The grainy apple, laden with meaning

In my first post, I noted that the words granite and corn share the Latin root granum, granite for its granular texture and corn for its original meaning as the local grain crop, whatever it might be. I recently learned that pomegranate also shares this root, and the pomegranate itself has a fascinating history to boot. The pomegranate… Read More »

Plantigrade animals

I was browsing through the dictionary the other day with a friend, as people do, and we learned about something that bears and humans have in common. I had just bought a 1934 edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, a lovely little book with a soft leather cover, gilt-edged leaves, and a ribbon for marking… Read More »

Book spine poetry: The World Without Us

Inspired by the work of Stan Carey at Sentence First, I decided to try my hand at book spine poetry. Here’s my first attempt. The World Without Us People of the earth, lonely hearts of the cosmos, Muddling through the firmament of time, All the days and nights: Choosing reality. What went wrong? Thanks to the authors: Alan… Read More »

Of rocks and humans

If you love science, history, and words, it’s not every day that you find a book that addresses all of those interests, and it’s even rarer to find one that’s also engagingly written and great fun to read. I was lucky enough to have just such a book recommended to me recently: The Mountains of Saint Francis: Discovering… Read More »

The seahorse in your brain

I knew about the hippocampus in the brain, but until I started reading The Darwinian Tourist: Viewing the World Through Evolutionary Eyes, by Christopher Wills (find in library), I didn’t know that seahorses are in the genus Hippocampus. One of the things I’m enjoying about Wills’s excellent book is that he usually lists the scientific names of the… Read More »

On poppies, poop, and newborn babies

In honor of the recent birth of my second grandchild, I thought I’d look at some words related to newborns. Here are a few with interesting stories. Fontanelle: A fontanelle is a gap in the skull of a newborn where the bones haven’t yet grown together. A newborn’s head features several fontanelles in various locations, but the big,… Read More »

Armies of finger bones

I recently finished an editing assignment that had to do with the bones and musculature of the hand. The bones of the fingers (and the toes, as it turns out) are collectively called the phalanges. They’re individually identified by which finger or toe they belong to and by their position. The proximal phalanx is the first one out… Read More »

Woolly bears and northern stars

Woolly worm season is upon us. The other day I spotted one of these fuzzy caterpillars behind my car, and I moved it to avoid backing over it. Woolly worms were one of the many surprises that awaited me when I moved to Indiana. The first one I ever saw was hitching a ride on a letter I… Read More »

How is a delphinium like a dolphin?

Sometimes it seems like everything is named for a resemblance to something else. This is a story of the similarity-based links among two flowers, three birds, and a cetacean. Oh, yes: and an amphibian. I recently read a short story in which a New England matron establishes a garden club in her town because she’s the local expert… Read More »

Midnight moths, pollen, and scientists

It’s easy to talk about science or its history in the abstract, especially when you’re thinking about long stretches of time, and to lose sight of what it means to actually do science. So I thought I’d share a video that shows scientists out doing field work. In “Sundrops and Hawk Moths,” episode 4 of the series Plants… Read More »