Today’s updates in the Devil’s Dictionary

See the complete Devil’s Dictionary of Scientific Words and Phrases here.



ambiguity  a mental state resembling the condition when someone can’t decide which of your eyes to look at and keeps shifting right-left-right-left until you want to punch them: cognitive eyeball pingpong.

optimism  hopeful expectation without any evidence to back it up. The first stage in depression.

penetrance  the degree to which some genetic or medical condition that you have – such as a cleft chin, or a mosquito bite – annoys you, and as a result the extent to which you annoy everyone around you.

straightforward  moving ahead in a direct line no matter what the impairment, such as during a sobriety test conducted on the highway.

truncate  to reduce the size of something so that it will fit into a chest, for example by chopping off its limbs.


If you like the Devil’s Dictionary, you will probably enjoy these older posts:

Searching for Oslo: a non-hypothesis-driven approach

Ontogeny recapitulates sobriety: from the Archaeal origins of life to the pinnacle of evolution: a PhD

Plus the other pieces in the categories “satire”, “science cabaret,” and “hilarious moments in science communication.” And there are, of course, many serious pieces on the site.

Feel free to pass along the link to your fellow science nerds! And, of course, quote the Devil’s Dictionary – just remember the reference! All material here is copyrighted Russ Hodge.

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I am a science writer at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, author of fiction and popular science books, an artist, and a professional musician who performs on the viola da gamba and Medieval and Renaissance stringed instruments. I edit manuscripts of all types and teach the full range of scientific communication skills. I am doing theoretical work in this subject - see for example

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