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Apr 10, 2022
This week’s theme
Words from chemistry

This week’s words
litmus test
chain reaction
boiling point

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Relative usage over time

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AWADmail Issue 1032

A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Tidbits about Words and Language

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From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the Net

The Remarkable Brain of a Carpet Cleaner Who Speaks 24 Languages
The Washington Post
(video, 4 min.)

The Spanish Language May Hold the Key to a Perplexing Health Mystery

Internet “Algospeak” Is Changing Our Language in Real Time
The Washington Post

From: Lindsey Cook Growe (lcookgrowe gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--litmus test

My husband and I would have to amend this definition of litmus test. Shopping at IKEA is the litmus test of our relationship! We don’t go there together anymore; this rule has kept us together 40 years.

Lindsey Cook Growe, Vancouver, Canada

From: John Livesey (jclivesey gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--litmus test

You asked: “Are you a chemist, of any kind, in any language? What is it like to be in your shoes?”

I’m a pharmacologist -- a nice blend (metaphorically, of course) of biology, chemistry, and medicine. I’m at a conference (Experimental Biology 2022, Philadelphia, PA) this week, sharing our results of studies on the chemical nature of how biology works (or sometimes doesn’t work). The day-to-day work of a chemist is intellectually engaging while occasionally frustrating, proving that science is great at pointing out our own limitations (in understanding, communicating, influencing our world).

John Livesey, Stockton, California

Email of the Week -- Brought to you buy OLD’S COOL -- Look 10 lbs younger.

From: Susan Litka (susieq1611 hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--litmus test

As soon as I saw the first word this week was litmus test, I thought WOW, after all these years we’re finally doing a week on words from chemistry! YEAH!

As I am now retired, I say “Analytical Chemist” is more a description of my personality rather than my profession. Analytical chemist is abbreviated as: anal. chem. There is a reason for that. I say that I am borderline OCD, which is not to belittle those for whom it is a serious disorder, but on a continuum of love of neatness and order you would know where to find me. And admittedly, it does give me a sense of peace and well-being to have a clean desk, house, etc.

I am a chemist, and by that I mean I love chemistry. I love the fact that there are rules and they are followed.

Susan Litka, Arlington Heights, Illinois

From: Ren Draya (rdray blackburn.edu)
Subject: Litmus test

Has anyone else noticed the political implications of a litmus test? Acid, which is corrosive and biting, is a red state.

Ren Draya, Medora, Illinois

From: Dave Crane (airstreamcrane gmail.com)
Subject: Chemistry

I loved chemistry in college so I majored in it. It was the era of Love Canal, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the Ohio River catching fire, etc. I ended up with a career at a wildlife agency researching water pollution and wildlife losses, retiring after 37 years. It was a rewarding career.

Dave Crane, San Rafael, California

From: Darby Beranek (darbyberanek gmail.com)
Subject: I’m a chemist!

I’m a chemist: I’m a pharmacist! So many people laughed when I got a bachelor’s degree in biology instead of chemistry before attending pharmacy school for my Doctor of Pharmacy degree, but in reality, I use both (along with all the theatre experience I gained as a kid) in my job as a community pharmacist. Other names for my job include “druggist” (an older term we don’t hear much anymore) and even “pharmist” (some people just create their own words as you well know). I never know who is going to be on the other end of a phone call or what questions I might answer on any given day, so I have to wear many hats: chemist, biologist, detective, counselor, psychologist, teacher, fellow parent... the theatre experience comes in handy for effective communication skills with patients and prescribers.

Dr. Darby Beranek, PharmD, Little Rock, Arkansas

From: John T. Egan (johnthomasegan gmail.com)
Subject: On chemistry

Great intro to this week. I’m a physician who, I now gather, treats chemists. In other words, I am an addiction medicine physician. With some linguistic liberty, call me a druggist for druggists and a drug dealer for drug dealers.

