Today’s updates in the Devil’s Dictionary

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


manufacturer’s specifications  the way a sales rep describes how a machine or protocol should work, which usually does in fact work until the sales rep leaves, at which point it no longer works. A system of planned obsolescence which provides employment for the company’s technicians and consultants.

nonetheless  is an expression which means, “starting at this point you should ignore everything that I have said in the last 20 pages.”

nunc est bibendum  An expression commonly put at the end of papers, which basically means, “The End.”

patent  what a discovery is called after a lawyer finds out about it. Most scientists are unaware of the huge number of lawyers lurking around laboratories, because they are clever at disguising themselves as cadavers, or genetically modified rats. To get them to come out just shout the word “Eureka!” or “Aha!” and one will run up to you and hand you patent application forms.

simple  the quality of being simple. While scientists prefer that things be simple, they don’t like their descriptions of things to sound simple, because people might get the idea that science is simple, and that might make them wonder why scientists get the big bucks to do it. So they have come up with alternative ways of describing simple things, including the following: “a gratifyingly low degree of complexity, bordering on null,” or “a state of not having achieved, evolved, or developed any apparent structural modularity,” or, “an entity or process which can be described without a multiplication of features or properties, in a way that does not affect the predicted outcome.” For those who prefer a single word, the base “simple” can be ornamented with some useless consonants: simplifical, simplificalogical, simplificability, simplificabilicous; or a synonymous base can be used: apolymorphological, amultifeaturological, nonquantiplurifiable, etc.


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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