Sunday, November 18, 2007

Oxygen - IOT

BBC's In Our Time dove into the history of Oxygen, or rather the discovery of this gas. Could it be claimed by the English (Priestly) or the French (Lavoisier) - a competition that reminds me of the decoding of the the Rosetta Stone. Or should we, maybe for diplomacy's sake, credit the Swedish (Schelle)? Lavoisier ended with a kiss from madame Guillotine and Priestley went bankrupt and fled to Pennsylvania. The end of Schelle was not mentioned.

A truly interesting aspect of this show was the watershed between two different kinds of chemistry. Chemistry as we know it today is all about compounds and elements and as such is very analytic and I'd say, naturalistic. People like Lavoisier are credited from developing chemistry to this kind of a discipline, but at the time, elements were not known and a thinking style wasn't directed at elements. Priestly serves as an example; he was a man who thought in principles. Principled chemistry is less analytic and much less naturalistic. Priestly ascribed to it near mystic qualities; chemistry could be an agent in identifying the good from evil.

In Our Time is a radio program and it is broadcast live. Again, we felt the consequence of this characteristic by the late arrival of one of the guests. Fortunately for IOT, this guest ably adapted to the program and there was no dragging effect. At times that could be different. It goes to show how the traditional way of communicating audio content (radio) is more vulnerable than through the internet, notably through podcasting.

Religious Words

In the latest edition of the Word Nerds Dave and Barbara Shepherd discuss religious vocabulary that is featured in profane language. They relate how an evangelist is any bringer of good news, not just the gospel. A bible has become any kind of heavily thumped handbook, or reference guide. Needless to say, the references are mostly Christian, though I could have thought of some others. Next to paradise we could have had Mecca in a similar meaning; some place being the ultimate spot for a certain experience.

The rude word of the week (every three weeks an episode and still a word of the week) section dives in to all the connections with Holy: as in Holy Cow, Holy Moses and so on, till the PG 13 rating is warranted. Holy cannoli!

Just as they pointed out: the use of religiously associated words sort of erodes the load. I can see this especially clear if I literally translate some common Hebrew, rather day-to-day phrases in secular Israel into English or the even more secular Dutch. If you ask someone 'What's up', in Israel, you may get, even from secular people, an answer that is the equivalent of: Praise the Lord, or: God be blessed. It doesn't make you sound half as orthodox and observant as it looks.