The Devil’s dictionary returns!

Finally new entries in the Devil’s Dictionary: today including cingulation, fat, fat index, geotonus, faunal region, feedback, habituation, polymer, and xylophagy.

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


all entries in the Devil’s Dictionary copyright 2018 by Russ Hodge

cingulation the process of squeezing something into a form that is demonstrably too small for it, such as a pair of jeans or a girdle.

fat an acronym for the expression full of adipose tissue.

fat index a list of overweight people maintained by government agencies and insurance companies. In recent years this information is collected electronically by scales, chairs, and other devices and automatically forwarded to the appropriate authority via the Internet.

geotonus the technical term for falling flat on one’s face. Scientists believe that in humans, this behavior represents an evolutionary adaptation, as the optimal arrangement for the body’s organs for the metabolism of high quantities of alcohol.

faunal region any surface of a human body which offers a favorable climate for plant life, such as the fungi that infest feet, seeds that sprout from belly buttons, mold on the underside of wigs, or the numerous species that grow from ear wax. The existence of faunal regions motivated the tradition of throwing grains of rice on a bride and groom, in hopes that some of it would take root and give the couple a portable source of nutrition. The evolution of higher cognitive processes in modern humans was accompanied by the development of a sense of shame and modesty and the invention of clothing. At that point plant life had a harder time finding habitable niches, so humans began adorning their apparel with artificial fauna such as plastic carnations, entire fruit orchards growing from the hat of the Queen, and vegetable sauces ornamenting the aprons worn by butchers and cooks named Luigi.

feedback a spontaneous reflex in response to being fed something you have no desire to eat, which often occurs after someone says, “Close your eyes and taste this.” In adults the reflex typically involves extracting the material from the mouth with a hand and cramming it into the mouth (or some other available orifice) of the offender. Young infants who do not have complete mastery of their hands usually just spit offensive substances back along the line of trajectory from which it arrived. When an adult repeats this process several times successively, with the same results, the situation is called a feedback loop. A feedback mechanism is a robotic apparatus to simulate the above.

habituation an intermediary stage in the development of a human relationship. It begins directly after the period of attraction and lasts until the onset of death by boredom.

polymer the designation for a collection of objects that experience some sort of attraction for each other, become attached, and remain that way until being physically separated – by an enzyme, a hacksaw, a pry-bar, or various types of legal proceedings. Examples of polymers include amino acids, relatives who show up for the holidays, children and babysitters, people handcuffed to each other, members of a chain gang, professors and students, scientists and administrators, and pets and owners.

 xylophagy the process of digesting a xylophone.



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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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