Monday, February 28, 2011

Word of the day: dilatory

 The word of the day is dilatory:

Latin dīlātōri-us, < dīlātōr-em a delayer, agent-n. < differre, dīlāt- to defer v.1, delay: see dilate v.1 Compare French dilatoire (13th cent. in Hatzfeld & Darmesteter). (OED)

 1.  a. Tending to cause delay; made for the purpose of gaining time or deferring decision or action.    
b. Law. dilatory plea, a plea put in for the sake of delay.  
2. Given to or characterized by delay; slow, tardy.   
a. Of persons, their characters, habits, etc.  
b. Of actions.  
B. n. Law.  A means of procuring delay; a dilatory plea

"George Eliot is an author whom dilatory writers can point to with some optimism: she didn't start writing fiction until she was thirty-six, and then only at the encouragement of Lewes, who suspected that she might have a talent for 'concrete description' as she wrote later in an essay titled 'How I Came to Write Fiction.'"

 - Rebecca Mead, "Middlemarch and Me: What George Eliot teaches us", February 14 & 21, 2011, The New Yorker

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Word of the day: wainscot

The word of the day is wainscot:

Middle Low German wagenschot (1389 in Schiller and Lübben), apparently < wagen carriage, wagon n. + schot (of uncertain meaning; compare bokenschot, modern Low German bökenschot, beechwood of superior quality). Compare 16th cent. Flemish waegheschot, waeghenschot (Kilian), West Flemish wageschot (De Bo), Dutch wagenschot, West Frisian wagenskot. The synonymous Flemish or Dutch wandschot (Kilian), which may be the source of some of the English forms, is either an etymologizing perversion of wagenschot or an independent formation on wand wall of a room. The English examples of the word are earlier than those given in the Middle Low German and Middle Dutch dicts., and the first element appears already in the earliest instances assimilated to the English wain n.1The etymology as above stated does not clearly account for the meaning, and there have been attempts to explain the first element differently. Kilian (1598) identifies it with Flemish waeghe wave, taking it to refer to the undulation in the grain of the wood. Some modern scholars regard it as an alteration of Middle Dutch weeg wall (= Old Frisian wâch, Old English wáh, wough n.1). These suggestions are however open to strong objection, and the probability is that the first element is really wagen, though the original meaning of the compound remains for the present obscure.

A superior quality of foreign oak imported from Russia, Germany, and Holland, chiefly used for fine panel-work; logs or planks of this oak; oak boarding for panel-work. Now only technical. (OED)

"George Eliot's own parlor - at the Priory, the London home that she shared with Lewes for fifteen years - is re-created at the Nuneaton museum.  It has wainscoting, dark-green wallpaper, and a table draped in lace, set with an oil lamp and a tea cake."

 - Rebecca Mead, "Middlemarch and Me: What George Eliot teaches us", February 14 & 21, 2011, The New Yorker

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Word of the day: valence

The word of the day is valence:

Latin valentia; see valency n.
1. An extract or preparation (of some herb) used in medicine. Obs. 
2. Valour, courage; = valiance n. 1. Obs. 
3. Chem.   = valency n. 2.  
4. Psychol. Emotional force or significance, spec. the feeling of attraction or repulsion with which an individual invests an object or event. (OED)

"Next, Melissa Raines, who teaches at Liverpool University, gave a paper in which she examined the emotional valence of Eliot's punctuation and pointed out that Maggie's speech tends to devolve into dashes when she is most susceptible to the influence of Stephen Guest, her seducer, but maintains the discipline of periods, colons, and semicolons when her better nature is dominant.  Raines was a proofreader before she became an academic."

 - Rebecca Mead, "Middlemarch and Me: What George Eliot teaches us", February 14 & 21, 2011, The New Yorker

I'm going with definition 4 here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Word of the day: callow

The word of the day is callow:

Old English calu (def. calw-e) < West Germanic kalwo-, whence also Middle Low German kale, Middle Dutch cāle (calu, genitive caluwes), Old High German chalo (def. chalwe, chalawe), Middle High German kal (kalwe), German kahl, by Kluge thought to be cognate with Lithuanian gŏlŭ naked, blank; but not improbably an adoption of Latin calv-us bald. Compare Irish and Gaelic calbh bald.

1. Bald, without hair. Obs. 
2.  a. Of birds: Unfledged, without feathers. 
b. Applied to the down of unfledged birds; and so, to the down on a youth's cheek and chin.   
3. fig. Inexperienced, raw, ‘unfledged’. (OED)

"I have gone back to 'Middlemarch' every five years or so, my emotional response to it evolving at each revisiting.  In my judgmental twenties, I thought that Ladislaw, with his brown curls and his callow artistic dabbling, was not entirely deserving of Dorothea; by forty, I could better measure the appeal of his youthful energies and Byronic hairdressing, at least to his middle-aged creator, who was fifty-three when the book was published."

