The Devil’s dictionary, Sept. 16 update

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


survey  a form of stalking in which the group conducting the survey asks random questions of anyone foolish enough to talk to them, based on the principle that if you ask enough questions of enough people, you’re bound to learn something eventually. On the street it is hard to get people to stop, so some surveyers carry big nets. They also carry clipboards, usually to hide the hand that is picking your pocket.

metabolism  any biological process that gives off a smell, usually a bad one.

arachnicate  any process which significantly increases the local concentration of spiders, just as the way pontificate is a sharp increase in the number of popes in a given space.

sporadic  the description of a rhythm that has been disrupted but would otherwise occur at regular intervals, like what would happen if you stole a stick from a drummer.

effuse  to emit a substance, such as words, in an enthusiastic manner, usually accompanied by a liquid (spittle).

southern blot  the condition of a scientist after drinking an entire bottle of Southern Comfort.



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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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