their full DNA sequences, or genomes’ (from Ben Zimmer’s Word Routes column on the coinage culturomics; Language Log discussion here). There’s even a Wikipedia page on -omics coinages in biology. But culturomics ‘the application of high-throughput data collection and analysis to the study of human culture’ takes the libfix — which is pronounced with /o/ in the penultimate syllable – in a new direction.

From Ben Zimmer’s discussion of culturomics:

The connection to genomics might be apparent to those in the biosciences who have already seen the proliferation of other words ending in -omics, such as proteomics, the study of the proteome (the full set of proteins encoded by a genome). This Wikipedia page lists a raft of other -omics topics, such as connectomics, interferomics, and transcriptomics. But despite the large number of -omics coinages in biology and allied sciences, a lay audience would not immediately pick up on the meaning of the suffix, especially if they only see the word in print rather than hearing the tell-tale long “o” sound.

Epitome and epitomic. I’ll start with NOAD2 on epitome:

1 ( the epitome of) a person or thing that is a perfect example of a particular quality or type : she looked the epitome of elegance and good taste.

2 a summary of a written work; an abstract.

archaic a thing representing something else in miniature.

Sense 1 (the relevant one here) serves as the basis for the derivative epitomic — not in NOAD2, and just barely in OED2, which has only one cite, from 1636, for epitomic ‘of the character of an epitome’. (Merriam-Webster Online lists both epitomic and epitomical (but without exx), under epitome.)

The sense of epitome that NOAD2 labels as archaic in fact lives on to some extent in a technical usage of epitomic in vision studies, for instance in the article “Epitomic analysis of appearance and shape” (Jojic, N.; Frey, B.J.; & Kannan, A., Proc. 9th International Conf. on Computer Vision, 2003). From the abstract:

We present novel simple appearance and shape models that we call epitomes. The epitome of an image is its miniature, condensed version containing the essence of the textural and shape properties of the image.

Otherwise, it’s the first sense of epitome (‘exemplary; ideal, perfect’) that rules in the epitomic world and is presumably the contributor to the Epitomics name. Putting aside the (fairly many) occurrences of malapropistic epitomic pregnancy for ectopic pregnancy, this sense-cluster is reasonably frequent on the net. Examples from this site:

Teenagers may be rebelling against their parents ‘cherished ideals, and the kipah is undoubtedly the epitomic representation of traditional Jewry today.

There are several interior designing firms that are flourishing now days to make your home special with epitomic choice of furniture and décor.

From a site offering “advice to managers from the managed”:

Epitomic Example of Half-Assing “Employee Satisfaction”

A photo of “the epitomic summer dress” here.

And the webcomic Epitomic Epiphanies by The Mechanical Scribbler (a male student in Hungary), which offers:

Everyday revelations, bugging questions, pseudo-intelligent reflections on life; epitomes about games, life, love, internet and nerd-stuff.

Back to Epitomics. The simplest thing to say about the name would be that Epitomics is a portmanteau of epitome (a reasonably common word with good semantic associations) and genomics (with its DNA associations). But there are the accent patterns: epítome vs. genómics. On the other hand, maybe the first contributor is epitómic (the accent shift goes with the suffix -ic), which is a good deal rarer than epitome but (as you can see above) reasonably well attested. So maybe Epitomics is a complex portmanteau of epitomic and genomics.

There’s also the possibility that the company name has the libfix -omics (discussed above), though the first element epit- doesn’t have a lot of lexical traction; compare connectomicsinterferomics, and transcriptomics above.

By whatever route, Epitomics combines the ‘exemplary; ideal, perfect’ associations of epitome and epitomic with the DNA associations of genomics. Presumably, whoever selected the name came to it (not necessarily consciously) by one of these routes, and in a way it’s not important which one. What’s important is how the name resonates with the public, especially potential clients in medicine and biology, and for that purpose a precise derivation isn’t necessary; the two sets of associations do the work.

Of course, I’m not in the market for RabMAbs, so I can’t say how the name strikes people who are.


6 Responses to “Epitomics”

  1. Ken Callicott Says:

    I think that ‘epitomics’ might be formed from ‘epitope’ (the surface site on an antigen to which an antibody binds) plus the libfix ‘-omics’. At least the stress would be on the correct syllable.

    See, for example, Draghici, S., M. Chatterjee, and M. A. Tainsky. 2005. Epitomics: serum screening for the early detection of cancer on microarrays using complex panels of tumor antigens. Expert Review of Molecular Diagnostics. 5:735-743.

    You might be interested in Jonathan Eisen’s regular Bad Omics Word of the Day postings on his blog at phylogenomics.blogspot.com (‘phylogenomics’ being formed by combining ‘phylogeny’ plus ‘genomics’).

  2. John Lawler Says:

    I’m interested in the pronunciation. Epitome does not follow normal English pronunciation rules; I can think of two pronunciations of epitomic: /ɛpə’tomək/ and /ɛpə’tamək/.
    The first one sounds like a branch of the river that runs through the District of Columbia, and the second sounds like a property of some nuclear material.
    Neither one suggests epitome, so probably it’s not used much orally unless it’s a catchphrase in a particular group.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Epitome falls in with catastrophe, synecdoche, and a number of others (though the subset is exceptional).

      I’d been assuming, without any justification at all, that epitomic had /o/, but now I wonder what people who use the word actually say. Probably there’s variation.

  3. Jesse Says:

    Thanks for the breakdown and the alternative viewpoint on our name. I guess it could be a double entendre of sorts. Ken is correct in saying the name comes from the term “epitope’ which is a key component of antibodies, the foundation of the company. But I do like the epitome take – ‘Epitomics antibodies are the epitome of high quality antibodies…’

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