Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Speaking of Science: Vocab driver

Speaking of Science
Talk nerdy to us

This week, Merriam-Webster added more than 800 new words to its dictionary. Amid the influx of shortened words ("adorbs" for adorable, "zuke" for zucchini, "guac" for guacamole, etc.), a few scientific and technical terms made the cut. The dictionary now includes:

Biohacking, defined as "biological experimentation (as by gene editing or the use of drugs or implants) done to improve the qualities or capabilities of living organisms especially by individuals and groups outside of a traditional medical or scientific research environment."

Haptics, the "science concerned with the sense of touch." (It also means the physical feedback, like a buzz or shudder, produced by smartphones and video game controllers.)

Fintech, a portmanteau of financial and technology: "products and companies that employ newly developed digital and online technologies in the banking and financial services industries."

The additions to Merriam-Webster reflect our evolving relationship with technology, the dictionary editors wrote when announcing the changes. "We are no longer naming our devices and programs, we're talking about what we do with them, and what they do for us," they wrote.


Scientific terms jump from jargon to mainstream when they're useful, easy to pronounce and a more common word won't do the job just as well. A word like haptics, which has been around since the 19th century, will travel from a specialist group to the public only when the public needs it. Thanks, smartphones!

Haptics is rooted in the Greek word for touch; few people are able to will a word from nothing into existence. The only exceptions are called nonce words, per the Guardian, which include fleek and bling. Science and math have a few examples, too, like quark (the subatomic particle) and googol (the number one followed by a hundred zeros) — the inspiration for Google.com, which began as a typo.


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