Yoo-hoo! Another update in the Devil’s dictionary…!!!

See the complete Devil’s Dictionary of Scientific Words and Phrases here.


all text and images copyright 2017 by Russ Hodge

omnivore  as nearly the exact opposite of a vegan as you can get.

accessoire  a technical term for anything that must be removed from the body before undergoing an examination with an MRI machine.

monomer  Derived from the Australian pronunciation for “my number,” this expression has been traced back to an incident that occurred in a bar between an Australian and an attractive young lady who spoke some more natural form of English. Before parting company the Australian offered to give her “monomer”, which she misinterpreted as an obscenity and then promptly fled the scene. By extension, in biology, the term is now used to refer to a molecule that can’t get a date.

digit  structures on the hands and feet of animals that originally evolved from twigs. In the earliest animals, digits were still very twig-like. Animals grew from the tips of their fingers and toes, sometimes to amazing distances from the body they belonged to. Leaves and fruits sprouted from the twigs, which put a lot of food conveniently within grasp. But mutations in an early animal stunted the growth of digits to the point that they could no longer bud. Genetic engineers might have helped restore these characteristics, but the Crispr/Cas system hadn’t yet been acquired from simpler organisms, due to conflicts over issues of rights and patents.

After about 100 million years, evolution managed to get the digits hooked up to body utility services such as the vasculature and sewage lines, and at some point a cable company appeared and linked them into the network of the CNS, suddenly placing them under the control of the brain. There were advantages: digits could now be used to pick lice off a spouse, or grab a potential spouse by the hair, or point at things you wished for your spouse to bring to you, such as a bottle of beer, and you could even indicate the number of beers you wanted, provided it didn’t exceed 10 at a time. That was all right because 10 was about the most bottles your spouse could handle in a single trip. Finger-pointing covered most situations that otherwise would have required language, so the evolution of that region of the brain was postponed for a few more hundred million years. During that period mouths were used mostly for eating things and the tongue for picking food from the teeth. Any utterances were simply the by-product of exhaling air through a larynx, past the glottis, the tongue, the teeth, etc.

hydrophile  a customer in a bar who orders exclusively Perrier, which is frequently an indicator that you are dealing with a recovering alcoholic. Compare with vinophile and hopsophile.

keratinization  any process that produces a carrot from some object that is different enough from a carrot that if you had seen it before it became a carrot, in its undeveloped state, you would never guess that its fate was to produce a carrot.

oviduct  Today this refers to a chute or apparatus in an egg factory which transports an egg from its point of origin in a chicken to its destination in an egg carton. The etymology of the word is interesting; the roots are derived from ovi- (eggs) and ductus, which was a Medieval vocal composition to be performed during marches or processions. The link between eggs and music is a custom from ancient times that began before dawn every day when a procession of soldiers, priests, and other dignitaries marched to a farm, selected an exceptional egg, and marched it back to the palace, setting the pace by singing a ductus. At the palace the egg was delivered to the Duke of Breakfast, who examined it for cracks or other obvious flaws, such as syringe marks, which might be an indication of an assassination attempt, in a ceremony adorned by plenty of Pomp and whatever Circumstances the occasion might require. After the Duke’s formal acceptance of the egg, he placed it in a bejeweled container called an ovi-carton and personally delivered it to the King. The King conducted his own inspection, with the option of declaring it kingsworthy and handing it to a page for delivery to the kitchen, or rejecting it and cutting off the Duke’s head.

Thus the original meaning of oviduct is best captured by a phrase such as, “Processional music for the King’s Egg.” The oviductus was one of the major musical genres of the late Renaissance and Early Baroque eras, undergoing an evolution not dissimilar to that of the sonata, dance suite, opera, and kazoo symphony, fulfilling an essential social function by providing a livelihood for musicians who were contractually obligated to compose a new one every day for as long as they were employed by the court, unless they died or went insane. All oeuvres in the genre share a feature: the rhythmic structure of the “Colonel Bogey March.”

In modern times Kings get their eggs from Amazon.com, sometimes using the delivery-by-drone service, and this sounded the death knell of/hammered the final nail into the coffin of/brought a definitive end to the art form known as/ushered in the Götterdämmerung of the musical genre known as the oviductus.

