Language of Physics and Chemistry

  1. In chemistry, word usage leaps from ambiguity to incomprehension. Here is a quote from E.Kasner and J.Newman:
    In chemistry, substances no more complicated than sugar, starch, or alcohol have names like this: Methylpropenylenedihydroxicinnamenylacryc acid, or, 0-anhydrosulfaminobenzoine, or, protocatechuicaldehydemethylene. It would be inconvenient if we had to use such terms in everyday conversation. We could imagine even the aristocrat of science at the breakfast table asking, "Please pass the 0-anhydrosulfaminobenzoic acid," when all he wanted was sugar for his coffee?
  2. Physicists also do not always agree on the word usage. Following is a quote from The Quark and the Jaguar by Murray Gell-Mann, winner of the Nobel Price in Physics:
    We consider Everett's work to be useful and important, but we believe that there is much more to be done. In some cases too, his choice of vocabulary and that of subsequent commentators on his work have created confusion. For example, his interpretation is often described in terms of "many worlds," whereas we believe that "many alternative histories of the universe" is what is really meant. Furthermore, the many worlds are described as being "all equally real," whereas we believe it is less confusing to speak of "many histories, all treated alike by the theory except for their different probabilities." To use the language we recommend is to address the familiar notion that a given system can have different possible histories, each with its own probability; it is not necessary to become queasy trying to conceive of many 16 parallel universes," all equally real. (One distinguished physicist, well versed in quantum mechanics, inferred from certain commentaries on Everett's interpretation that anyone who accepts it should want to play Russian roulette for high stakes, because in some of the "equally real" worlds the player would survive and be rich.)

    And an additional note to explain the meaning of the word "history":

    By "history" we do not mean to emphasize the past at the expense of the future; nor do we refer mainly to written records as in human history. A history is merely a narrative of a time sequence of events - past, present, or future.

    On page 181, we discover another peculiar word usage:

    ... The u and d are said to be different "flavors" of quark. Besides flavor, the quarks have another, even more important property called "color", although it has no more to do with real color than flavor in this context has to do with the flavors of frozen yoghurt.
  3. On the geometry.college newsgroup a question about the proper name of an 11-gon lead to an interesting discussion about chemical names.
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