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I have added a new tab to the top of the page. It’s simply a copy and paste job from a post I made many months ago about Richard Owen and Gideon Mantell. I really love their story, so I wanted to make it more visible.

For a more comprehensive telling of this scientific rivalry, get Bill Bryson’s book A Short History of Nearly Everything.

For the love of language

I think about language a lot. I really love how much can be expressed through minor tweaks and changes and unexpected uses of words. Take for instance what on the face of the matter seems like something so silly: Anyone who’s anyone in my generation remembers the show Boy Meets World. It was a decent show that proved to be entertaining, even if it had no shame in showing a cheesy moral at the end of every episode. This one always stood out to me:

I had forgotten how bad the music was, though.

I really liked that because it was a minor change of language that made a huge difference in the meaning of what Mr. Feeney had to say. Besides that, it played off a common grammatical error we hear all the time. (The earlier parts of the episode may have also made some reference to grammar; I don’t recall.) I’m not saying it was masterful writing, but as either a pre-teen or a young teenager, it really stood out to me.

I mention this because I just came across this list of a list of The 100 Most Beautiful Words in English. It has nothing to do with sitcoms from the 90’s, nor does it involve tweaks in composition, but it is a pretty nice list. Here’s a snippet.

Halcyon: Happy, sunny, care-free.
Harbinger: Messenger with news of the future.
Imbrication: Overlapping and forming a regular pattern.
Imbroglio: An altercation or complicated situation.
Imbue: To infuse, instill.

To my readers: What word would you add? My choice (it seems to be a favorite of author Bill Bryson):

Convivial: Agreeable.

On Clair Patterson

Name not withstanding, Clair Patterson was an Iowa farm boy by origin. He also happened to do some of the most important work in geology since Charles Lyell.

But who has ever heard of Clair Patterson?

~Bill Bryson

Thought of the day

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson is an excellent read. Or rather, listen. I have the audio version and I love it. I must be around the 8th or so time listening to it over the years and I’m nowhere near bored of it. Buy it. Listen to it. Love it.

(Skip the first minute or so to get to Bryson’s soothing voice.)

A Short History of Nearly Everything

I am currently in my fourth and a half listening of the audio version of Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything“. It’s about 6 years old, but I’ve only recently been introduced to it. I’ve been severely missing out.

This is an overwhelmingly encompassing account of, well, nearly everything. Bryson goes through, with engrossing detail, the history of science. He begins with, naturally, the Big Bang and much of physics. From there he jumps to just about every topic (in an order I cannot recall), from chemistry to biology to geology to mathematics to astronomy. He gives a set of Britannica Encyclopedias’ account of so many scientists, what they were thinking, why they were thinking it, and why they were right or wrong or on the right track or distracted or petty or prideful or anything of which I would never think to ask or consider. This is the best science book I have ever heard or read, and it isn’t even specific like, say, The Selfish Gene (which was also excellent).

One of the best things about this audio book is Bryson’s voice. It’s soothing. It’s also not boring. As much as I love The Science Channel and all the science shows I can find, I have come to the conclusion that I can only watch these if I’m wide awake. It isn’t that the topics are boring. The presentation is usually just very monotone. (One notable exception is the Discovery Channel’s Walking With Cavemen narrated by Alec Baldwin.) Bryson’s book suffers from no such calamity.

Get this book, preferably the audio version (though I’m sure the text version is equally fantastic).