Rare earth elements — increasingly crucial in technology — are much in the news these days, as it’s become clear that China has the corner on most of the resources and that Afghanistan is sitting on a pile of valuable minerals, including these (though how to extract them is something of a challenge). Among the rare-earth elements is the wonderfully named dysprosium (Dy, atomic number 66).

The etymology of the name is not what you might expect. It’s from Greek dysprositos ‘difficult of access, hard to get’, an apt label for an element that doesn’t occur in nature in isolation but has to be laboriously extracted from masses of other stuff. It has nothing to do with the English noun prose (which has a complex and fascinating history, none of it relevant here).

But, still, the temptation is great to think of dysprosium as involving dys- plus prose. I have not resisted this temptation.

On to dysprosium, a rare substance with significant effects, which are unfortunately cumulative: repeated exposure to even small amounts of dysprosium triggers attacks of bad writing. A dysprosium-poisoning victim will break out in parades of flagrantly mixed metaphors, over-elegant word choices, quirky syntactic constructions, clichés en masse, elaborate and hard-to-parse subordination, stylistic inconsistency, unintended obtrusive ambiguities, wandering discourse topics, extravagant imagery, unclarities in point of view, lack of transitions, and more.

Treatment is difficult and can be lengthy, since drugs are ineffective; intensive talk therapy in combination with an exercise regimen is required.

[Some other rare-earth elements whose names might provide entertainment: scandium, neodymium, promethium (“Got a light, buddy?”), samarium, and europium.]

3 Responses to “Dysprosium”

  1. John Lawler Says:

    “There’s holmium and helium and hafnium and erbium,
    And phosphorus and francium and fluorine and terbium,
    And manganese and mercury, molybdenum, magnesium,
    Dysprosium and scandium and cerium and cesium.”

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    We have a lot to thank Tom Lehrer for.

  3. John Lawler Says:

    Indeed we do. He made high school much more bearable for so many people.

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