Keeping Christ in Science

I love how obscure and sometimes arcane images persist in language. DP and I once had a long conversation about “dead as a door nail.” (No, seriously, we do sometimes sit around and talk about these things.) Is a door nail really the nail used to secure a latch before people had locks on their doors? Some of the word artifacts make me sad. How many of us see the neck of the goose that the lamps are named after? We are removed from the land and its seasons.

Today I was looking up something in my trusty CSE manual. (I don’t actually trust the CSE manual, as it is written for someone who has knowledge about each field rather than the hapless former English major who just can’t figure out whether “geological time terms” are formal or informal. Just tell me whether Upper Cretaceous is capitalized or lowercase. I guess it isn’t that easy. Gah!)

(The Management: Moving on.) In my first copyediting job I had reason to know that weather satellites are sometimes italicized. There was a complicated explanation behind it (probably has to do with the Upper Cretaceous), but I couldn’t quite remember what the explanation was. Well, according to the Council of Science Editors manual, satellites that have been christened are set in italics, and satellites that have not been christened are set roman (that’s regular nonitalic nonbold font for you nonpublishing types—speaking of word artifacts).

Let’s think about this for a moment. Boats have been christened for thousands of years, often baptized in champagne. A broken bottle of champagne would probably damage something sensitive on a satellite. But the satellites are named in some version of a Christian baptism according to the CSE. At some science journals you can’t even use the word “I,” so as to affirm the (supposed) universality and objective nature of science. But you can christen satellites. Who knew?

What word artifacts do you love?*

(*Damn you, Brits, I keep wanting to spell it artefacts.)


11 responses to “Keeping Christ in Science

  1. I love “spit ‘n image”, a bit of resonant magic-based superstition that has morphed through long years and different ears into “spitting image” or, as a young writer of my acquaintance logically assumed, “splitting image”.

  2. DH explained to DC1, upon DC1’s reading A Christmas Carol for the first time and loving that first chapter, that dead as a doornail simply means the nail is flat and is a carpentry term. Door nails need to be especially dead so they don’t catch on things, I guess. So you’re not the only family who has these lengthy conversations!

    My mom also knows all of these language trivia, so before the internet I used to be able to ask her where any word or phrase came from.

    • That’s pretty great! My temptation, if I were your mom, would be to imitate Calvin’s dad and make shit up.

      Eagle eye? Well, young person, it turns out that eagles can shoot lasers from their eyes….(you get the idea)

  3. “Dead as a doornail” has long been a favorite, as well as “colder than a witch’s tit.” My Spanish friend especially loves “when the shit hits the fan” for it’s visual perfection.

  4. (The Management’s Sister: Moving Back) You are making me waste my time! You had me enthralled with christ in science when you reminded me about the passive voice thing. Did I tell you that? I once wrote an article about using the passive voice in academic writing, and when I was doing my research, I found a statement about the passive voice promoting the universal power of…Christ? Science? I thought it was in Science. So, after reading your post today, I went back to Science. Wasn’t there. I did do a thorough search of “passive voice” in their archives. Fabulous material for another article (wanna write it with me?)!

    But you asked for an artefact. Too stupid to find one, but I found Christ (well, God) instead. Thought I’d look up my favourite word (cacophony) in Merriam-Wesbster to see if it had anything useful to add to the discussion. No etymology. Scanned down to the bottom of the page, and I see they ask readers to say why they looked up the word “cacophony.” Third entry:

    God gave me the word “cacophony” when I was praying about what a specific unsaved person’s logismos was. Logismos is a Greek word that is the sum total of the accumulated wisdom and information learned over time. It becomes the person’s mindset. Before the fall of Adam & Eve, man got his logic and beliefs from God. After the fall James 3:15 tells us their mindset comes from the earth, the soul or intellect, and from demonic sources.

    Stop wasting my time with these (OK, interesting) questions!!

    God is giving me a cup of tea right now. Better go.

    • Dear Cougar, You worry me. (It was the God giving you a cup of tea.) Science is definitely phrased in the passive voice to promote its universal power. “The test tube was filled with 4 cc of espresso.” The researcher could do it, other scientists can do it, you the reader can do it too! Sincerely, Management’s Sister’s Sister

      • Don’t worry; the tea was fine. But could the test tube be filled with 4cc of darjeeling? I’d prefer. Black. No sugar.


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