When a thing disappears the word often follows, unless it jumps the species barrier to inhabit another object. Oviductus was rehabilitaed in the shorter form oviduct: understood as a chute, apparatus, delivery robot or limousine service that collects a product at its source (chicken) and delivers it to its destination (egg carton). Linguistic creativity led to the combination of -duct with other roots in words such as aquiduct, boviduct, air conditioning duct, etc. In the process –ducts came to represent passageways between the starting position of a thing and its final resting point: Acquiduct, for example, is the route by which “aqua” (water) is passed to cities and towns and ultimately into kidneys for recycling. Bovi-, the Latin root for cattle, has now been used to coin the term boviduct, a passageway in slaughterhouses used by cows who have been selected for passage to the Other Side, and a new plane of existence which must be pretty wonderful because they are never heard from again. By extension, one should understand air conditioner duct as the network of passageways in a house by which air conditioners are shuttled from room to room.

I recently came across a modern reference to a boviduct in a text in Dutch on a website. Here I present the original and a rough translation. (For those of you who don’t speak Dutch, a word of caution: be aware that according to some scholars, Dutch isn’t a real language. It’s a random mixture of German and English and some old Viking words, thrown together with any word order a speaker feels comfortable with, and then vocalized in a Scottish brogue. This is actually wonderful for translators, because it gives them a great deal of freedom in interpreting the text.) I certainly wouldn’t call myself an expert in Dutch, but after a weekend of immersion I’m starting to get enough of a feel of it to offer a rough translation:


Een aantal panden kan worden afgevoerd omdat ze inmiddels zijn gesloopt of zodanig verbouwd dat de historische kantjes er wel af zijn. Maar de speurders kunnen er ook wat aan toevoegen: karakteristieke stukjes bebouwing die beschermd dorpsgezicht zouden moeten worden, mogelijke archeologische vindplaatsen (Oene) en een aantal kleine cultuurhistorische objecten. Een daarvan is het ‘boviduct’ in Vaassen, een tunneltje als doorgang voor het vee onder de Geelmolensebeek door, die even voor de Geelmolen in een hoge bedding stroomt. Het zou de enige boviduct in Nederland kunnen zijn.


A portion of panda can work effectively if governed in the middle of ten sloppy sudden buildings where the historical corners are well-seen. But the spurters can hook something up to the tobogan; characteristic pieces built the smeary (beschmierde) dork-face that has suddenly become mute (Note: the word in the original Dutch is moet, and the author may instead be referring to the alcoholic beverage), perhaps like archeological wind palaces (or at least one of them) and a smidgen of small culturo-histo objects. A divan is the “boviduct” in Vaassen, a tunnel which begins at the doorway of the horny moles’ back door, which existed even before the horny moles needed it to “storm” (move with effort) a huge bedding. It is there that the only boviduct in the Netherlands can be seen today.

Reference: https://ampt-epe.nl

methane  an organic substance produced by enzymes and other components of the metabolic machinery making up the gastrointestinal tract of cows. Methanes have an affinity for each other, and so in the cow gut they accumulate until they form a bubble which can only be ejected from the system by a fart. This is one of three sounds that a cow can produce. The others are lowing, a sound that a cow makes when it is trying to be discrete (ref: “Away in a manger,” Kirkpatrick 1895, Murray 1887) and mooing, which typically indicates distress or loneliness. An ability to control the release of a fart would give bovide a third sound which, if used with the others in a combinatorial system, would vastly increase the number of concepts that could be expressed in cow language. However, it has been impossible to reproduce an initial experimenting hinting that the temporal distribution of farts is non-random, which would lend credence to the control hypothesis. The result is a hot debate in the field, the literature, and the barn over whether cows possess such a fart regulatory system, or whether its existence is simply another case of scientific wish-fulfillment-as-the-end-of-the-current-funding-period-grows-nigh. If the system exists, it opens the door on another controversy: whether the mechanism is physically located in the gut or in some other tissue that is close enough to make sense, such as the tail. In any case, once methane escapes a cow’s body, through a type of release valve at the posterior end of the animal, the bubble bursts and methane scatters into the atmosphere, where it interacts with other volitile substances in ways that, according to current climate models, will completely destroy the Earth’s atmosphere in about 12 years.

Searching for Oslo: a non-hypothesis-driven approach

Ontogeny recapitulates sobriety: from the Archaeal origins of life to the pinnacle of evolution: a PhD

Plus the other pieces in the categories “satire”, “science cabaret,” and “hilarious moments in science communication.” And there are, of course, many serious pieces on the site.

