Thursday, July 28, 2011

AW #35: The Point of Words

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Hello Geoblogosphere!!

At the beginning of July, I fully intended to contribute to this month's Accretionary Wedge, on favorite geology words. And then... I... completely forgot to.

i am a long time lurker (and occasional comment-er) on many of your fabulous sites/blogs. First of all, many, many, many thanks for all the interesting articles, pictures, and links you have all posted!


Picking a favorite geologic word is definitely a challenge. Every time I open Selley's Encyclopedia of Geology, there's another term i hadn't heard before, but love. I've been curating a list of interesting/odd/new to me/essential Geology words at wordnik. (Geobloggers will notice some of the more recent additions to the list are from the recent AW!)

From my ongoing list of favorite geology words, there's a few I especially like:

Petrichor: the smell of the earth after rain.

Erg: A series of dunes, [I once used this word in Scrabble! to the great dismay of my sister!]

Anemology: science of the wind.

Karoo: A vast prairie bordering a desert.

Xeric: extremely dry.

...ooh goodness I really could go on! Rhabdolith, lithosphere, drusy, fenestra... there are way too many to choose from! Geology has a huge variety of vocabulary, as it's not only a wide field of study, many landscape terms were adapted from the language group(s) that originally encounterd the landform(s).

We have terms from German (karst fenster, flysch, greywacke, horst, feldspar, thalweg, quartz). We have (mostly glacial) terms from Swedish (fjord, tarn), Welsh (cwm, llyn), and Icelandic (jokulhlaup, geyser). We have (mostly desert) terms from Australian Aborigine languages (gilgai), Spanish (arroyo, cuesta, mesa, canyon), and Arabic (wadi, haboob, amber, azimuth, sabkha). And we have terms from several Native American languages (bayou, tepui, yazoo, tuya), French (coulee, butte). And of course Latin and Greek (way too many to list!). Geological words vary from very, very broad, to the almost comically specific. Etymology is interesting as it shows who ideas/things were (first/most) important to, and how we, in the English-speaking world, first became aware of foreign concepts. I think that's even more true with our descriptive science.

But what makes a good geology word, or a good scientific term of any sort, is its precision. That is, to anyone who hasn't seen exactly the sample or location that you have, if you use precise enough terminology others can still get an idea of what is there. If you use the Standard Abbreviations for Lithologic Descriptions and painstakingly match colours to Munsell's, and always take measurements, anybody with the patience can get a mental image of just what you saw. For that reason I like the many adjectives we can apply to minerals/etc.; all of the "-oids" and "-ys" and "-ateds."

The purpose--the point, if you will--of descriptive terminology is to be able to write or portray anything the audience hasn't seen so thoroughly that they'll feel like they have seen it. (Of course, we rarely do that--it's exhausting!) And conversely, another reason to have precise terminology is for when two+ geologists are looking at the same thing, so that they can agree on what's there (also... exhausting!).

And my absolute favorite? I'm going to have to go with acicular, 'needle-like crystal form,' aka long, thin, or point. Needle-y.

So welcome to my new blog!

I also like "acicular" because it's just general enough for the non-geologist to understand, yet evokes a very specific shape/image, and a wide variety of minerals can have this form. The first time I heard this word, I thought it sounded like some sort of Spanish action verb, so I always remember my initial, 'oooooh... it's English!' reaction. (And it's punny, too, my secondary interest after geology happens to be knitting... which involves even more pointy things!)


I also have a little word mystery that I would like to present to the Geoblogging community: Shazam!! In college, I distinctly remember a TA telling us that "shazam" was the word for the zig-zagged line we could draw when correlating logs if there wasn't enough information to fully/accurately correlate them. However... since then I've not heard others use this word for that situation, nor have other geologists from other schools seemed to know what I meant when I've used it. Does anyone know if 'Shazam' is an actual (common) term, or a nonce description a few grad students happened to like?