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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?

Please Note: Tim Eagan will read your comments but he is currently not publishing them.

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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon