The Devil’s dictionary, April 20, 2018

more entries in the Devil’s Dictionary: today including altruism, heterochrony, etc.

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

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all entries in the Devil’s Dictionary copyright 2017 by Russ Hodge

age  is a short suffix that can be added to most nouns and a few other speciages of wordages if you can get them to hold still long enough to attach it. Its original usage stemmed from attaching the word “itch” to something that caused one. “I wouldn’t give you five cents for that beddage (bed-itch),” someone might say, implying that a mattress was full of lice. Other spellings were incorporated early on: “radish” comes from “red-itch,” as some who ate the vegetable developed a rash. Later British noblemen began to add “-age” to words under the mistaken impression it derived from a similar French suffix (“personne” becomes “personnage”), and that using it would suggest they spoke French, which would people think they were more intelligent, higher-class, and cooler than they actually were. They used the suffix to make simple things seem more complex and sophisticated than they actually were. A “dosage” was something a physician gave you; a “dose” was something acquired in a less respectable social setting, and the reason for your visit to the doctor in the first place. A nobleman referred to his social equals as his “peerage”, aiming to imply that they deserved respect; the unintentional irony was that more literally, you were saying he was “lousy” (full of lice). This use of “-age” to make things sound more intelligent or technical has persisted to modern times. “Usage” is often favored over “use”, although they mean the same thing. And you’d never listen to a relative go on and on about the amount he pays for gas, which is nothing more than griping and his own dumb fault for buying the car; “mileage” sounds more technical and scientific, and can start a discussion that lasts for hours.

altruism  a disputed term used by some psychologists to describe a temporary, dissociative cognitive state marked by mental confusion and unnatural behavior. The most distinctive symptom is that a person suffering from altruism places the well-being of others above his own, even when this involves risky and even self-destructive behavior. This extends to individuals beyond his or her own children in what has sometimes been described as “an overgeneralization of the mothering instinct.”

Altruism seems so contradictory to evolutionary principles that some refuse to believe it exists and try to explain every altruistic act as ultimately selfish. The problem troubled Darwin to the point that he put off publishing the theory of evolution for more than two decades, spending more than half of that time in a painstaking study of barnacles. This aquatic creature is commonly used as an animal model of human altruism because in some sub-species, males have given up their bodies altogether in service of females, now existing as little more than a sac of sperm, a sort of parasite inside the female body. Darwin finally resolved the conflict by realizing that short-term altruistic behavior might have a function like bird plumage, by attracting potential mates. It might fool someone into thinking you were “nice”, at least long enough to invite home for a few rounds of reproductive exercise. Most bouts of altruism wear off quickly, within a few hours, but the original performance might have been so impressive it could years for a mate to realize it was a temporary aberration, and the victim is normally just as selfish as everyone else.

Diagnosis is tricky and altruism can only be definitively detected through EEG recordings and a brain scan. These measurements reveal a depressed activity in areas of the brain related to basic instincts of self-preservation and higher cognitive functions, akin to the brain’s response to canniboids. The longest duration for a uninterrupted altruistic state recorded in medical history is four hours, although the patient was sedated for most of that time.

heterochrony  the inability toremember whether to set your clock ahead or back at the beginning and end of Daylight Savings’ Time, and then to draw the proper conclusion about whether you have gained or lost an hour. As for what happens at the International Date Line… Forget it. Severe cases of heterochrony are often accompanied by a conspiracy theory mentality which holds that the hour isn’t really gone you lose an hour no matter which way you turn the clock, the result of a governmental conspiracy to steal an hour from citizens twice a year, during which it has unique access to your bank account and has an hour to invest your savings in highly speculative stocks, or work the slots at an on-line casino. There is little risk because it will just add any losses to the amount due in calculating your income tax. You never notice that anything has happened because the extra hour never officially existed – they keep shuffling it back and forth across time zones – and although your money is gone, this does not appear on your bank balance. And why should it? There was never actually any physical money in the account anyway. They keep it stored in ATMs.

A woman with the condition is called a heterochrone; the male form is heterochronus, their offspring are labeled heterochromognomes. Compare with homochrony, which has nothing to do with Daylight Savings Time.

homochrony  the ability to march or clap, although not necessarily simultaneously, at a regular pace coordinated with the rhythm of any marching or clapping going on around you. Animals either do this instinctively or don’t care; in humans early training helps. The technical term for people who never acquire this skill (famous case: Ronald Reagan) is “ain’t got no rhythm.” Those who do got rhythm can refine it to the point of being able to march in formation while twirling a baton or playing a musical instrument, despite wearing a bizarre band costume that resembles the attire of the British colonial forces that occupied India.

to proportionate (verb)  an aggressive social behavior in which a person proactively volunteers to cut the pie, or the chicken, or divide the loot, in a thinly disguised move to get the most. After things have been divvied up, the distribution is said to be “proportionate” (adjective) if the portions people receive correspond to the amounts they deserve, calculated through a complex formula that takes a person’s body mass index into account and variables such as whether your spouse feels that your BMI falls into an acceptable range, whether he or she is presently at the table, and the H (holiday) factor, where the normal physiological regulators of eating are repressed. If a proportionatee disagrees with the amount he has been proportioned, he may petition a civil court, at which point he has the opportunity to present evidence that his piece of pie was too small. The court may order the plaintiff and defendant to enter a binding process to decide on “reproportionation,” to whose terms both parties must agree. If they are unable to come to terms, the case is heard again and decided by the judge.

book lice  a parasite created through genetic engineering techniques by introducing termite genes into head lice. Originally developed for their potential as a form of organic recycling, librarians got their hands on the bugs and began cultivating them in S1 laboratories in the library basement. Staff harvest the colonies for their eggs, which are spotted onto the pages of books before they are loaned out. The eggs are timed to hatch precisely one day after the date due, at which point the lice crawl out of the book and take up residence in nearby volumes on the patron’s shelf or any available textile, which is why you should never read a library book in bed and should always return it on time. The eggs are highly sensitive to changes in the environment of the book; improper handling, such as dog-earring a page, often triggers early hatching. Book lice are to library patrons what the dye packs they hide in currency are to would-be bank robbers.

host  has two distinct meanings in science. The first is a deragatory term by which unicellular organisms refer to multicellular life. For bacteria, “host” has about the connotation of a motel whose rooms have no bath, no cable service, and whose swimming pool is exactly the size of a Jeep, namely one that missed the exit ramp on the Interstate, flew over the guardrail, and plopped into the pool, where it was such a tight fit that it could no longer be extracted. A pathogen goes off on a trip for a while and takes copious notes, so that when it comes back it can compare its holiday experience with those of the neighbors. Bacteria can’t access the Internet, so they distribute their reports biochemically, sometimes at the level of genes. Over time individual human bodies are ranked in terms of comfort and the level of services they provide. Very few people are awarded a five-star rating, and when it happens the pleasure is short-lived. They become vacation hotspots that are overrun by all sorts of pathogens, inevitably killing the host, but by that time a trendier new place has usually been found.

The second usage of hostin scientific contexts is positive: as a term of respect that one scientist may bestow on another after being invited to give a talk at the colleague’s institute. “Host” is reserved for someone who covers all of your travel expenses, naturally first-class, takes the visitor to excellent restaurants, where the prices on the wine list are explicitly ignored, and puts you up in a four-room suite at a hotel with all the amenities, such as an all-night bar well stocked with attractive, lonely conversation partners. Upon request a host will assign you a bodyguard to escort you to the bar, stay discretely on hand to jump into any fights that may arise, and then get you get back to your room in one piece, unless you indicate otherwise using a secret sign agreed upon in advance, possibly but not necessarily indicating that you have managed to hook up in the bar. If the hosting scientist fails to meet any one of these criteria, you return home and insert a reference to the trip whenever possible in casual conversations, and write an exhaustive account of the visit on websites such as LinkedIn, but conspicuosly neglecting to refer to your colleague as the host. Being at least as smart as pathogens, other scientists get the idea, and will make up wild excuses to avoid having to give talks at institutes rated with four stars or below.

hatch  As a verb, hatch refers to the process by which an organism emerges from the receptacle in which it has undergone the stages of embryogenesis, whether an egg or a womb, often freeing itself by pecking an opening with its beak. So birds hatch from eggs and children hatch from the womb, unless the child is an amphibian or a reptile.

As a noun, hatch refers to a flap-like tissue that covers the throat which remains closed until it is stimulated by a liquid of high alcoholic content. This triggers a reflex by a hinge-like muscle at the back of the flap, causing it to open and permitting the alcohol to go “down the hatch”. From there it is routed to special cavities throughout the body that are dedicated to the processing of alcohol. There are several of these tubular structures, located in regions such as in the legs, where gave rise to the expression, “He has a hollow leg.” (The technical term is overflow lumen.) When alcohol enters such a lumen, it causes a sensation that the drinker reports as, “That really hit the spot.”

hindgut  a region of the intestine which lies below the hindbrain, when the body is in an upright position, and is connected to it via a large bundle of nerves that bypass the spine. This conduit permits the gut to monitor brain activity and take over some of its functions, such as communication, in an emegency. When a person is incapacitated, for example through the excessive consumption of alcohol, or decapitated entirely, the hindgut steps in and sends unequivocal signals of distress to those nearby. It has two modes of doing so – generally trying one and waiting for a response before trying the other. If neither on its own provokes other people in the bar to take caregiving measures – such as calling an Ueber driver – the hindgut activates both signaling systems simultaneously.

In type 1 signaling, the hindgut jerks swiftly upwards and delivers a focused “punch” to the stomach, which forces its contents upwards in the form of projectile vomiting. In type 2 it presses downwards, clenching the lower intestines in a vise-like grip that forces any pockets of noxious gas to seek the nearest exit, generally accompanied by a loud acoustic signal. Such noxious gases are usually plentiful because the body naturally produces them as it metabolizes fermented substances.

flocculate  the process by which a floc is produced from a microfloc. What happens before that, no one knows, but microflocs can’t just arise from nothing, so it is reasonable to infer the existence of nanoflocs. Anyone who cares about what comprises nanoflocs – there’s something wrong with you.

ooopossum  the oocyte of a possum.

If you liked the Devil’s Dictionary, you’ll probably also enjoy:

Searching for Oslo: a non-hypothesis-driven approach

On the publication of “Remote sensing” by the magazine Occulto

 

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The Devil’s dictionary, March 22, 2018

Finally more entries in the Devil’s Dictionary! Today’s words:  fixing, biomass, drift, and skeletal muscle

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

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all entries in the Devil’s Dictionary copyright 2018 by Russ Hodge

fixing  In basic research this term generally refers to chemical methods of preparing a living creature or one of its parts, such as a cell or a tissue, but also a complete organism such as a group leader, so that all of its biological processes are immobilized at the moment of fixation. This is useful if you want to examine the mechanisms that underlie a behavior you do not understand, such as the organism’s refusal to give you feedback on your latest paper. It has the slight disadvantage of killing the object of research. In clinical science, “fixing” usually refers to methods of removing the reproductive organs of an animal so that it won’t engage in uncontrolled, promiscuous acts that would lead to lots of offspring. Given a choice between the experimental and clinical types, most organisms would probably prefer the first.

biomass  is used in two ways: 1) the “weight of life.” If you weigh a living organism such as a human being directly before and after its sacrifice, the biomass is the difference. The biomass is just that part of an organism’s weight contained in the Life Force. Some distinguish it from the soul, whose weight must then be subtracted from the Life Force total. If the death produces a ghost, its weight must be subtracted as well. This leaves a biomass that is usually very small, about .000001 grams, although some scientists maintain that this represents the weight of the last breath instead of the Life Force. Others believe that the Life Force and the last breath are the same thing, particularly if you have been eating garlic. If the weight after death is heavier than before, then you’ve waited too long to perform the measurement; the extra weight comes from bacteria and other decomposers which have settled into the organism for the feast and begun to reproduce. People who don’t believe in a Life Force, a soul, or a ghost are not only sort of boring, but they have a more boring definition of biomass: 2) the weight of every living thing in an environment, measured after you’ve stacked it in a big pile.

drift  a situation in which the younger generations of a species pack up and move away from the herd, taking their genes along with them. At some point youngsters get fed up with parental control, stuff a bunch of clothes in a backpack, and head off aimlessly on a railway pass, leaving its parents to wonder whether they have taken along a toothbrush. The young generations keep traveling until they have spent all their money, find an ashram that suits their nature, or both. When they reproduce their children go through the cycle all over again, leaving the ashram for other parts.

skeletal muscle  long fibers made of fused muscle cells that connect various regions of the brain to different points on the skeleton, turning the body into a sort of marionette and creating the illusion that we have conscious control over it, although some people obviously don’t, at least not their mouths. Skeletal muscle is the foundation of voluntary movement by animals. Before it evolved, animal movement was strictly involuntary – if a pet or child were in the way, you had to pick it up, throw or kick it to make it move. The arrival of skeletal muscle was highly practical because it permitted people to make the trip from the sofa to the refrigerator themselves; you no longer had to spend all your time fetching beer for them.

Skeletal muscle promoted the development of some further evolutionary adaptions while retarding others. Experts believe that it delayed the evolution of language because skeletal muscle allowed animals to use the digits of their forelimbs to point at things. Pointing served all the important functions of language that a species needed except for those that required head-butting or biting. But it also led to negative selection, because having control over your finger made it possible to poke someone else in the eye, and you could no longer blame such behavior on the absence of skeletal muscle. This often led to negative selection through the loss of the finger in question, as well as whatever functions it served in the survival and reproduction of an individual.

grey matter  another term for scientific publications.

 

If you liked the Devil’s Dictionary, you’ll probably also enjoy:

Searching for Oslo: a non-hypothesis-driven approach

On the publication of “Remote sensing” by the magazine Occulto

 

The Devil’s dictionary, Feb. 12, 2018

Today’s entries in the Devil’s Dictionary include quantifiction, argument by an algae, etc.

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

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all entries in the Devil’s Dictionary copyright 2018 by Russ Hodge

quantifiction  to introduce as many fictional devices as needed into a mathematical or statistical procedure to ensure that you get the result you desire – rather than an ugly truth that would force you to give up your lovely model or, God forbid, your behavior. After a long period of incarceration, quantifiction was recently granted a Presidential pardon. It has been restored to the exalted position it held in the Official Canon of Scientific Methods until two centuries ago, and is being widely implemented by the ruling theocracy in the natural sciences, economics, environmental studies, university mathematics departments, epidemiology, taxation, and all the other fields deemed to have been corroded through the corruptive influence of reason. A number of open source tools have been developed to run under the Open Quantifiction suite, including Fudge factor, Xagerate, disCriminate, overSimplify, Nflate, Denyify, reVersify, and JustLie. See the entry for exaggerate for more.

argument by an algae  For a long time, certainly more than a century, perhaps as much as a thousand years, maybe even millions for all I know, scientists have been engaged in a fierce debate on the topic of argument by an algae. Some researchers are for. Some are against. The rest are presumably riding the fence. If you make a career in science, be prepared for the day when someone pops the question, “Do you think arguments by an algae have a place in the way scientific conclusions are reached?” Tread carefully in composing your answer. Whatever the reason for interest in this bizarre topic, people tend to get quite worked up about it. To save you a lot of time, don’t try to find an answer on PubMed. I have been looking for years and have not only been unable to find any literature on the topic, but any reasonable etymological source for the term.

Scientifically, I find it difficult to conceive of any mechanism by which an algae (or the absence of an algae, depending on whether you hoped for a positive or a negtive correlation) could validate (or invalidate) a scientific argument that happened to be going on nearby. Unless, of course, the science concerned algae in the first place. Then there might be some sense in going down to the pond, scraping up a bit of the green stuff  (or not), and popping it into your magic-angle, solid state NMR machine. Otherwise, I am at a complete loss regarding what an algae is doing in scientific theory.

X-Y graphs and associated terms  X-Y graphs, also known as Cartesian coordinate graphs, refer to a type of plot or chart that was invented far back in prehistoric times by males, as the name implies. Some evolutionary psychologists claim that this system was invented because humans were restricted to two-dimensional thought; i.e., they were able to consider two features of an object at a time, but a third was too much to handle. So, for example, they could understand that a rock was black, or that it was heavy, but not that it was both black and heavy (which would have required adding a third dimension to the chart).

An example of an X-Y graph

Custom dictates that all data plotted onto an X-Y graph fall within a shape called a Bell curve. When this proves impossible, a number of terms have been invented to describe data that fail to adhere to the rule:

outliars (sometimes spelled outliers)  data points that should be clustered with a group but have wandered far astray, like sheep, to take up positions in very distant reaches of graphs. Their existence is an affront because they skew all of your results in an undesirable way, usually but not necessarily in the direction of the outlier. How much shift occurs depends on the number of dots properly gathered into the cluster. Even dots on paper are made of matter, which means they exert gravitational fields on each other, so if there are an awful lot of them, the outliar will tend to fall into an orbit around the cluster over time. Whether or not the orbit decays, drawing the errant point back to the fold, depends on the direction and velocity of the outliar at the time it was trapped on the paper. And whether there are other graphs lying nearby that might draw it into their gravitational fields instead.

outrightliars – outliers that are even farther away, always on the right side, providing information which simply cannot be true because it does not fit the lovely paradigm you developed; it never occurred to you to look that far away. There may be many even downrighterliars, so far away they are located on someone else’s chart.

dirtyliars – points plotted on a graph that got smudged somehow, perhaps because the dots are so small they fall prey to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, or they are being chased by Schrödinger’s cat, so their exact positions cannot be determined.

