Odd Words: Actinism

Sunrise - ActinismI had a much better time with page four of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. There were a handful of words I didn’t know. In particular, did you know there’s a word for a lack of perspiration? There is: adiaphoresis.

But the page does bring up something I said earlier: that if you get past 50,000 words, you’re basically down to different kinds of fish. Most of the words I don’t know are technical — usually medical. At this point, I’m thinking that I may actually have a vocabulary of 50,000 words. That’s a shocking thought. Where are they? And do I really need all those little buggers clogging up my brain? Certainly I don’t use them for writing.

How Long Can This Go On?

To be honest, I’m not sure how long I can keep this all up. The words aren’t that interesting. And dealing with the definitions is a real pain. That’s especially true because I’m trying to stay as close to the book as possible. And the type is so small and my eyes so bad that I can’t use the book while writing because the light isn’t good enough.

Regardless, I have a science word for you today. And given what it is, it’s surprising that I didn’t know it: actinism.

Ac·ti·nism  noun  \ak’-ti-nizm\

1. the property of radiation to produce chemical changes.

Date: 1840.

Origin: it comes from the Greek word ἀκτῖνος, which means beam, as in “light beam.”

Example: Niepce, a Frenchman, discovered “actinism,” that power in the sun’s rays which produces a chemical effect…Henry David Thoreau

This entry was posted in Odd Words by Frank Moraes. Bookmark the permalink.

About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Odd Words: Actinism

  1. Well no, I’ve never run across “actinism”, but “actinic” is pretty common, most often as “actinic light” — i.e. light that contains enough UV to cause “sun damage”.

    • I don’t recall hearing the term. But I don’t like to go outside. In fact, I’m looking for a place to live where it’s always foggy. But now I know.

  2. Ah, Niepce, the man who invented photography. His Wikipedia page shows his famous (to photographers), earliest surviving photograph, “View from the Window” (scroll down).

    Since you’re allowing scientific terms, in 2014 I came across “phanerogams” in Jules Verne’s An Antarctic Mystery, a sequel to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. A phanerogam is a plant that reproduces via seeds rather than spores. I looked up the original French text (Le Sphinx des glaces) and found that it uses the same word, with an acute accent over the “e”.

    • Yeah, but you need to wait until page 274! It isn’t in the book, so be sure to bring it up then.

      Wow. That’s amazing. Technology has come so far! Yet we still let the poor starve, just like then!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *