Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Science as a Foreign Language

I went to a Liberal Arts university for undergrad, which means that I was required to take a lot of fun courses-- two courses in musical theatre, ancient Greek literature, philosophy-- when youre a science major, these classes are a pleasant break from 12 hours of lab work a week.

But when those science courses got tough, it was hard not to resent the extra coursework. I remember during one infuriating study session for a Bio Major Weed-Out Course (we got a crash course on every species on the planet), memorizing words like parenchyma, sclerenchyma, and chlorenchyma and declaring we should get foreign language credit for Bio-II.

Learning biology, learning any science, IS like learning a foreign language!! And even though Ive been in science-world for years, I STILL screw words up all the time! So dont feel bad if you bumble a lot!

Some common ones:

Transcription - Turning DNA into RNA
Translation - Turning mRNA into proteins

Splice - Cutting RNA
Cleave - Cutting Proteins

- Putting plasmids into bacteria
Transfect - Putting plasmids into eukaryotic cells
Infect - Putting, in my case, viruses on cells

Those are some a little more specific for my field-- what are the major word mix-ups in your alls fields?


Jeremy Bruno said...

Amen to that. As a writer of science I have to ponder those difficulties every day I sit down to compose something.


How about "ecology" and "environmentalism"? Or Batesian and Mullerian mimicry? Or physiological vs. morphological?

ERV said...

How about "ecology" and "environmentalism"?
Ooh that made me think of another one-- not in my field, but a mix up I hear a lot: climate and weather.