altimeter  a measuring stick or large ruler, always a few inches longer than a yard, that has been stored in a high place, probably to keep the dog or the children from getting their teeth or paws on it. Contrast with antimeter – a measuring stick used exclusively to measure negative numbers, which is why 0 is found to the far right and the rest of the numbers run in reverse order. (Not to be confused with antimatter, but the reverse polarity of the stick would permit it to be used to measure that as well.)

ion – a particle that is charged, usually with VISA, but MasterCard is accepted in some places; be sure to save the receipt, what with all the identity theft going on these days. Used as the stem for the following additional terms:

anion – means simply “an ion”; the space was omitted through a misprint in a textbook long ago and now people think anion means something other than one ion, but just ignore them because they’re wrong.

cation – a cat that has been loaded with a powerful charge of static electricity by rubbing it against a carpet; the longer you rub, the higher the charge, as measured by the number of scratches on your arms. Released, the cat dashes off to deliver a powerful shock to whatever person or animal it encounters next. This may result in fatalities, depending on the age and overall health of the victim, whether they are wearing a pacemaker, if they have recently undergone an examination using MRI, etc.

If you liked the Devil’s Dictionary, you’ll probably also enjoy:

Searching for Oslo: a non-hypothesis-driven approach

On the publication of “Remote sensing” by the magazine Occulto

 

The Devil’s dictionary, getting ready for the new year…

Stay tuned in the coming year when the Devil’s dictionary will expand to include comments on STYLE… including the secret to writing a brilliant paper even when you don’t have any results…

Today’s entries in the Devil’s Dictionary include consciousness, coconut crab, Calvin cycle, and more…

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

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all entries in the Devil’s Dictionary copyright 2017 by Russ Hodge

consciousness  a mental state in which one is not only aware of sensations and events, but is aware enough of being aware of them that one finds something to complain about.

Calvin cycle  a setting that used to be included on washing machines, at the hottest end of the range of cycles, representing the steps required to cleanse a person (or his or her clothing) of all sin. Basically the water was heated at a constant rate inside the machine until it surpassed the boiling point and, with no egress, continued until God stopped it, through an explosion or another calamity, such as punching the rotating drum through the outer metal shell and usually the wall of the washroom, taking with it anything and anyone in its way, or until the owner was pronounced dead, upon which God would take care of the matter Himself. Named for the infamous French theologian John Calvin, who routinely used washing machines as instruments of torture for the same purpose, alongside public burnings and other manifestations of his faith.

coconut crab  an enormous arthropod at the Humvee end of the scale of crabs. This species used to be prevalent throughout Indonesia and other areas of the Pacific, but is nowadays experiencing a rapid decline through the incursion of other species that have dramatically reduced the availability of parking spaces. In desperation coconut crabs sometimes park in beds or sleeping bags, leading to travel advisories for voyagers to these parts of the world.

From the tip of its claws to the back end, technically known as the “butt end,” an adult coconut crab can span nearly a meter, although the claws themselves may be three or four meters long, which is hard to understand unless some type of folding is involved. In an amazing coincidence, coconut crabs have a diet consisting mainly of coconuts, so it’s a good thing their claws are powerful enough to crack the hard shells. Evolutionary biologists believed that the species discovered this capacity by accident – how could they have known that there was something edible inside a coconut? – probably as the result of a mishap that occurred during a bowling tournament. When coconuts became scarce, the crabs have also been known to eat Amelia Earhart.

chemosmosis  to strictly follow the rules of chemistry while carrying out the process of smosis, rather than performing it any which-way, which is still widely practiced although people ought to know better. Smosis is divided into endosmosis, the inward-directed form of smosis, which is considered more polite, and exosomosis, which projects the smosis outwards and is unacceptable in many civilized contexts.

glomerulus  a structure in the kidney where blood vessels come to dead ends when the developing embryo becomes too exhausted to finish linking them to each other; instead, it ties them up in a hasty knot and hides the ugly mess under a cap-like structure called the Bowman’s capsule, which is shaped exactly like a Soyuz spacecraft and is about as roomy for what has to fit inside. In essence, the glomerulus is to the blood vessel system what metal or plastic tips are to shoelaces. In contrast to these devices, which are subject to regulatory practices in the manufacturing industry, the glomerulus always leaks. This releases liquid from the blood and dumps it into the kidneys, which don’t want to deal either and simply pass it along to the bladder. There the liquid is stored until the bladder is full and has to be emptied. If this process took a little longer, the contents of the bladder would ferment and provide a source of alcohol. It is possible that in the past, this happened in animals that had much larger bladders, but this feature was removed through natural selection, as drunken animals make easier prey. If the glomerulus were entirely closed, the body’s water would be recycled. As things stand, mammals must continually take in and release water, which is incredibly inefficient, but at least it ensures that water returns to the environment so that other organisms have something to drink.

hypoteneuse  a hypothesis so completely ridiculous that to publish it is the equivalent of an act of professional suicide by hanging.

induce  the stem –duce derives from the historical title “duke” or “duce”. In ancient times this title was given to the person placed at the front of a march or parade, usually heading toward an opposing army, carrying a symbol of office that atttracted attention and enemy fire. This might be a flag, a trumpet, a baton, a trombone, one of those little cars driven by Shriners – anything that made a good target. This would discourage the opposing army from firing in the direction of the King, who like all good tyrants would show his solidarity with the folk by wearing inconspicuous clothing and mixing in with the masses. The title of Duke (in some regions pronounced dunce) was publicly heralded as a great honor, and was considered so at least by the person receiving it. In some cases plebes were invited to compete for the honor, and thus was born the expression “to duke something out.” It was awarded to the inductee in a ceremony called an induction. During the ceremony all sorts of statements were made about the exemplary character of this person, basically a tactic to shame him into acquiring one.

Once the title had been awarded the inductee was expected to demonstrate his worthiness by exhibiting exemplary aspects of character, or conduct, which meant all sorts of unusual mannerisms such as marching straight ahead when fired upon, upon which everyone was expected to follow, with the exception of the king, who generally showed respect for his subjects by allowing them to pass by toward the front. If during this process there occurred an attack from the rear, then the duke would be quickly conducted through the crowd at a rapid rate to assume his rightful position.

