18 June 2018


There were scientists long before we had the word "scientist" to describe them. The word really doesn't appear until 1834,when it was coined from Latin scientia by the Rev. William Whewell, a Cambridge University historian and philosopher. He wrote it in the same paragraph in which he coined "physicist."

The word "science" was already in use having come from Middle English via Middle French back to Latin scientia meaning "knowledge" as equivalent to scient- (stem of sciēns), present participle of scīre to know + -ia .

A scientist was first seen as a kind of artiste, in the sense of one who cultivates one of the arts presided over by the Muses (history, poetry, comedy, tragedy, music, dancing, astronomy. By the 17th century, it was also used for "one skilled in any art or craft" which would have included professors, surgeons, craftsmen, cooks etc. ). Since mid-18c. especially of "one who practices the arts of design or visual arts."

Aristotle was described as a natural philosopher.
Was he a scientist?

In 1840, Whewell said that Leonardo da Vinci was mentally a seeker after truth and so he was a scientist. Whewell was the master of Trinity College at Cambridge and a fairly good scientist himself in writing about geology, oceanic tides, and mathematics.

At the time, he was friends with scientists of the day such as Faraday and Darwin. Whewell was one of the Cambridge dons whom Charles Darwin met during his education there, and when Darwin returned from the Beagle voyage he was directly influenced by Whewell, who persuaded Darwin to become secretary of the Geological Society of London. The title pages of On the Origin of Species open with a quotation from Whewell's Bridgewater Treatise about science founded on a natural theology of a creator establishing laws:

"But with regard to the material world, we can at least go so far as this—we can perceive that events are brought about not by insulated interpositions of Divine power, exerted in each particular case, but by the establishment of general laws."

Michael Faraday is best known for his study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. He is responsible for discovering the laws of electrolysis, and for popularizing terminology such as anode, cathode, electrode, and ion - all terms proposed in large part by William Whewell.

Whewell was writing a book, The Philosophy of the Inductive Science, which helped lay out basic questions in science like: How do you come up with a hypothesis? How do you prove it? Should it be universal?

12 June 2018


One thing that comes to mind - perhaps first for people these days - when you hear the word "jackknife" is a wrecked big rig on the highway with the tractor wedged against the trailer at a 45 degree angle.

This term is a reference to the folding pocket knife (larger than a "pen knife") once known as the jackknife whose blade can be folded back into its handle. Visually, this folding resembles a jackknifed truck and trailer.

The name "jackknife" comes from the heyday of seafaring. Sailors commonly carried these tools and they were associated with sailors. Because of its link to the Mariners who carried them the night became known as the jackknife which etymologist believe is a reference to a sailing vessels flag or Jack staff.

The use of jackknife as a verb (sometimes jack-knife) goes back to American English in the Revolutionary war days when it too on the meaning "to stab." Around the time of the Civil War, it also had the meaning of "to fold or bend" your body as with the knife.

Starting around 1922, it started being used to describe a kind of swimming dive.

It didn't become something used to describe truck accidents until the second half of the 20th century. 

3 divers, the topmost one doing a jackknife

04 June 2018

High Jinks and Jinx

If you start looking into the history of the term "high jinks", high jinks will ensue.

High jinks, also spelled hi-jinks and sometimes as hijinks, is defined as "boisterous or rambunctious carryings-on" or "carefree antics or horseplay."

It is a word I associate more with my parents and grandparents and was in popular usage in the mid-1900s.

'Hey-jinks' was a dice game in which one person would throw dice and have to complete a task—such as drinking all the liquor in a cup. The high in high jinks might have come from the drinking game aspect.

Originally, "jinks" was a dice game and references go all he way back to a 1683 English translation of Erasmus: "And as to all those Shooing-horns of drunkenness, the keeping every one his man, the throwing Hey-jinks, the filling of bumpers, the drinking two in a hand..."

This hey-jinks dice game of chance seems to have involved completing a task - maybe more of a dare or challenge and possibly something for the amusement of the group. It seems that the dice game itself fell away over the years and what remains was the dares that the game had inspired.

The word "jink" may be related to a Scottish verb jink that means "to move quickly or unexpectedly with sudden turns and shifts." This dodging action later meant "to trick or deceive" but by the time of that usage the high jinks usage was also around.

Jinks does not seem to have any connection to "jinx" which appears later in the language. The Online Etymology Dictionary states that 'jynx', meaning a charm or spell, was in usage in English as early as the 1690s. The Americanized spelling of "jinx" appears in 1911.

Jynx/jinx is traced to the 17th-century word jyng, meaning "a spell", and ultimately to the Latin word iynx (also spelled jynx, as in Latin 'j' and 'i' are the same letter). And that Latin word came from the Greek name of the bird iunx. This bird was associated with sorcery and was used in the casting of spells and in divination. The Ancient Romans and Greeks traced the bird's mythological origins to a sorceress named Iynx, who was transformed into this bird to punish her for a spell cast on the god Zeus.

In modern usage, a jinx is a superstition and folklore for a curse or the attribute of attracting bad or negative luck. Someone or something is said to be a jinx or to be jinxed if misfortune is associated with it.

This superstition shows up in sports. If a baseball pitcher is pitching a perfect game, it is considered a jinx to talk about it. Some people believe that pointing out a streak of particularly good fortune will "jinx it" and cause it to end.

Jinx is also a children's game that is initiated when at least two people say any same word or phrase at the same time. One of them then calls "jinx" on the other.