The Devil’s dictionary returns!

more entries in the Devil’s Dictionary: today including barb, barber, blennogenous, etc.

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


all entries in the Devil’s Dictionary copyright 2019 by Russ Hodge

barb  is commonly used in two ways:
1. as the short form of Barbara: a Barbie doll that has finally emerged from puberty and reached adulthood. Given the rather vague nature of the anatomy of these creatures, usually only experts can tell when this has occurred.

2. one of the hair-like projections emerging from the spine of a feather. What keep the barbs from sprouting off in all directions like the tail of a cat or a toilet brush are smaller structures on barbs. The absence of these features in cats and toilet brushes impedes their ability to fly, at least without help. In a feather, barbs are kept aligned by barbules, which are smaller projections sprouting from a barb. A barbicule is an even smaller projection that sprouts from a barbule. After that, it’s barbicules all the way down.

barber  a person or mechanism (such as a molecule, a robot, or duct tape) that attaches the barbs to a feather or removes the barbs from a person’s head. In some cases both occur, for example if a person’s head is shaved prior to being tarred and feathered. In casual speech, “barber” is sometimes used to refer to people who trim barbels, which are the whiskers of catfish, but the proper designation is barbeler. This should not be confused with a barbeller, which means a person who assembles barbells or routinely uses them in a job, such as breaking legs for a loan shark.

barognosis   the ability to sense and respond to pressure. Some people lack this sense, or progressively lose it with age; they refuse to budge no matter what type of pressure you apply. The term for this condition is barognosticism, and its practitioners are barognostics.

blennogenous  a more refined word for “snotty”, as in, “Don’t get blennogenous with me, young man!” Blennogeny refers to the progeny of snot, namely everything expelled in a sneeze. Blennogenophony refers to synchronized sneezing, an aesthetic performance so far only popular in New York, where it will hopefully remain quarantined. The most highly developed form is the blennogenosymphony, which common decency prevents me from describing here. Really, one must draw the line somewhere.

endogenous rhythm   The natural cycle of biology and behavior of an organism when it’s not prompted to activity by some external force, such as a complaint by a spouse, the closing time of a bar, jackhammers out on the street, or the arrival of hordes of relatives – not necessarily in that order. Humans exhibit endogenous behavior on holidays that are not accompanied by lots of baking, such as President’s day.

larvivore   an organism that eats larva, usually on purpose. Nearly all humans are unwitting larvivores, particularly those who buy foods that have been religiously protected from pesticides, or who fail to clean out the kitchen cabinets at regular intervals.

residual volume  a little reserve of air at the bottom of the lungs that remains after you think you’ve expelled it all – like the gasoline that remains in a car’s tank after the needle hits red. No matter how hard you exhale, there’s always just a little more – ask any tuba player.

If you liked the Devil’s Dictionary, you’ll probably also enjoy:

Craig Venter and the alien zombies from Mars

Losing your heart in Heidelberg and getting it back again


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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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