The noble genus Vitis

The wine harvest is nearing its end, so this seems like a good time to look at the different species of grapes that are used for wine. When I first began to take a serious interest in wine, the differences between varieties and species were very fuzzy to me. I’m still sorting out the varieties, most of which… Read More »

Geological epochs and regrettable barbarisms

The other day I was poking around online reading about rocks and dinosaurs when I should have been working, and I discovered that what I knew as the Cretaceous–Tertiary (KT) boundary is also called the Cretaceous–Paleogene (KP) boundary. (K is used instead of C to make it easier to pronounce.) You may be familiar with this boundary as… Read More »

Elemental places

A surprising number of chemical elements are named for places. (Well, it surprised me, anyway.) Many of the elements that have been identified since the late 18th century are named for their places of discovery. Would you have guessed that more of these elements are named for Scandinavia or Scandinavian cities than for any other geographical location? One… Read More »

Areology

Given that the Mars rover Curiosity is in the news (it did not find methane in the planet’s atmosphere, contrary to earlier reports), this seems like a good time to pass along something I learned this week about the geological periods on Mars. Mars is currently not a very happening place, geologically speaking—at least in terms of big… Read More »

Choler and melancholy

You don’t see the string chol in too many words except for fairly specialized terms in biochemistry or medicine, so I had to wonder whether there’s some connection between the words choleric, melancholy, and cholesterol. There is, and you can throw the word cholera into the mix too. Choler entered English around the 14th century as a borrowing… Read More »

Hurlecane season

Here in the middle of this bafflingly quiet Atlantic hurricane season, I thought I’d look at the words hurricane and typhoon. Both words refer to the same thing, a large tropical cyclone (that is, an organized low pressure system over warm tropical or subtropical water). Which name is used depends on where they occur (hurricanes in the Atlantic… Read More »

The Magnetes legacy

Somewhere in Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series of novels, I ran across a reference to a city called Magnesia. For some reason, those old names tend to start running around in my head whenever I encounter them, creating a pleasing atmosphere of mystery and antiquity (Illyricum, Cappadocia, Thrace, Ephesus…). However, when “Magnesia” starts running through my mind,… Read More »