Nomenclature and other reflections

If I was in charge of scientific nomenclature… wait, there doesn’t seem to be Scientific Nomenclaturist-in-Chief. Maybe I should propose myself for such a position to the International and Universal Union of All Scie… wait, that doesn’t exist either.


If I was in charge of scientific nomenclature, this “dark matter” thingie would be called “black mass” instead. Like this, modified from Wikipedia:

Black mass is believed to play a central role in structure formation and galaxy evolution, and has measurable effects on the anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background. All hail Satan. All these lines of evidence suggest that galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and the universe as a whole contain far more matter than that which interacts with electromagnetic radiation: the remainder is frequently called the “black mass component,” and there is no God, even though there is a small amount of baryonic black mass.

It must be the overexposure to mathematical terms; especially mathematical jokes. Like this:

Once upon a time, the Flood was over and Noah released all the animals to go out and multiply and eat the well-watered plants or each other; and all seemed to be good until he came across a cross-seeming pair of snakes that weren’t doing anything.

“Now, what’s the problem here?” Noah asked.

And as this was a long time ago and in a land far away, the snakes answered: “Cut us down some trees and let us live there.”

So Noah did, and went away, and a few weeks later came back, and saw a plenty of little snakes. Curious, he asked how the trees had made a difference; and the mommy snake hissed quite amicably in reply: “Dear Noah, it is quite simple: we are adders, so we need logs to multiply.”

In joke-rating terms that’s a four-star wall-head-banger. Also quite a hazard since it’s altogether incomprehensible if you don’t know that \log(xy) = \log x + \log y.

Round hereabouts I’m obliged to say that reading the next paragraph may induce vomiting and/or lifelong aversion towards all aspects of physics.

The strange thing is that while physics terminology sounds like it’s continually on the verge of becoming explicit in some horrible and kinky way — trembling red giants explode into greedy black holes, degenerate white dwarfs flock in the dark corners of the universe, skimpy superstrings lie scattered everywhere, and all those models with proud bosons and barely concealed hadrons excite the minds of the nation’s finest — and now you will never view physics quite the same way again — mathematical terminology just sounds monumentally confused though well-meaning: sure, you mix the real and the imaginary and things get complex. Sure, all that is real isn’t rational — witness my uncle. And what is natural is a smaller set still. (Referring to \mathbb{N} \subset \mathbb{Q} \subset \mathbb{R} \subset \mathbb{C}, of course — but if you didn’t know that, what I just said didn’t help you any.)

What I am saying, I think, is that it’s nice we don’t just roll a dice for random syllables when we need a need a new scientific term (“We a discovered something we call a weebnagagafoil-bu.“); and a further reason for that niceness of using words already in use is that with that and the general inexactness of human languages you get lots of chances to tell bad jokes.

Like this — and like the previous, this is a riff on an old one by me —

Lemma. A cat has nine tails.

Proof. No cat has eight tails. A cat has one tail more than no cat. Therefore, a cat has nine tails. QED.

This proof can easily be adapted to prove the following:

Corollary. A cat has n tails for any n \in \mathbb{C}.

Note. While the existence of a cat-o-nine-tails is commonly known, this result demonstrates that if we assume a cat, that cat is a cat-o-(\pi+2i)-tails, which may not be intuitively obvious to the layman.

(In other news, snow on the ground! I love Finland! But if this melts away tomorrow, I will hate this capricious and cruel land of sorrow and misfortune. Hah.)

(Also: Once more sorry for the kinky physics part. I can’t believe I wrote that.)

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