This notion of “start” or “begin” has been retained in modern scientific usage, taking the stem duce (in other words, using it to induce a word), and adding on whatever prefixes and suffixes come in handy for a given situation. This has advantages for lexicographers, relieving them from the burden of inventing a lot of words, which is so difficult they usually resort to stealing them from some other language instead, in violation of all sorts of intellectual property laws. In fact, how often do we really need a truly original word? In most cases an old one can be bent or warped to get you there, or at least in the general vicinity.

Thus the term induce acquires the meaning, “to cause something to start to start, or to start a cascade of events in which an unruly gang will follow.” The direction is irrelevant provided the herd all begins to move in a common direction. There lingers a connotation that under normal circumstances the flock would never do so without being motivated through the promise of a great reward, which it probably won’t live long enough to receive, or the threat of a great punishment, which it probably will live just long enough to appreciate, although barely, which occurs if it refuses to behave according to the wishes of a totalitarian dictator or scientist, whichever happens to be in charge of the situation at hand. If the inductee tries to hide within a crowd, he first has to be deduced from it, which means detected against a noisy background. Then he can be pushed forward, or produced. If force is required to keep him in that position, one can always resort to tape to keep him there – to duct him. A person can be stripped of the honors, or unduced, and if later he is called to serve again in the position, this reduces him. If that should happen but cannot be accomplished, for example because the duke who has replaced him hasn’t died yet, then the duke remains unreduced while he waits, a period which generally never lasts too long.

polyploid  derived from combining the terms polyp – an ugly protrusion from a surface which ought to be smooth – and loid, which is a strip of metal used to open a car or some other enclosed space that the user of the loid can be arrested for entering. Thus a polyploid is a device to slice open polyps, or separate them from a surface to which they have become attached. This should restore the surface to more or less its original condition, although you may have to apply a new coat of varnish to hide the scratches made while inserting the polyploid under the polyp to pry it up.

reflex  the best way to understand a reflex is by using a diagram of the human body, ideally a diagram of your own. If you don’t have such a diagram yet, briefly go outside. Find a relatively empty, flat surface somewhere on the ground, such as the middle of the road. Briefly lie down on that spot, facing upwards, which should place your back to the ground; if not, repeat the procedure until this is the case. Be sure to smile. Then get up, go inside, log onto Google Earth, and zoom in on your coordinates until you see your image. Print this out and cut carefully along the outline until you have your personal diagram.

Now we are ready to approach the topic of reflexes. A reflex is a process that takes place in one specific part of the body whenever a stimulation is applied to another part, whether or not you want it to – because reflexive circuits entirely bypass the brain. For example, hitting your kneecap with a hammer will cause you to kick the person who has struck you, unless the blow is so strong that it shatters the kneecap entirely – you may need to try several times, raising and lowering the force, until the stimulus has reached the appropriate strength. Hitting your thumb with a hammer, on the other hand, will cause the mouth to open and utter signals of distress. A blow directly to the head will cause the knees to buckle and drop you to the ground. Try this across the entire body until you have mapped all the reflexes stimulated by hammer blows. Then measure the effects of other types of stimuli. Stimulating the ears with the sound of a bell will trigger salivation in the mouth, for example. A stimulation of the ears through the entry of a bee or wasp, on the other hand, will cause you to run around and flap your arms, as if trying to fly away. All of these are reflexes.

sessile colonial cnidarian  a quantity of cnid – a jelly-like mass, shaped into a coherent form using a device such as a jello mold – which has colonized a place where it does not naturally occur, such as a sofa, and thereafter resists all efforts to remove it, citing the timeless justification given by all colonialists: that it is simply exercising its natural right of eminent domain.

 

If you enjoyed the Devil’s Dictionary, you might also like the following:

Searching for Oslo: a non-hypothesis-driven approach

On the publication of “Remote sensing” by the magazine Occulto

and other entries in the category Satire.

Time for another new entry in the Devil’s dictionary!

Today’s words:  Richter scale, olfactory, olafantory, osmosis, and imbibe

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

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all entries in the Devil’s Dictionary copyright 2017 by Russ Hodge.

 

Richter scale  (named after Russia pianist Stanislav Richter)  a sequence of eight specific tones somewhere near the bass end of a concert grand piano. When played in the proper order at a precise rhythm, the scale produces long, overlapping sound waves which propegate through the Earth and intersect at a point 1240.8 km from the piano. There they intersect to cause a harmonic dissonance whose frequency is complementary to a structure commonly found in fault lines, leading to seismic disturbances. The first use of the term dates from a 1958 performance by Richter in Sofia. The titles of the works he played have been lost, but at one point he ventured into the bass and applied a bit more sostenuto to a passage than was his habit. A few minutes later a series of tremors completely wiped out a distant village. Conspiracy theorists hold that Richter was a part of a Soviet experiment to weaponize the concert grand piano, but there is little evidence to support this. In 1998 mathematicians at MIT submitted a paper to the journal Nature claiming that they had solved the scale, but their results were immediately classified.

olfactory  originally derived from “Olaf’s factory,” operated by a Medieval cheesemaker from Norway, whose cheese stank so badly that Olaf and the members of his family progressively lost their sense of smell, in response to which they made the cheese even stronger. Ultimately the stench rising from the factory reached an intensity that had the effect of a physical force, creatig high-pressure atmospheric conditions that altered the weather and affected many aspects of regional ecosystems. Local species, including lots of humans and the entire native elephant population of Norway, had to adapt or flee the area to avoid symptoms such as nausea, temporary insanity, and blackouts while operating heavy machinery. There were also beneficial effects: sinus conditions be cleared up even through a very brief exposure to the smell, and people who had been pronounced dead were sometimes revived for a few days.

Whenever a westerly wind became strong enough, the smell drifted over the border into Sweden, prompting a number of retaliatory military incursions, all of which were repelled by the smell long before coming close enough to the factory to destroy it. Today the cheese is classified as a weapon of mass destruction, in a category shared by biological agents, nerve gases, and nuclear weapons, and has been banned under various international treaties.

