More new entries in the Devil’s Dictionary

today’s entries: habitat patch, isolating mechanism, loafing platform, Mammalia

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


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

habitat patch  the area where an organism belongs, rather than the place it has wandered off to, often indicated by some sort of “patch” (insignia, merit badge, bar code) worn on the fur, skin, or some other surface area. This explains the note your mother pinned to your shirt the first day of school, providing an address and phone number in case you got lost. Habitat patches also explain why a lot of children end up in the Pumpkin Patch on Halloween and a great number of dolls land in the Cabbage Patch.

isolating mechanism  some biological feature, behavior or device used to keep animals from mating with each other under circumstances that are somehow inappropriate. The barriers may be biological, behavioral, ecological, social or any combination thereof: cases of mating between mice and whales are very rare in the literature, for example, not only because dates are hard to arrange, but socially discouraged, not to mention the physiological difficulties. Humans have used isolating mechanisms as well: placing a sword in the middle of a bed shared by an unmarried couple, as described in the Arabian Nights and a tale by the Grimm brothers. Another example is the practice of “bundling”, in which courting couples were allowed to sleep in the same bed provided they were sewn into separate sacks ahead of time. In a poem from colonial America, the practice is described this way:

A bundling couple went to bed
With all their clothese from foot to head;
That the defense might seem complete
Each one was wrapped in a sheet
But oh, this bundling’s such a witch
The man of her did catch the itch,
And so provoked was the wretch
That she of his a bastard catch’d.

From the Atlas Obscura

loafing platform  a sort of raft or structure that some birds build on the surface of water to stash their kids, to keep them from getting into trouble or floating away or being eaten by sharks. Loafing platforms are the waterfowl equivalent of couches or playpens equipped with DVD players.

Mammalia: “Mammalia is a group of animals known as the vertebrates (have backbones) and belong to the class Mammalia.” From: and winner of the “Circular Definition of the Month” prize.

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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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