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.)