In biology the term has paradoxically been coined to encompass all the mechanisms of smell: beginning when external molecules called olafactors force their way into the bodily cavities of an olafactee, usually after bypassing the gasket-like structures that protect the nose and mouth. Really smelly molecules such as garlic, which have a pointy prow on one side, can also enter by piercing the eyes, ears, pores and that other bodily opening I am too polite to name here. From that point they progress along tube-like passages until they reach a gas chromatograph installed in the brain. The brain, which has just as much difficulty interpreting gas chromatography data as anyone else, enters a state of disarray that it interprets as smell. Olafactors are ranked on a five-point scale: 1) pleasant, 2) tolerable, 3) bad 4) indescribably bad, and 5) fatal.

olafantory  pertaining to olafants: a hybrid made by fusing the genome of an elephant with that of an ant. After the creation of the first olafant, which was the result of a mix-up in the laboratory, scientists discovered that the structure of their chromosomes makes this fairly easy to do. So far, olafants have not been found in nature, for reasons that are not completely clear, which means they can only be produced artificially through genetic engineering techniques. This was exciting the first few times, because it was hard to predict what would grow out of your cell culture. But olafants turned out to be quite pesky creatures, and enthusiasm quickly waned to the point that it has become hard to find them, except on-line.

osmosis  does not derive from the ancient term osmo (which means “smell” or “thrust”, or both in the case of very strong smells), as has been commonly assumed. Recent philatological studies indicate that the term is actually coined from the name Mosis, a mythological figure from the time of the ancient Hebrews, an illegitimate child who, immediately after birth, for reasons that are not totally clear, was sent on a voyage downriver in a very small vessel of some sort, perhaps to serve in the capacity of a spy, but after being kidnaped along the way by a sect he succombed to one of the worst cases of Stockholm syndrome on record. Over time Mosis became brainwashed to the point that he he was elected President of the cult, winning the electoral but not the popular vote, at which point he became genuinely unhinged and unleashed seven different weapons of mass destruction on the city of his origins, including a flood that most modern historians attribute to the bombing of the Aswan dam. Where the Hebrews got the bombs is unclear – perhaps from the Chinese, or from Atlantis. There is no evidence that they were nuclear in nature.

Amosis means the opposite of osmosis and is named for Mosis’ brother Amos, whose function in the stories was as a sort of control group for his sibling, an Abbott to Mosis’ Costello. Whenever Mosis claimed that God was speaking directly to him, for example, Amos would say things like, “Are you sure it’s not just a malfunction of your parietal lobe? Have you been taking your meds?”

For centuries the term wandered around Europe on a sort of extended backpacking trip, trying to find itself, until it finally acquired its modern meaning for biology or physics. The French were the first to tame it, as part of a great influx of vocabulary that was necessary upon the arrival of the Baroque period. The original term was au mosé and was restricted to perfume, which was rediscovered in the Baroque period. Scholars knew that something like it had existed in ancient Egypt and believed, for some reason, it had been one of the seven weapons of mass destruction unleashed by Mosis, a type of chemical warfare. This interpretation might have arisen because women were using lots and lots of perfume which is understandable given the fact that no one bathed during the period between 1130 and 1730.

At the time the cloud that accompanied someone wearing perfume was wall-like and would thrust you backwards, unless you were trapped and couldn’t escape. At that point the perfume molecules would penetrate the outer layer of skin and begin an assault on individual cells. Cell membranes offered a first line of defense, but eventually a point known as the perfume pressure limit (ppl) was reached. This triggered an opening of membrane channels called schnozzoporins, which allow perfume molecules to pass through the membrane in exchange for water. At some point all the water is replaced and the system is saturated. Astoundingly, most of the body’s metabolic processes function nearly as well when supplied by perfume as with water, depending on what brand is used.

In its current meaning in physics and biology, the term osmosis refers to just the downriver portion of the Mosis story. So osmosis in a cell, for example, is any process in which an object embarks on a journey downstream, is hindered by some obstacle such as a kidnaping by bandits along the route, who are subsequently subdued in some heroic way, permitting the protagonist to reach the other side. In the case of the mythical Mosis the barrier was a social and political one, but in biology the term usually refers to a physical barrier that something needs to pass through. For example, as it is expelled from the body, urine must overcome the obstacle of air to reach its destination, through a special form of osmosis known as pissing.

liquid chronotography  any system that uses water or another liquid, such as root beer or blood, as a basis for measuring time. Methods of torture that involve a regular dripping sound, for example, are examples of liquid chronotography. Not to be confused with liquid chromatography, which means painting with water colors.

imbibe  to drink, but in a polite and refined way, without slurps, burps, or other forms of musical accompaniment. Exbibe is to move fluid in the opposite direction: to eject it from the mouth as spit, or projectile vomiting, but only if the act is hidden by a handkerchief, or cleverly concealed in some other way, and only when it is not intended as a political statement. The analogous terms for solids are ingest and exgest. There the root gest originally derives from the word gesture, whose meaning dates back to a time when cannibalism was still common and considered a sport like geocaching. At that time offering a person your hand – a gesture – was a form of greeting taken to mean, “Please take a bite.” At some point a bright cannibal realized this could be prevented by wearing a metal ring, which would break teeth before any flesh was penetrated. This is the origin of the practice of kissing the rings of popes and other royalty.

 

The Devil’s dictionary rolls on…

Today’s words: optometry, locus, teleology, microbiome, gravid, gill bars, micromolar, and derivatives of the word -scope, all explained with mathematical models and all sorts of other complicated stuff.

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

3707_001

all entries in the Devil’s Dictionary copyright 2017 by Russ Hodge.

optometry  a science that applies quantitative methods to the characterization of a delusional mental state called optimism.

teleology  the scientific study of 1) television sets and 2) the content they broadcast; i.e., the powerful hallucinations that occur when viewers are exposed to a television’s electromagnetic field. To avoid fatal accidents, the first type of study should only be carried out after disconnecting a television set from its source of electricity. The second should only be attempted after disconnecting the rational parts of the brain.

locus  a site in the genome occupied by a pestilential insect that prefers a diet of corn but in a pinch will eat other things, such as old shoes, slow pets, and rusty cars sitting on cement blocks in the backyard. When satiated, it retires to a tree where it sheds its outer layer, leaving a perfect but hollow replica of itself that you can place on your grandmother’s pillow, if you’re in the mood for some excitement. The plural form is loci, a word which no one knows how to pronounce, but is required when referring to a congregation of at least two locuses, until you discover that one is merely a hollow shell. (In everyday speech the plural of locus is “plague”.) Loci make frequent appearances in the Bible, usually at the moment someone thinks, “It surely can’t get any worse than this.” In one famous scene, for example, the Israelis use trained locuses to carry out a drone strike on Egypt; finding no corn, they eat a pyramid.

The Bible reports that locuses have only four legs, although any fool can see that they have six, like every other insect. Seeing six legs may be the work of Satan, however, who takes pleasure in making people believe they are seeing more legs than loci actually have. The conundrum presented by this Biblical passage remains unsolved despite the best efforts of scientists using million-dollar technology platforms, people in bars, golfers, motorcycle gangs, shoppers in WalMart, NASA, the Locus Genome Project, and the Federal Reserve of the United States of America, which is responsible for determining how much a dollar is worth. (Their reasoning is that the confusion between four and six may also arise in other situations, so no one really knows how much money is actually out there.)

Quite predictably, the nastiest, foulest discussions about locipedia take place within the theological community. At least ten Popes have been assassinated because of their stance on the issue – in fact, the true number may be higher because it is unclear whether whoever counted them used a methodology that took into account the possibility of a four-six switcheroo. Thus the true number of Papal deaths that should be attributed to locimortis may be as low as six or as high as 64. This demonstrates the need to provide a full record of protocols and computational environments in any experiment which produces more than 3 or fewer than -3 pieces of data.

microbiome  one millionth of a biome. This might be somewhat helpful if someone ever bothered to define the size of a biome, but there’s no consensus in the scientific literature. Some use the term “biome” to encompass ecosystems as vast as Antarctica, while others claim you have a whole biome living in your belly button. These two scales are so different that it is hard to see how they can be classified under a single term, but scientists learn mental contortions during their studies that permit them to do this and even stranger things.

Biomes differ not only in size, but also in composition: one of them contains penguins, for example, while the other normally does not. This breaks biomes into the two classical categories of penguin-positive and penguin-negative. Another difference is that Antarctica has almost no plants, whereas flora sometimes sprout from a belly button, through a phenomenon whose underlying mechanisms have not yet been fully characterized but have been negatively correlated to the taking of showers. Despite the lack of a rational, personalized approach to treatment, two methods are usually effective: dabbing a little weed-killer on the thing, or attacking it with a very small pair of garden shears. While the latter is a relatively minor procedure, it should only be undertaken by specialists or trained professionals, due to a risk of perforating the intestines when performing any surgical procedure on the belly button with a pair of shears. (Note that the effects of the two therapies are additive, which suggests that applying both generally leads to shorter sprouts, except in the case of a perforation, which is usually fatal to the plant after killing its host.)

gravid  an adjective used to describe someone whose body is full of eggs, either in anticipation of a pregnancy or in the aftermath of an egg-eating competition, or both. In medical practice it is important to tell the difference, usually by inserting some type of invasive probe. Another method which has performed almost as well in double-blind studies is to squeeze the person really hard. If eggs emerge from the mouth, they most likely entered during a competition. If they emerge from somewhere else, they’re probably the other type of egg, now out on the town and looking to get hooked up.

gill bars  the only regions in an aquarium where a gar can get a real drink.

micromolar  a millionth of a molar, which is a type of tooth. A micromolar happens to be the average distance that a bacterium can bore through tooth enamel in one second, as derived from the following formula:

mm1 = 1/bx (he / f * (t?)[(C – mm2) + mm3]) – DG

where mm1 represents the distance (in micromolars); b is the bacterium; x is the number of bacterium involved in drilling the same hole; h represents the hardness of the enamel, which can only be determined by solving the equation and then inverting and converting and doing whatever else is necessary to it so that he jumps over to the left of the equal sign and everything else is piled up on the right, often upside down; f is the force the bacterium is capable of applying; t is the amount of time spent actually drilling, which has to be corrected by ?, the so-called mystery variable, if t is not being measured in seconds; C is Colgate toothpaste; mm2 stands for the number of M&Ms a person has eaten in the recent past, and mm3  refers to “mom’s madness”, a quantitative measurement of the degree of physical force your mother is prepared to inflict on the anyone who fails to apply C after mm2 (note that as C – mm2 approaches zero, mm3 approaches infinity); and DG stands either for the degree of grinding that a particular molar undergoes when a person has to share the mm2 with someone of the opposite political persuasion, or Director General – I can’t remember which. Replacing the variables with true values produces mm1, which may need to be adjusted to account for the degree of freedom (otherwise known as the “fudge factor”) which means the number of times you are permitted to lie when filling in the values to solve the formula. Note that by definition, mm1 must always end up being 1; if this doesn’t happen, just change the answers for the other variables until it does. There’s a way to do this with Excel tables, but I couldn’t tell you what it was if my life depended on it. I’m having a hard enough time explaining this as it is.

The formula yields the result mm1 in terms of bacterial boring distance per second, but the result can be easily converted to minutes by multiplying mm1 by 60, into years by multiplying mm1 by 1315440, and in relation to the age of the universe up to the present date by multiplying mm1 by 1817938080000000000000000 + sn (where sn is the number of seconds that elapse between the time you read this and the moment you get around to making the calculation).

-scope  an instrument used to “check something out,” usually to determine whether it could serve as an appropriate sexual partner. The first scopes, in fact, were developed to search for genitals before scientists discovered their locations on the body. Later the suffix was attached to other types of instruments, including:

telescope  an instrument developed to look at things so far away they lie in another dimension, called teleology.

colonoscope  an instrument first developed to probe the depths of a person’s ear. Prior to its invention, no one knew the true depth of the auditory canal, so colonoscopes were made very long. With enough force the instrument could be pushed in so far that it emerged from the other end of a person. At some point scientists discovered that more information could be collected about the auditory canal by examining it from the other side, so they began inserting the colonoscope at the former exit point.

endoscope  this term was originally derived from the expression, “end o’ th’ scope,” and referred to the end that was farthest from the person in charge of the instrument, and closest to the victim. If it changed hands in the middle of a procedure, for example when the patient snatched it to end the abuse, endoscope now referred to the end held by the former patient, and the person who initiated the incident was called the endoscopee. This caused confusion in cases where two people both got their hands on the thing. If each tried to tell the other in no uncertain terms what he could do with his end of the endoscope, this produced garbled communication and often fatal results. A national committee was formed to find a solution. Eventually a consensus was reached through the creation of the new terms proximal endoscope and distal endoscope, also sometimes seen in the forms myendoscope and urendoscope, as defined by the end that was cleanest at any given time.

microscope  a type of scope that moves the eye one million times closer to whatever it is you are trying to look at. At the time of invention another theory was proposed to account for the functions of the instrument: it actually made objects one million times larger for a very brief period of time. Fortunately this is not the case, because a lot of the things you see with a microscope are disgusting enough without being made a million times larger. This early “expansion theory” of microscopy was not fully discarded until Einstein published the theory of relativity. Einstein proved that if two people with microscopes were standing on trains that were pulling away from each other at the speed of light, they would never see each other because rays emanating from the microscope’s light source would never reach the slide, unless they turned around and faced the other direction. At that point each would either see what the other person had looked like a million years in the past, or be crushed as the two trains underwent a sudden, million-fold expansion. Since neither outcome was particularly desirable, scientists discarded the theory for the one they liked better.

The microscope revolutionized science because it was so powerful it could detect things so small that they didn’t actually exist, which explained why they had been invisible to the naked eye in the first place. It also played a key role in the deanthropomorphization of science by disproving the concept of the Big Picture. Through a microscope one realizes that the Big Picture is nothing more than a lot of Smaller Pictures containing things so small they defy human cognition, unless they somehow manage to reach it by entering through an ear. Thus the Big Picture can be discarded altogether.

Understanding why this is the case can be demonstrated through a metaphor: Imagine cutting any normal puzzle into a million pieces. Now try to assemble it again. You’ll discover that this is impossible because the maximum amount of information in 1/1,000,000th of an image is an R, G, or B dot, and not even a whole one, and good luck matching that to the picture on the box. But you’ll never get that far because you’ll never find the corners. Theoretically you could, but it would take an amount of time that can be represented by the formula UP * (n)1,000,000/4!, where n = the time it takes you to locate a single corner piece that it has become so small that you have to apply the Uncertainty Principle (UP), which means that whenever you go looking for it, it probably isn’t where you think it is, and even if it were, it would be gone before you could grab it.

Today’s updates in the Devil’s Dictionary

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

3707_001

all entries in the Devil’s Dictionary copyright 2017 by Russ Hodge.

 

insectivore  a person who rides a motorcycle with his or her mouth open. Contrast with omnivore and chiliconcarnevore.

angiogenesis  a process in organisms that is the biological equivalent of attaching new structures to city water and sewage services. Until this occurs, cells and tissues have to use outhouses. Angiogenesis is paid for by the rest of the organism, typically through a municipal tax hike, and often leads new organs and tissues to be shunned by the oldtimers. Compare to antiangiogenesis, which involves shutting down the services to cells that fail to pay their bills, usually after a visit by a process server.

carrying capacity  the average total number of plates, glasses, silverware and other service items that can be carried by a member of a species that has been trained to do so, without producing a carambolage or a loud crashing noise. In general, of all the members of the animal kingdom, the octopus has the highest average carrying capacity. It’s the suction cups, you know.

catabolism  a biological process akin to the natural process by which societies revert to anarchy. Catabolism takes place when complex entities become so large that its members decide it is unmanagable and ungovernable, at which point they decide to fragment into smaller parts which are equally unmanageable, but at least one knows who is responsible. The products of catabolism are eventually sucked up by whatever neighbor decides to consume them.

chorein  a situation in which a harmonious, tranquil state of homeostasis is disrupted by the entrance of a choir.

cnid  a fragment, subunit, or portion of a cnidarian, a large family of organisms that consist mostly of jello packed within thin membranes. Cnid is often produced through the interaction of cnidarians with boat propellors, but when jello is shaped through the use of a mold, into forms such as a brain or the Last Supper of Leonardo daVinci, the result is also considered a cnidarian consisting of cnid. Naturally occurring cnidarians live in aqueous environments and often have nettle-like tentacles. They sting like the dickens because they are used to inject toxins into unwitting prey or people who disturb cnidarians by splashing about in the water, although these features of cnidarians are usually omitted from jello molds. Cnid is an uncountable word, so it does not occur in the plural form. To refer to quantities a word is added that is usually measure of volume: “Give me a spoonful of that cnid,” or, “After you have molded graham crackers into a crust, pour on 3 cups of cnid and apply, if desired, a generous amount of whipped cream as a topping.” (Recipe suggested by my mom, Jo Hodge.)

germ layer  a stratum composed of bacteria, viruses, dandruff, species of lice and other noxious entities that naturally develops on any surface that you don’t wash as often as you should. Germ layers can be transferred from one organism to another, usually through bowls of peanuts placed on bars.

multiple hit hypothesis  A scientific model referring to the effects on the biology of an organism that has usually been assaulted in some violent manner by a scientist, for example by exposing it to large doses of radiation to see how many gamma rays are needed to kill it. This introduces double-stranded breaks in DNA in multiple locations, or hits. The result is coitus interruptus among cells that are pleasurably engaged in reproducing their genetic material. A sufficient dose of iodine may permit them to resume this activity; otherwise they typically produce offspring which are either highly creative forms of their parents or monstrous mutants, or both, depending on your point of view.

 

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