Monday, February 6, 2012

In Praise of Portmanteaux

Listening to the news on the drive home, some interesting words crossed my ears: Fracking. Locavore. Flexitarian

It's clear that we generate neologisms nowadays simply by stitching old words together.

I'm tired of writing this sinfo on microsyn...time for skitter?
The trend has a name: portmanteau words. Attributed to wordsmith Lewis Carroll in the late 19th Century, the practice has evolved with the internet age to describe complex ideas in tiny verbal bundles. For instance, a locavore is a "local omnivore," or someone who eats foods located sourced from within a certain radius of his home. 

Not that we chemists should be surprised. After all, we're responsible for many of these words, and we use them every day. The aldol reaction takes an aldehyde and an enol to forge new carbon-carbon bonds. Using small organic molecules for catalysis? Organocatalysis. Why talk about reduction and oxidation cycles, when you could just say redox?

So, in an effort to increase synthetic chemists' efficiency, I'd like to propose several new portmanteau words:

sinfo: Supplementary Information
chactalysis: C-H Activation Catalysis
fuells: Fuel cells
meconomy: The "Methanol Economy"
Wots: Western blots
flolumn: Flash-column chromatography
microsyn: Microwave-assisted synthesis
skitter: Scientific Twitter  (Does that make Just Like Cooking a 'sklog?')

We could take this trend to a logical extreme, and repurpose words we already have. For instance, what do you call going back through your lab notebooks for an old prep?      

Commenters - Feel free to chime in....what have I missed?

1 comment:

  1. O-methyltyrosine crops up occasionally (it was the first amino acid to be added to the genetic code); I call it tyromesine. Then there's the reverse portmanteau, ithium for lithium-6.