There are a lot of weird words you learn to pronounce and spell if you pay much attention to health, science and the environment. By the time Iceland's spectacular volcanic eruption simmered down in 2010, for instance, “Eyjafjallajokull” was as familiar as “Mount Etna.” You should hear “Papahanaumokuakea” roll off the tongue of Juliet Eilperin, who has been reporting on the Hawaiian marine national monument for years. I asked David Fahrenthold, who covered science at The Washington Post before he moved on to less inspiring subjects, what his favorite tricky science word was, and he immediately said “pycnocline,” which sounds like “picnic line” and refers to a layer of the ocean. I hadn't heard that word before — and that's the best part about being involved in research in any way, as a scientist, clinician, journalist or reader. You're always learning new things.
When Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was elected the next director general of the World Health Organization on Tuesday, I edited a story about him by health reporter Lena Sun. I double-checked her spelling of his name (it was correct) and had a premonition: At some point, the world is going to have a global health emergency so dire and lasting that reporters everywhere, in the course of covering the disaster, will learn how to spell “Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus” without checking.
I pointed this out on Twitter and listed some of my favorite weird science words, and then Bethany Brookshire, who writes for Science News, started a science spelling bee challenge: What's the most annoying science word you've had to spell, and what does it mean?
— Bethany Brookshire (@scicurious) May 24, 2017
The responses were fabulous. A lot of people say they trip over “ophthalmologist.” Have you ever really looked at that word? It's ridiculous.
— Rachel K. Spurrier (@rkspurrier) May 24, 2017
Chemists had a lot to complain about.
— Dr Terri (@Doctor_Terri) May 24, 2017
And so did people who study parasites or pretty much anything with Latin names. Taxonomy is hard.
— Lewis Bartlett (@BeesAndBaking) May 24, 2017
— Meghan Duffy (@duffy_ma) May 24, 2017
I always have to double-check the spelling of the primate taxonomic categories 'haplorhine' and 'strepsirrhine' #scispellingbee
— Lara Durgavich (@tinkeringprim8) May 24, 2017
Medical terms can be quite tricky. I checked: He didn't make this one up.
— Jason Anthony Tetro (@JATetro) May 24, 2017
— Anand Madhvani (@dosima_org) May 24, 2017
Uh, <peck>b<peck>e<peck>z<peck> ...
— Pete Farley (@cairdin) May 24, 2017
The thread is full of unexpected delights. Did you know that some beetles have fluorescent sperm? Isn't nature grand?
— Liz Droge-Young (@LizDrogeYoung) May 24, 2017
Anyway, this is what science-philic goofballs do on Twitter all day. The spelling bee is still going on, so please share your favorites with the hashtag #scispellingbee. Feel free to be as pedantic as you like.