Feel free to pass along the link to your fellow science nerds! And, of course, quote the Devil’s Dictionary – just remember the reference! All material here is copyrighted Russ Hodge.

Lloyd the organoid and other new cartoons

As promised, my cartoons from the Long Night of Sciences held last Saturday here on the MDC campus. Starting a new series called Lloyd the Organoid, etc.

  1. “The brain: a user’s manual”



4. (Note: any resemblance to late-night television host Craig Ferguson is purely coincidental.)

Coming soon: the Instruction manual for the GROW KIT!



Today’s updates in the Devil’s Dictionary

See the complete Devil’s Dictionary of Scientific Words and Phrases here.


genus  a clade of organisms which are exceptionally talented in any area of activity except spelling.

operon  the smallest functional acoustic unit of an opera, typically but not necessarily a very short note that is sung or played by an instrument. Operons can also be produced through other mechanisms: snores from the audience, the sound made by a director’s baton when it accidentally flies out of his hand and strikes a musician in the eyeball, the noise made by a horn player engaging his spit valve, or a long rest in the music interrupted by flatulence, probably also from the horn player.

outbreeding  to engage in the act of reproduction in an distant location, usually outdoors, as in the situation: “Can Jane come to the phone?” “Sorry, she’s outbreeding at the moment, may I take a message?”

fitness  a term in evolutionary theory which reflects the degree to which a person accurately reports his or her waist size. Fitness is calculated according to the following formula:

Actual waist size – Reported waist size = X

where X yields the degree of fitness. A score of 0 represents perfect fitness. Other values for X are negatively correlated with fitness, on a logarithmic scale. Claiming to wear clothes that are one size too small, for example, would yield X = 1 and a degree of fitness of 10% of the ideal. Underestimating your clothing by two sizes would yield a fitness score of 2 (1%), etc. Fitness plays a huge role in the evolution of species because individuals who chronically underreport their clothing sizes tend to buy tighter pants and eventually become sterile. This leads to negative selection which, over thousands of generations, eliminates tight-pants SNPs from a species’ gene pool.

Fitness cannot be improved by over-reporting waist size. This generally causes pants to fall down, entangling the feet, which is not advantageous for fleeing from predators.

open reading frame  a browser window left open by a gene in a public place and unprotected by a password, allowing any old transcription factor to come along, hack into its network, and order stuff using its credit card.

rho factor  a handicap system to make rhoing matches more exciting by giving slower teams a head start on the river. The rhoing factor represents the amount of head start given to the weaker team; a rhoing factor of 100 would mean 100 meters or 100 kilometers, depending on the comparative level of skill of the two teams. This system levels the playing field even when pitting professionals against amateurs. And even greater handicaps can be awarded. For example, when the Cambridge University Rhoers were matched against the Rhoing and Knitting Club for Sopranos Who have Retired from the Grandview United Methodist Church Choir, the Cambridge team was required to rho upstream while the Methodists were permitted to rho downriver, with the help of an outboard motor.


Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium  a mathematical equation devised by two mathematicians – fortunately, because the chances of its accuracy are greater that way – while sitting on a teeter totter and debating the role of recessive genes in evolution. The Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium proves that a group of average people will remain average for generation after generation until they are finally forced to get off the sofa through the arrival of some new form of selective pressure. Examples include invasions by extraterrestrials or WalMarts; any sort of planetary holocaust; an out-of-control Crispr/Cas9 experiment that creates cockroaches the size of battleships; any increase in sales tax; a death, marriage, divorce, homocide, or sterility induced by tight underwear; or all of the above, although not necessarily in that order. If you knew in advance which scenario would occur, you might be able to make preparations, for example by going commando, or constructing really large roach motels. Unfortunately, natural processes are random and unpredictable, so your genome has to be ready for anything – making it advisable to carry a toothbrush with you at all times. Any significant chnge in the environment will upset the teeter totter and send either Hardy or Weinberg flying up through the air, and the other crashing down on his delicate bits.

curmudgeon  a hybrid between a human being and a crustaceon

lumen  an empty space inside an organ or tissue which should be kept isolated from the surrounding environment to prevent toxic effects. A pocket of gas trapped in the gastrointestinal tract is an example of a lumen.

Feel free to pass along the link to your fellow science nerds! And, of course, quote the Devil’s Dictionary – just remember the reference! All material here is copyrighted Russ Hodge.