Giant's Shoulders #64: The Lexicon Edition

Welcome to the 64th edition of the Giant's Shoulders, the monthly blog carnival devoted to the history of science.   To mark this latest foray, I thought it seemed fitting to commemorate arch-lexicographer and all-around logomaniac, Noah Webster, who was born on this day in 1758.   As the author of the first English dictionary to be published in the United States, Webster is still regarded as the "Father of American Scholarship and Education."   250px-Noah_Webster_pre-1843_IMG_4412[1]

With that mind, let's turn to the numerous and diverse contributions that have been made to this latest edition.  Along with the different and nifty new words associated with them, we have (broken down by discipline.

Astronomy and Space Science

Pugilism (n), the manly art of self-defense.   Another word for the kind of knock-down fighting we see on Michael Flynn's TOF Spot as he referees The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown!  :

Progenitor (n), an ancestor or parent.  And who better to honour as the progenitor of space travel than the great Konstantin Tsiolkovsky?   The Yovisto blog weighs in with a look at this awesome pioneer:

Eponym (n), being named for a person or persons.    Halley's Comet is named for Edmond Halley, whose writing about his explorations are featured in  these two entries from Halley's Log

Anomalous (adj), deviating from what is normal or expected.  As in, nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition.   Least of all, Tycho Brahe.   The University of Glasgow blog has the details.

Prognostication (n).  Predicting future events.   So why were "gypsy" astrologers all the rage in the 17th century?  Praeludia Microcosmica fills you in.

Biology and Medicine

Infectious (adj).   Capable of spreading infection.  Are childhood killers like measles and mumps making a comeback?     Historians are Past Caring.

Lepidopteran (n),  a common name given to moths and butterflies.  And it's butterflies galore at the Oxford Museum!   BBC News has the details:

Competition (n), a race or contest.   What Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin engaged in while they traveled the world unraveling the mystery of fossils.    The Alfred Russel Wallace site provides more details.

Pachyderm (n),  an elephant.  Why did friends of eminent botanist Joseph Banks refer to him as a "placid elephant"?   The Public Domain Review solves the mystery.

Morbidity, (n), relating to the rate of incidence of a disease.   How would you have died in 1811?   This article from Slate provides a clue.

Parturition (n), relating to childbirth.    Not as easy as you might think considering the complicated contraptions doctors devised in the past to aid women giving birth.   The Chirugeon's Apprentice has the details of one bizarre innovation.

Iatric (adj), pertaining to medicine.   While Greek and Roman medicine may not have been as advanced as what we expect to day, the doctors had a few interesting tricks in their day.   Gender selection, anyone?  The Recipes Project blog has the details.

Invidious (adj),   Likely to arouse anger over unjust discrimination.    Do those dreaded "foreigners" give birth to more children?  Early Modern Medicine explores the preoccupation over why other nations were more fertile than those poor English families.

Contraceptive (n), controlling or limiting fertility.   Can beans be a contraceptive?   The Ancient Recipes site weighs in on why beans were a popular folk remedy for controlling births..

Gargantuan (adj).   Far greater than average;  enormous.   Like for example, the enormous turnip to be found in this next piece.   Ancient Recipes has the details.

Vertigo (n).   Dizziness stemming from motion sickness.   The Medievelists site provides some medieval advice on the treatment of sea sickness.

Physiognomy (n).   Assessing character from facial features.   Out of Time has some interesting ideas about why people look like their dogs.

Aesculapian (adj).   Relating to medicine.    Why was Galen considered the most eminent medical authority of the ancient world?   This BBC Radio podcast has the answers.

Dernier cri (n.)   The latest fashion.    The the demand for Tyrian purple lead to the death of countless innocent snails?     The Smithsonian has the gory details.

Archivist (n).   A keeper of a record.    What will be the final fate of the Oxford Biographical Index?   Early Modern Practitioners tells you more.

Prognostication (n).  Predicting the future.   Did a long-ago prediction made by Charles Darwin finally come to pass?  The Guardian has the details.

Computing and Mathematics

Enigma (n), a mystery like the one explored on the Communications of the ACM blog which tackles that arcane question:   Who begat computing?

Patisserie (n),,  a bakery.   And where else do you find delicious pie?   Oh, wait.  This is the other pi.   Longer but not as tasty.   The Renaissance Mathematicus weighs in on the man who brought pi to the world.π-and-the-earls-of-macclesfield/


Glaciology (n), the study of glaciers.   While Louis Agassiz opposed Charles Darwin's theories of evolution, his own discoveries helped pave the way for the acceptance of evolution worldwide.   The Disperal of Darwin presents a review of the latest book on Agassiz' life.

Misogyny (n).   It was hard being a woman scientist in the bad old days of the 19th century.   Not that women don't still face challenges, but think of what poor Mary Anning had to face and the recognition she was denied simply for being a woman.  Geology in the West Country has the details:

Tome (n), a scholarly work,  Want to learn more about the making of geology in Late-Georgian Britain?  Dissertation Reviews has the details of a dissertation that explores this complex topic.

