In Which I Am Part of the Problem

I’m sitting at my desk dining room table editing a science paper. I come across a phrase, “Goeppert-Mayer units.” Without thinking, I throw in an en dash.

My assumption is that Goeppert and Mayer are the two scientists who discovered whatever it was that they then named after themselves. In that case, an en dash is appropriate.

It’s like the Mason-Dixon line or the Lewis-Clark expedition. It’s the same punctuation mark that brought you the space-time continuum. It is impossible to represent in WordPress, because an en dash is not an option here, but I assure you the en dash is a fun little punctuation mark.

(I am a dork, but you knew that. Moving on.)

Men rarely have hyphenated names, and so it almost didn’t occur to me to look it up. But some little whisper in my brain made me google Goeppert Mayer. Turns out that Goeppert and Mayer was Maria Goeppert-Mayer, a German physicist. She won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 for her discovery of the model of the nuclear shell.

From Wikipedia:

During her time at Chicago and Argonne in the late 1940s, Goeppert Mayer developed a mathematical model for the structure of nuclear shells, which she published in 1950.[29][30] Her model explained why certain numbers of nucleons in an atomic nucleus result in particularly stable configurations. These numbers are what Eugene Wigner called magic numbers: 2, 8, 20, 28, 50, 82, and 126. Enrico Fermi provided a critical insight by asking her: “Is there any indication of spin orbit coupling?”[31] She realised that this was indeed the case, and postulated that the nucleus is a series of closed shells and pairs of neutrons and protons tend to couple together.[32][33] She described the idea as follows:

Think of a room full of waltzers. Suppose they go round the room in circles, each circle enclosed within another. Then imagine that in each circle, you can fit twice as many dancers by having one pair go clockwise and another pair go counterclockwise. Then add one more variation; all the dancers are spinning twirling round and round like tops as they circle the room, each pair both twirling and circling. But only some of those that go counterclockwise are twirling counterclockwise. The others are twirling clockwise while circling counterclockwise. The same is true of those that are dancing around clockwise: some twirl clockwise, others twirl counterclockwise.[34]

I only sort of understood that myself, but I’m putting it out there for your education. Goeppert-Mayer also worked at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project and rarely got paid work because she was a woman.

So, yay for women scientists, and you can bet your sweet ass that I am paying better attention now. Back to work!

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11 responses to “In Which I Am Part of the Problem

  1. You should be able to put proper dashes of all sorts into WordPress, but you’ll have to dive into the happy fun world of html entity markup (the markup for an en dash is – and for an em dash is —).

    Now I have the paradox of neding to post the comment to see if the blog lets me post that the way I want it to look, or escapes it into uselessness.

    In the event of likely failure, that markup is an ampersand followed by the identifier “ndash” or “mdash” followed by a semicolon.

    • Oh, SjG, I worry that I could keep myself up nights aiming for correct dashery thru html. I just battled [online classroom management system] and I can’t quite tell whether or I lost or won. But I will lick my online wounds and consider html. Consider.

  2. You are talking about my absolute favourite subject: compound adjectives! Double-barrelled names? Not so interesting.

    Did you know (I am sure you do, because you know so many things) that the en dash is used in a compound adjective preceding a noun, but is not used when the adjectives follow (at least this is what my copyeditors taught me. Chicago style.)?

    “A tightly-wound ball of yarn wasn’t actually as tightly wound as I thought”

    • Er, Cougar. You don’t generally use an en dash preceding a noun. And, in fact, “tightly wound” should not be hyphenated because it is an adverb. Or rather, “tightly” is an adverb. On the other hand, if you are trying to say that the reddish-brown dog is reddish brown then you are correct. No, rethink, dear sister.

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