I recently learned that two similar appearing but very distinct elements share a name: Lead (abbreviated on the periodic table as Pb, from Latin plumbum, meaning lead) and Molybdenum (Mo, from Greek molybdos, meaning lead).

Molybdenum ores were mistaken in appearance for lead ores. I’m not sure if there are yet more elements named for lead in other tongues. Lots of things are dark gray.

What’s in a name? Other than several dozen subatomic particles, one was cheap and plentiful, helped develop the printing press, now shields from X-rays, helps your car start (almost all internal combustion and electric vehicles still have a lead-acid battery), gets shot into game fowl, probably shouldn’t be our water plumbing, and otherwise just does a swell job poisoning nerves. The other is an underappreciated essential trace mineral that enzymes in your body need to regulate important chemicals.

John Egan, MD, Minneapolis, Minnesota

From: Steven Skorich (ebenezer.freezer gmail.com)
Subject: From a chemist...

I am a retired chemist. I got my first laboratory job in 1969, which I used to put myself through college, studying chemistry, graduating in 1972. They taught me a lot. I even learned some of it. I’ve spent 50 years trying to learn the rest.

It was a very interesting time, to say the least. Much campus uproar surrounding the Vietnam War. The consensus among a great many studying Humanities seemed to be that those of us studying chemistry or chemical engineering were studying Inhumanities: the hapless dupes of Dow Chemical, who would graduate to jobs making defoliants and nerve gases and would suffer the secular equivalent of damnation when the Revolution came.

I spent 1969-1978 performing chemical analyses in support of my state’s environmental protection programs. Then, I went to work for a medical device manufacturer for 41 years, performing chemical analyses in support of the development, manufacture, and quality control of products implanted in the human body to control irregular cardiac rhythms, among other things. So, no defoliants or nerve gases, happily. No pesticides or plastic bags, either.

I have few regrets.

Steve Skorich, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota

From: Bruce R. Miller (bruce brmiller.ca)
Subject: Chemist

Historically in the UK, all pharmacies were “compounding” pharmacies, that is, they created medicines from original ingredients. I know they made many ointments, perhaps other medicines also.

In North America, there remain few compounding pharmacies; most now count out pills and package them. Their value-added is in advice and counselling.

My source is a parent’s career: 51 years of practising pharmacy, some of them in the UK, and 20 years of teaching pharmacy.

Bruce R. Miller, Ottawa, Canada

From: David W. Ball (dwball sbcglobal.net)
Subject: Cellophane-wrapped babies

Your introduction to a week of chemistry words included a link to a baby wrapped in cellophane being carried by a stork. Really? You chose to comment on the cellophane and not the STORK? As a chemist, I’m appalled, and as you seem to be a fellow skeptic, Anu, shouldn’t you be questioning the existence of a neonate-delivering bird???

David W. Ball, Highland Heights, Ohio

The neonate-delivering birds do their job, day after day, what’s there to question? Sure, they may be biotronic but we wrapped up that discussion a while ago and everything is transparent now.
-Anu Garg

From: Bob Hedin (bob insodeco.com)
Subject: Borax

Folks of a certain age were able to watch the television program Death Valley Days which was sponsored by “20 Mule Team Borax” (video, 1 min.), so we grew up with a perspective that borax was beneficial.

Bob Hedin, Granite Falls, North Carolina

From: James Schaefer (jimschaefer0013 gmail.com)
Subject: Borax

Ronald Reagan hawked borax on TV (video, 1 min.) just before starting his political career -- and therein lies a tale.

James Schaefer, Greenbelt, Maryland

From: Mike Trip (micro.trip talk21.com)
Subject: British chemist

Oddly, in the UK, a chemist in a supermarket or hospital is known more as a pharmacy, probably because that part of the operation only does drugs and not the toothpaste and aspirin.

ALso, we can no longer purchase borax in either the UK or the EU as it is considered to be harmful to health.

