Oology and other ologies

By | August 23, 2013

When I think of the sciences, I first think of biology, physics, chemistry…the names of subjects you can take a high school class in. Here are some finer-grained specialties within those sciences.

  • Tribology: This term was coined relatively recently to describe the science of surfaces in contact (friction, lubrication, and wear). It comes from the Greek verb meaning to rub. Whether you were aware of it or not, you’ve almost certainly experienced the triboelectric effect, in which a material gains electrical charge by being rubbed against another material (for example, when you shock yourself on a doorknob after shuffling across a carpet).
  • Oology: This subfield of zoology deals with birds’ nests and eggs. The first two letters are pronounced as two syllables (ohah, roughly), and the word comes from the Greek root oion, meaning egg. The same root is ultimately the source of oolite, a type of calcium-carbonate-based rock composed of small spherical grains (which are also called oolites, or ooliths: egg stones).
  • Somnology/hypnology and oneirology: Most of the roots I’m talking about here are Greek, but in the scientific term for the study of sleep, we have a choice of Latin and Greek roots. Somnus was the Roman version of the Greek god of sleep, Hypnos. Hypnology is also used to describe the science of hypnosis, and somnology seems to be more common among scientists. Interestingly, several phenomena related to sleep retain the hypno– root: hypnopompic and hypnagogic hallucinations. These harmless but sometimes terrifying events occur as you’re waking up or falling asleep, respectively. Oneirology is the scientific study of dreams; this one is from the Greek root oneiros, or dream.
  • Pedology and edaphology: These two divisions of soil science come from the Greek roots pedon (soil or ground) and edaphos (ground or basis). Pedology considers the soil itself, and edaphology considers the soil as the home of living things. Pedon is ultimately derived from the word for foot, the soil being underfoot.

Happy weekend! See if you can work any of these into your conversations this weekend.

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