 - Rebecca Mead, "Middlemarch and Me: What George Eliot teaches us", February 14 & 21, 2011, The New Yorker

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Word of the day: citrine

The word of the day is citrine:

French citrin, < Latin type *citrīn-us, < citrus. Compare Italian citrino, etc.

   Having the light yellow or greenish-yellow colour of a lemon or citron; lemon-coloured. (OED)

"In my Penguin English library edition, I marked what seemed to me particularly salient passages with a fluorescent yellow pen; the highlights have faded now to an almost imperceptible citrine."

 - Rebecca Mead, "Middlemarch and Me: What George Eliot teaches us", February 14 & 21, 2011, The New Yorker

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Word of the day: hegemony

The word of the day is hegemony:

Greek ἡγεμονία, < ἡγεμών leader. Compare French hégémonie.
Leadership, predominance, preponderance; esp. the leadership or predominant authority of one state of a confederacy or union over the others: originally used in reference to the states of ancient Greece, whence transferred to the German states, and in other modern applications. (OED)

"Barack Obama, who came to office not least because of his opposition to the war in Iraq, went to Cairo in 2009 intent on assuring the Muslim world of a new kind of policy: engagement without hegemony. 'I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq,' he said. 'So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.'"

 - David Remnick, "Judgment Days", February 14 & 21, 2011 The New Yorker

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Molecule of the day: ouabain

The molecule of the day is ouabain:

It's derived from the seeds of Strophanthus gratus and inhibits the Na+/K+-ATPase (the Na+/K+ exchanger or sodium pump), and can therefore be used to distinguish among different enzymes' ATPase activities.

Quote of the day

"It is never too late to be what you might have been."

 - George Eliot (maybe)
The word of the day is ethereal:

ætherius or æthereus ( < Greek αἰθέριος) + -al suffix1.

1. Of the nature of, or resembling the idea of, the ether or lightest and most subtle of elements; light, airy, attenuated. 
2. Heavenly, celestial. Chiefly poet. 
3. a. Of or pertaining to the material heaven, or highest region of the atmosphere. 
b. Pertaining to the terrestrial atmosphere, in opposition to the lower regions.
4. Spirit-like, impalpable; of unearthly delicacy and refinement of substance, character, or appearance.  
5. Physics. Of, pertaining to, or having the nature of ‘ether’.   
6. Chem. Of or pertaining to the liquid called ‘ether’ (see ether n. 6); resembling ether or its qualities. (OED)

"1-Bromo-3-diazoacetone was treated with a five-fold molar excess of crystalline orthophophoric acid in dry ether containing a trace of BF3.  The reactivity and solubility characteristics of BHAP preclude its isolation, though its precursor showed appropriate n.m.r. and mass spectra, and elemental analysis.  Moreover, treatment of the ethereal solution of BHAP with diazomethane allowed mass spectrometric analysis of the resulting dimethyl ester of BHAP.  Dry ethereal solutions of BHAP appear to be stable indefinitely at 0C."

 - A.F.W. Coulson and J.R. Knowles, "Active-site-directed Inhibition of Trosephosphate Isomerase", Chemical Communications 7 (1970)

(And that 7 refers to the page number, not the volume.  Bizarre, I know.)

Here, they seem to be using the word ethereal to mean "dissolved in ether": sort of as "aqueous" means "dissolved in water".

Also, by "dry" ether, they mean "ether with no water in it" (whereas I would probably use the word "anhydrous").

Not sure whether the difficulty in vocabulary is coming from the fact that I'm reading out of field (organic chemistry, not biochemistry), or the fact that it's from 1970.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Quote of the day

"Three factors militated against the complete success of this experiment."

 - Jeremy Knowles, "Photogenerated reagents for biological receptor-site labeling", Accounts of Chemical Research 5:155 (1972).
The word of the day is suasion:

< Latin suāsio, -ōnem, n. of action < suādēre to suade v. 

a. The act or fact of exhorting or urging; persuasion.   
b. moral suasion: persuasion exerted or acting through and upon the moral nature or sense. (OED)

"He-man style, it [the Daily News] likes its women mute and interchangeable, with a show of leg and bosom.  Family-man style, it grumbles over higher taxes and is capable of outrage when innocent women, children and animals are hurt - but, he-man again, sometimes it thinks that gals get what is coming to them.  (Blacks, too, although the News has shown some uncertainty of late in its vision of blacks, a lesson of the moral suasion of political power that women must learn.)"

 - Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, 1975

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The word of the day is emetic:

< Greek ἐμετικός provoking vomiting, < ἐμεῖν to vomit.

Having power to produce vomiting. Also fig. sickening, mawkish.

"What do cells smell?  Olfactants, pheromones, nutrients, orexigens, anorexigens, toxins, emetics, hormones, etc."

 - Peter Jackson, Cell Regulation, Genentech, "How the cell smells: linking ciliophathies to retinal, neurological & kidney disease and cancer", 15 February 2011 (Biological Chemistry seminar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The word of the day is fatuous:

< Latin fatu-us foolish, silly, insipid + -ous suffix. 

 1. Of persons, their actions, feelings, utterances, etc.: Foolish, vacantly silly, stupid, besotted.  (OED)

"Nor do I think we should respond to the fatuous idea that libraries can stay open if they’re staffed by volunteers. What patronising nonsense. Does he think the job of a librarian is so simple, so empty of content, that anyone can step up and do it for a thank-you and a cup of tea? Does he think that all a librarian does is to tidy the shelves? And who are these volunteers? Who are these people whose lives are so empty, whose time spreads out in front of them like the limitless steppes of central Asia, who have no families to look after, no jobs to do, no responsibilities of any sort, and yet are so wealthy that they can commit hours of their time every week to working for nothing? Who are these volunteers? Do you know anyone who could volunteer their time in this way? If there’s anyone who has the time and the energy to work for nothing in a good cause, they are probably already working for one of the voluntary sector day centres or running a local football team or helping out with the league of friends in a hospital. What’s going to make them stop doing that and start working in a library instead?"

 - Philip Pullman, "Leave the libraries alone.  You don't understand their value", 20 January 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011

Molecule of the day: hydroxylamine

The molecule of the day is hydroxylamine:

It reacts with esters to produce a hydroxamate, which, when exposed to Fe(III), turns purple and can be detected colorimetrically.  (If anyone stumbles across a good diagram of the iron hydroxamate, let me know.)
The word of the day is palter:

To shift, equivocate, or prevaricate in action or speech; to act or deal evasively, esp. for treacherous ends; to use trickery. (OED)

"If anything, untruth is not dodged here but brought to the fore, as the men meet a teen-age runaway, Irena (Saoirse Ronan), who keeps changing her story, in a bid to earn their help...  From all this paltering rises the suspicion that 'The Way Back', like so many heroic accounts, may be gilded with a touch of the tall tale."

 - Anthony Lane, "Miles to Go: 'The Way Back' and 'Biutiful'", 31 January 2011 The New Yorker

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Molecule of the day: ninhydrin

The molecule of the day is ninhydrin (image source):

It's used to colorimetrically detect primary amines, as such (source):

The word of the day is synoptic:

< modern Latin synopticus (whence also French synoptique, Italian sinottico, Spanish sinóptico, Portuguese synoptico), < Greek συνοπτικός, <σύνοψιςsynopsis n. (compare optic adj. and n.).

 a. Of a table, chart, etc.: Pertaining to or forming a synopsis; furnishing a general view of some subject;spec. depicting or dealing with weather conditions over a large area at the same point in time.


 b. Of a mental act or faculty, conduct, etc.: Pertaining to, involving, or taking a combined or comprehensive mental view of something.


 a. Applied distinctively to the first three Gospels (viz. of Matthew, Mark, and Luke) as giving an account of the events from the same point of view or under the same general aspect. Also transf.pertaining or relating to these Gospels.


 b. as n. Any one of the Synoptic Gospels (or of their writers = synoptist n. 1). Usually in pl.

"The camp episode is extraordinary also in its position within the novel.  Most works of fiction about the Holocaust take the events of the war as their primary focus, adopting the time line of history as the novel's own: they begin somewhere around the start of the war and end soon after liberation.  But 'Panorama' takes a synoptic view in which the camps are but a single moment: its peepholes are windows not only into Josef's life but also into the twentieth century.  At the same time, the camp chapter is linked thematically to earlier scenes."

 - Ruth Franklin, "The Long View: A rediscovered master of Holocaust writing", 31 January 2011 The New Yorker

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wheat Berries with Berries

Monday night I made Wheat Berries with Berries, from Mark Bittman's The Food Matters Cookbook.  (Morgan's not home, so this is my opportunity to eat nothing but breakfast foods.)