Mike Trip, UK

From: Lynn Austin (laustin interserv.com)
Subject: Borax

I grew up in the home of borax (Boron, CA) and worked a short time at the mine. I’m sure no one in town, including me, knew that it also meant cheap.

Lynn Austin, Las Cruces, New Mexico

From: Craig Dagger (daggernz xtra.co.nz)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--borax

There is another meaning used in Australia and a little in NZ. Poking the borax, meaning to make fun of someone or mock them.

Craig Dagger, Auckland, New Zealand

From: Bonnie Orrison (borrison comcast.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--borax

What a downer today’s word. I remember so fondly what I considered such fancy furniture in my grandparents’ house. The veneer multi-shaded wood seemed to my child’s eyes much more elegant than that in my own home. Well, it’s still a nice memory, if somewhat tainted by reality.

As a chemist as well as a mother, I am quite familiar with borax, but never heard the word used as a negative adjective before.

Bonnie Orrison, Columbia, Maryland

Chain Reaction
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Chain reaction and boiling point

Here, I’ve speculated upon a potential chain reaction that may be percolating in that crazed noggin of Putin. Does he envision the taking of Ukraine as a prelude to other former Soviet republics (currently all are NATO-member countries) ultimately falling like dominos in his grand repatriation-to-the Motherland gambit?

War Head
The fear may be that if things don’t go his way, Putin might reach a boiling point, consumed by mounting anger and frustration, ultimately resorting to the deployment of chemical or nuclear weapons. Will cooler heads prevail?

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California


This week’s theme: Words from chemistry
1. Litmus test
2. Flashpoint
3. Chain reaction
4. Borax
5. Boiling point
= 1. Benchmark
2. Hotspot strait-wise
3. Mirrors the domino effect
4. Cheap showy mix isn’t lasting
5. Ebullition
     This week’s theme: Words from chemistry
1. Litmus test
2. Flashpoint
3. Chain reaction
4. Borax
5. Boiling point
= 1. Tight experiment
2. Risk that it’ll combust
3. Domino effect
4. Whitish cleanser; showy
5. Passion in bar room
-Robert Jordan, Lampang, Thailand (alfiesdad ymail.com) -Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com)
He’s glad a grand trawl- this week’s theme: Words from chemistry
1. Litmus test
2. Flashpoint
3. Chain reaction
4. Borax
5. Boiling point
= 1. In which paper turns red
2. Match (for smokers’ delight)
3. Nail falling toy-dominos
4. Mix it with water to clean
5. The SOB rages, stabs
     The week’s theme is: Words from chemistry
1. Litmus test
2. Flashpoint
3. Chain reaction
4. Borax
5. Boiling point
= Psst! That twists into:
1. From lichens
2. Ukraine
3. Chemical
4. Whitish ore of boron
5. I’m bitten - my rage explodes!
-Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com) -Julian Lofts, Auckland, New Zealand (jalofts xtra.co.nz)

Make your own anagrams and animations.


Litmus test

There was an Old Man of the West
Who wore a pale plum-coloured vest --
Neither blue (alkaline)
Nor acidic carmine --
Its dye set off no litmus test.
-Duncan Howarth, Maidstone, UK (duncanhowarth aol.com)

At times I’m decidedly blue
And cry all day long missing you,
Or with anger I’m red
And wish you were dead.
You’re the litmus test for how I do.
-Rudy Landesman, New York, New York (ydur36 hotmail.com)

Which gal for a tryst should he choose?
A litmus test Donald would use:
She had to be stacked
And then sign a pact
That chats with the press she’d refuse.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

If your limerick lacks anapest,
It will fail Anu’s strict litmus test.
And the rhymes must be clever;
Offensive words? Never!
Obey, or you’ll be dispossessed.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


They argued all day and all night.
It led to an out-and-out fight.
And the flashpoint was this --
He still wanted to kiss.
She just wanted him out of her sight.
-Rudy Landesman, New York, New York (ydur36 hotmail.com)