Intrepid (adj).   Bold or fearless.    Much like Ernst Stromer was in his search for the lost dinosaurs of Egypt as Letters from Gondwana relates.

Miraculous (adj.).   Relating to a miracle.  Much like the British sailors felt when they discovered the Hawaiian Islands.    Live Science has more.


Legendary (n).  A figure of legend.    Such as the great Isaac Newton. London Review of Books discusses the latest biography of this paradoxical scientist.

 Savant (n), a prodigy or genius.   Who better to fit the definition but the redoubtable Paul Dirac?   Illuminations provides us a description of the new addition added to the Paul Dirac papers at Florida State University:

Polymath (n).   A prodigy with expertise in many disciplines.   The great Michael Faraday is rightly remembered for his amaing achievements in electricity and electrochemistry.   Here is an amazing timeline of the great man's life:

Catalyst (n), a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction.   Did Winston Churchill act as a catalyst in the development of the first atomic bomb?   Here is Graham Farmlo with some of the details (podcast).

Paradoxical (adj).  Logically contradictory.   Such as how legendary physicist, Otto Frisch, was nearly killed by a runaway reactor named for the most famous horsewoman of all.   Check out i09's contribution for the scoop.

Mythos (n).  Relating to myth or legend.  Such as when a literary legend pays tribute to a scientific one.   The Nobel Prize site provides a rare video of George Bernard Shaw giving homage to Albert Einstein.

Pomiculture (n).   The cultivation of fruit.    So, did a fateful apple dropping on Isaac Newton's head really lead to the Universal Law of Gravitation?   Probably not but the Guardian has more details.

Devastation (n).  Widespread destruction.    Was the United States planning to drop an atomic bomb on Dresden?   Werner Heisenberg seemed to think so.  Restricted Data reveals the secret.

And speaking of atomic bombs, here's one about Leo Szilard.

Controversy (n).   Prolonged public dispute or debate.   Who deserves the Nobel Prize more, the theoretician or the experimenter?  And what does scurvy have to do with it?  The Guardian weighs in.

Another one on the Nobel Prize and controversy.   I'm sensing some disquiet.

Another Nobel controversy.  This time over Linus Pauling's Peace Prize.

Geography and Navigation

Cartographer (n), a mapmaker.   Would the age of exploration have been possible without the amazing maps prepared by expert cartographers?  The British Library Maps and Views blog weighs in with an awesome 17th century map that was recently rediscovered.

Pilotage (n), the ability to direct a ship.    Something that would be rather difficult to do were it not for the 18th century discovery of a reliable means of measuring longitude.  The British Library's Social Science blog has the details.

Serendipity (n), a happy accident.   Thony Christie describes how the first attempt at measuring the speed of light arose from researching how to determine longitude.

And speaking of longitude.  Here is another one from the Board of Longitude Project.

Peripatetic (adj.).   Traveling from place to place.  Much like the early Greeks and Romans did as they explored the ancient world.    The New York Times describes a fascinating new exhibit on  Greco-Roman map making and legacy it left behind.

Amity (n).  Friendship.   However far the explorers traveled. writing to absent friends was always important.   The Sloane Letters provides some details.

Philosophy of Science

Fabulous (adj).   Pertaining to fables.    Sidewayslooksatscience discusses some of the popular stories of Richard Feynman and Carl Sagan and what they mean for science.

Transnational (adj.).   Extending beyond national borders.   Such as science in an ideal world.  But is it?   The BBC News site has more.

Transfiguration (n).   Transformation.   Such as the search by alchemists for a way of changing base metals into gold.   The Times Literary supplement features a review of a new book on alchemists.

Restoration (n).   The act of restoring.   But can history be a reliable guide for restoring damaged ecologies?   Not according to 3quarksdaily.

Connotation (n).   Though it is said that the winners write the history book, is history more than a PT exercise?  Literacy of the Present weighs in on this troubling question and the need to see science in context

Conundrum (n), a confusing or difficult problem.  Such as trying to distinguish between experimental and speculative philosophy.    The Early Modern Experimental Philosophy site weighs in on Roger Cotes and his preface to Isaac Newton's classic work, the Principia:

And for another take:

Ethnocentric (adj.).   Belief in the superiority of a particular ethnic group.   Does Britannia really rule the sciences?  Thony Christie, The Renaissance Mathematicus, isn't so sure...


Theremin (n), a musical instrument and, according to The Appendix, something that Vladimir Lenin liked to play:


With that, we close this edition of the Giant's Shoulders.   The host of the next edition is still to be determined.  If anyone would like to contribute a post or host a future edition, please contact  Thony C at The Renaissance Mathematicus.    Remember the future of the History of Science blog carnival rests on your shoulders.


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