It took a lot longer than I thought it would.  Contributing factors may include the fact that I was distracted and allowed the wheat berries to get a little dry (which may have slowed their cooking), and also the fact that, because I'd never had wheat berries before, I was not entirely sure what cooked wheat berries are supposed to be like.  They still seemed crunchy even after three hours of cooking (but, after resting overnight in the fridge, the leftovers were much softer).

So if I were to make this recipe again, I would probably soak the wheat berries in the almond milk overnight (in the fridge, to keep the milk from spoiling) before cooking, in the hopes that would make it go faster.  Another modification I would make would be to add the sweetener at the very end, because 1/4 cup of honey turned out to be way, way too sweet for me (and it's hard to taste with uncooked wheat berries).

But, even though it was a little frustrating, I'm still glad I tried it.  It's also given me the idea of using almond milk to cook other grains, like quinoa, oats, or even rice.  (And I do have a lot of almond milk left that I need to use.)

Wheat Berries with Berries

3/4 cup wheat berries
2 cups almond or oat milk
1/4 cup maple syrup or honey, or to taste
4 cups berries [I used frozen]
1/4 cup sliced almonds

1.  In a large pot [actually, a medium pot would probably do just fine], combine the wheat berries with the milk and honey.  Add water if necessary to cover the wheat berries by at least one inch.  Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently.

2.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the wheat berries are tender, which may take anywhere from 35 minutes to over 2 hours [like, way, way over 2 hours].  Add boiling water as necessary to keep the wheat berries covered and to keep them from drying out as they swell and become tender.  Wheat berries are done when they're tender with a slight bite to them; the mixture will still be a little soupy.

3.  Add the berries to the wheat berry mixture and stir until they soften a bit.  Serve warm, garnished with the almonds.

Molecule of the Day: pterin

The molecule of the day is pterin:

It's a chromophore used by cryptochrome.
The word of the day is lanolin:

< Latin lāna wool + ol-eum oil + -in suffix1. Named by O. Liebreich.


  The cholesterin-fatty matter extracted from sheep's wool, used as a basis for ointments. (OED)

"Now the sun burns
unprotected skin.
Now the sheep dream
of lanolin."

 - Maureen N. McLane, "Another Day in This Here Cosmos", 31 January 2011 The New Yorker

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The word of the day is zoonosis:

zooˈnosis n. /-ˈnəʊsiːz(also zooˈnoses)  [Greek νόσος disease] a disease communicated from one kind of animal to another or to a human being; usu. restricted to diseases transmitted naturally to man from animals. (OED)

"But after September 11, 2001, he became preoccupied with viruses and terrorism.  He had been planning to fly to New Jersey that day, and the drive home from the airport took three hours.  Along the way, he thought about the potential use of viruses: 'I just thought, you know, flying a plane into a building - for a sort of low cost, you create a very high-cost event.  If I were a terrorist, I would do a virus.  This came to me as I was driving home, thinking, Things are a lot scarier if you could take a dog with some zoonotic virus and let him go in some neighborhood and the next thing you know people are tying up the whole medical system.'"

 - David E. Hoffman, "Going Viral: The Pentagon takes on a new enemy: swine flu", 31 January 2011 The New Yorker

Monday, February 14, 2011

The word of the day is apéritif:

< French apéritif < Latin aperītīvus, < aperīre to open

  An alcoholic drink taken, before a meal, to stimulate the appetite.  (OED)

"Last year, he filmed an Italian Web TV series sponsored by the apéritif brand Crodino, in which he played a talking gorilla who casually dates a famous talk-show host.  'A gorilla with his own sitcom,' he said.  'It's very Italian.'"

 - Nick Liptak, "The Pictures: Apeman", 31 January 2011 The New Yorker

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The word of the day is eczema:

Etymology:  < Greek ἔκζεμα, < ἐκζεῖν, < ἐκ out + ζεῖν to boil.

  ‘An acute, or chronic, non-contagious, simple inflammation of the skin, characterized by the presence of itching papules and vesicles which discharge a serous fluid, or dry up’ ( New Sydenham Soc. Lexicon). There are many kinds of eczema; a form occurring in cattle (E. epizooticum), is known as ‘the foot and mouth disease’.  (OED)

"They tromped west, skirting the reservoir, past an enormous eczematous London plane - more wood in it, Barnard wagered, than in any other Park tree - and a grove of red oaks that had often been mistaken for black oaks."

 - Nick Paumgarten, "Dept. of Maps: Very important trees", 31 January 2011 The New Yorker

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The molecule of the day is dithiobis(2-nitrobenzoic acid):


It reacts with sulfydryl groups (in proteins, for example) to produce an anion, which can be measured colorimetrically, as such (image source):

The word of the day is pace:

< classical Latin pāce, ablative of pāx peace (see peace n.), as used both in phrases with possessive pronoun, e.g. pāce tuā by your leave, and in phrases with genitive of the person whose leave or favour is sought. Compare earlier pace tanti viri adv.pace tanti viri dixerim phr.(Show Less)

  With due deference to (a named person or authority); despite.Used chiefly as a courteous or ironic apology for a difference of opinion about to be expressed.

"She recalled, for example, that the manuscript had opened with an extensive description of a flower, which, as she put it, was 'a little bit boring.'  She got Larsson to take that out...

However much the book was revised, it should have been revised more.  The opening may have been reworked, as Gedin says, but it still features an episode - somebody telling somebody else at length (twelve pages!) about a series of financial crimes peripheral to the main plot - that, by wide consensus, is staggeringly boring.  (And, pace Gedin, it is preceded by a substantial description of a flower.)"

 - Joan Acocella, "Man of Mystery: Why do people love Stieg Larsson's novels?", 10 January 2011 The New Yorker

Friday, February 11, 2011

The word of the day is intestate:

< Latin intestāt-us, < in- (in- prefix3) + testātus, past participle of testārī to bear witness, to make a will. Compare French intestat (13th cent. in Godefroy Compl.).
 Of a person: Not having made a will  (OED)

"When Swedes die intestate, everything is awarded to their kin -  a strange law in a country where unregistered unions are almost the rule.  In any case, Larsson's money has gone to the two surviving members of his immediate family, his father and his brother."

 - Joan Acocella, "Man of Mystery: Why do people love Stieg Larsson's novels?", 10 January 2011 The New Yorker
The molecule of the day is homoserine:

It is produced when cyanogen bromide is used to cleave a protein at a methionine, as shown here:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The word of the day is priapic:

Priap- (in Priapus n.) + -ic suffix. Compare French priapique of or belonging to the god Priapus or his cult (1833), obscene (1846 or earlier). Compare earlier Priapean adj.Priapian adj. With use as noun compare post-classical Latin Priapea (of uncertain date; compare Priapean adj.), French †Priapiques (plural; 1703); compare -ic suffix 2.
 A. adj.

  Of, relating to, or resembling the god Priapus or his cult; phallic; sexual, lascivious.

 B. n. rare.

  In pl. Obscene verses addressed to or spoken by the god Priapus. Also in sing.(with the): lewd style or content in literature, film, etc.  (OED)

"Despite the fruit's priapic associations - the refrain from an old blues song contains the line 'Let me put my banana in your fruit basket' - the bananas we eat are sterile."

 - Mike Peed, "We Have No Bananas: Can scientists defeat a devastating blight?", 10 January 2011 The New Yorker
The molecule of the day is fluorescamine:

It reacts with primary amines to form highly fluorescent products (PubChem), as shown here (source)

and can therefore be used to detect peptides and proteins.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A two-fer on the decline effect today (or perhaps this is less decline effect than just the annals of irreproducible results): when studying a microdeletion in the 16p12.1 region of the human genome, researchers learned that the published human genome was incorrect.  That's got to be frustrating.
Excellent journal club presentation today by Marcus Seldin, a 2nd-year Physiology PhD student in the Wong lab.

He presented two papers: one from 2007 entitled "Continuous fat oxidation in acetyl-CoA carboxylase 2 knockout mice increases total energy expenditure, reduces fat mass, and improves insulin sensitivity", and one from 2010 entitled "Gene knockout of Acc2 has little effect on body weight, fat mass, or food intake".

As you can tell from the title, these two papers exemplify the so-called "decline effect".

So what happened?  A possible explanation is that the first "knockout" actually made a truncated protein that acted as a dominant negative, but one of the professors present preferred to take the Occam's Razor interpretation (probably because Dr. Wakil wouldn't lend him his mice).  It is tantalizing to imagine what Dr.s Cline and Shulman make of the whole thing.

I really admire PNAS for publishing that second paper: imagine how many sad graduate students would be laboring to attempt to repeat the first group's work (especially if they're stingy with sharing their mice) and then blaming themselves for not being able to reproduce it, all in parallel, were it not for this paper.  Thank you, PNAS, for recognizing that negative results are just as valid as positive results (so long as the experiment is well-designed, of course, but that goes for positive results just as much as negative ones), and an integral part of the scientific experience.
"Remember the story of the Three Princes of Serendip who went out looking for treasure? They didn't find what they were looking for, but they kept finding other things just as valuable."

 - G. Merck