Our disputes were thankfully minor;
Neither of us a constant whiner.
But the carps conjoint,
reached a true flashpoint --
That’s when she turned a strict hardliner.
-Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com)

The couple they had a big fight.
He came home all liquored that night.
When she reached her flashpoint,
Cried, “Go sleep in your joint!
You’ll not share my bed while you’re tight.”
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

In Belfast, the IRA’d meet
At a diner to talk, plan, and eat.
That cheap corned-beef hash joint
Became such a flashpoint
That Thatcher herself felt the heat.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Chain reaction

At first we ignored Vlad’s infraction,
‘Til it brought on a grim chain reaction.
Now it’s really high time
That we end Putin’s crime
Or be guilty of glaring inaction.
-Rudy Landesman, New York, New York (ydur36 hotmail.com)

Expelled for his latest infraction,
That brat’s an annoying distraction.
In chemistry class
That pain in the ass
Created a wild chain reaction!
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Ronald Reagan yelled “Tear down that wall!”
And whaddaya know, soon it all
Was in pieces below --
Chain reaction? You know,
To me, ‘twas a pretty good call!
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

What began as romantic attraction
Set in motion a freak chain reaction.
First sickness, then swelling,
Then doctors were yelling,
“Push, push!” when she had a contraction.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


That dresser I’d rather not keep --
It’s borax; it’s shoddy and cheap.
Oh, why did I get it?
I really regret it --
Assembling that chest made me weep.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

“I will cleave all these orcs in the thorax,”
Said Gimli, and swung his great war axe.
By the dozens they fell
Which led Frodo to kvell,
“That’s some schtick! You’re for real, dude, not borax!”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Boiling point

There was an Old Man of Peru,
Who watched his wife making a stew;
Having reached boiling point
It did not disappoint
As a picnic on Machu Picchu.
Duncan Howarth, Maidstone, UK (duncanhowarth aol.com)

I really reach my boiling point when
Someone tells the same story again,
And again and again.
Smiling broadly, but then
I wait for them to depart. Amen!
-Lois Mowat, Orinda, California (lmowat1810 gmail.com)

The tensions had simmered all summer.
Their fights grew more frequent and dυmber.
A boiling point came,
And that was a shame --
Divorce they are finding a bummer.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

At dinner, they served all but us
Like they’d thrown us right under the bus!
My boiling point reached,
I finally screeched
“Where’s your boss!” (Yes, I made quite a fuss!)
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

“Oh no, it’s the dawn of Day 8,”
Moaned the baby, “and I’m party bait.
It’s the boiling point;
They’ll a mohel appoint!
It’s a Jewish boy’s sorrowful fate.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


If your cigarette is litmus you blow smoke in my face?
-Lois Mowat, Orinda, California (lmowat1810 gmail.com)

“Not only mastery of the Force, but we also math, science, grammar and litmus test,” Yoda told the Jedi Board of Examiners.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“Tights-wearing comic-book heroes like Superman, Batman, and the Flashpoint to a fundamental ambivalence in the orientation of American men,” said the professor of LGBTQ Studies.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“We’ll get you, Guevara,” said the CIA. “Never,” said Chain reaction.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“My brother borax up as many great parts as I do,” Jeff Bridges said proudly.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“I liked darts, but what a borax throwing is,” commented the blasé bar patron on the latest craze.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“Look at our little boiling point at the bamboo shoots!” cooed Hsing Hsing the new panda dad to his wife.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Tucker-ed Out
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Tucker-ed out

In launching his new social media app, Trump proclaimed, “I created Truth Social to stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech”, after he had been banned from Twitter and Facebook for spreading lies and inciting insurrection. From the get-go, the site has been plagued with multiple problems. Many high-profile Trump sycophants have avoided coming onto his platform. So, there’s little “truth” or “social” happening in Trump’s social media universe.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. -Anne Lamott, writer (b. 10 Apr 1954)

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