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Category: Language

Naming Rights II
The prospect of involving physicists in the creation of new words might seem like a chancy undertaking. This is probably nothing more than liberal arts prejudice on my part, especially since they have done quite well over the years in making up names for things.

Quark is a good example. For those of you who don’t know what a quark is … I’m a liberal arts guy, remember? Let’s just say it’s an elementary particle and that it’s very small. It seems to fit the thing it names. Quark. A little strange, like the concept, yet short and pronounceable. It even smells a little bit like a laboratory, don’t you think? The quark, by the way, has a superpartner called the squark, which is its hypothetical twin as suggested in supersymmetry theories now current in high-energy physics. This is why I am in the liberal arts.

They’re both good names, though, as are many of the names assigned to these teensy bits. You’ve got your leptons, your bosons, and your tachyons of “Star Trek” fame. Also geons, dyons, muons, luxons, trions, and plektons. Special note is made of the pomeron, which is used to explain the “elastic scattering” of hadrons. I figured it was something like that.

What I like most about these words is that they have no other meanings besides these. I wish that were true about all words. But no; language suffers from its own form of elastic scattering.

In fairness, it must be said that physicists do not have a perfect record in this regard. Take flavor and charm. Others seem to like the idea of giving these names to hard physical phenomena. Perhaps they think these are cute, counterintuitive usages; I don’t care. We already have multiple meanings for those words. Should we dilute their clarity even further in the service of cuteness? (Please say ‘No’ here, out loud if possible.) I also have a small quarrel with the use of the –on ending for so many of the elementary particles above. Just a plekton more of imagination might have helped.

Despite the energetic naming efforts of physicists, however, they have missed a few obvious opportunities. Let me take on two of the challenges they have ignored. First up: the speed of light. It’s the "c" in e=mc2. Why are we still using four words for a concept so central to modern physics? For this position of honor, I nominate phtt. No vowels, I know; there just wasn’t enough time. The double T, in case you’re wondering, is meant to add a firmness to the ending emphasizing that this is the absolute speed limit for our universe: phtt and no faster.

Next comes nano-. Yes, it’s a prefix, not a word, and yes, it’s a perfectly good prefix. In fact, it’s one of a number of very fine size-related prefixes. Nano- indicates a high degree of tininess — just below micro-, in fact — but the tiniest of all is yocto-. The nano- prefix indicates a billionth; yocto- means a septillionth. What I propose to do here is crash through the frontiers of smallness with a brand new prefix representing sizes measured in octillionths.

For this heady task, I choose neenonano-. That’s teeny to 27 decimal places. This new prefix will be able to look above itself at the other prefixes as say, “Ha-ha. I am the smallest of all! Neenonano, neenonano.”

I invite physicists to comment on these creations or simply to begin using them in interactions with their peers. I certainly welcome input from liberal artists, as well — but shouldn’t you be out looking for a job?
Naming Rights
Let’s talk about your body for a moment. I don’t mean your body, per se, but rather your body as a representative of all human bodies, everywhere and forever. It’s hard to believe, given all that time and all those bodies, that some parts of your body remain unnamed.

It is my purpose to begin to fill in those blanks and thereby to exercise my right — the right of all sentient creatures — to put a name to anything in my sphere of experience. Whether these names stick, of course, is up to you and everyone else. I merely submit them here for your consideration.

First, let me identify the gold standard for the naming of body parts: thumb. Brief, unique, and manifestly organic in origin. Moreover, the word conveys the essence of the thing it names — sturdy, strong, yet nimble and savvy. The hut-dwelling Pict who thought up that word deserves a first-ballot induction into the English Language Hall of Fame.

So let’s get started — with the big toe. But that has a name, you may interject; it’s the Big Toe. Sadly, I am forced to reject that name. It is a sizeist term, and I think it’s time we moved beyond such divisive modes of thought. Instead, I submit the name flumb. Notice that I have honored the flumb’s common heritage with the thumb while substituting the F and L to intimate “foot” and “flat.” It’s one syllable, one-of-a-kind, and linguistically organic. Furthermore, it communicates the personality of the body part it identifies — modest, homely, trustworthy. (I should say in passing that the rest of your toes are low priorities on the List of Things to Be Named. They are so uniform in function that they could all have the same name. In fact, I endorse surgical unification of these redundant digits as a way of avoiding confusion. If you must name them, however, I recommend more familiar names such as Carl or Mitzi.)

Let’s move on. Have you ever looked closely at the underside of your tongue? Good, that’s where we’re going next. I refer in particular to that small flap of skin that runs along the axis of the tongue and attaches it to the floor of the mouth. You don’t even have to look at it; you can actually feel it with the tongue itself. For this nameless bit of flesh, I propose ulia. Three syllables, I know, but only four letters! And I think it captures the moist flexibility of this unsung body part. If you doubt me, try saying it out loud. Ulia. Did you salivate? I rest my case.

Finally, we will focus on a part of the body that has been the cause so much angst and shame throughout history. No, it’s not what you’re thinking, whatever that is. It’s the bald spot. “Bald spot,” in itself, is not a name; it is merely a description of a condition. The spot deserves better, and so does our language, but this is no easy challenge. We are trying, after all, to name something that doesn’t actually exist. A bald spot is the absence of hair; the unhair, if you will. It’s a vacuum, a void, a glistening expanse of nothingness, nothing but nothingness.

And so, let us call it the nuth. As in, “Is it my imagination, honey, or am I getting new growth right in the middle of my nuth?” Or, “Do you carry nuthwax?” You’ll have to admit: it works.

I place these humble offerings at the altar of the god of General Usage. Let them flourish or wither at the whim of my fellow English-speakers. If your body has been stirred in recognition at any of them, then I invite you — use them at your will.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee