Friday, May 31, 2013

Scientific Metaphors & Similes That I Wish Were Well-enough Known to be Cliches in Writing.

Anyone who has been given instruction in creative writing (either by choice or otherwise) has probably had the evils of cliches drilled into their skull.  Writers like to deride them from their lack of creativity and imagination - fair enough - but for all of that, I wish the list of cliches out there was longer.  The good thing about cliches is that they can give us an idea of references that are so well known in our culture that people are often sick and tired of them.  Considering that some examples of cliches are "dark as pitch", "bright as the sun" and "having an ax to grind", we as a society may have set the bar of general knowledge pretty low.  

I study biology and I'll admit to being biased by it.  I see/hear evidence of scientific ignorance daily (hell I'm still ignorant about plenty of it and am always trying to resolve that) and got to thinking that it would be pretty awesome (read geeky) if the state of our collective scientific knowledge was such that there were plenty of scientific cliches going around.  "Fast as the speed of light" is one that I can think of off the top of head.  Here are some more that I think would be great additions (if you feel like skipping the explanations, no worries - I won't cry):

  • As thin as a jellyfish's body  
    • Explanation: jellyfish are diploblastic, meaning they have only two tissue layers.  The vast majority of animal species are triploblastic, meaning they have three tissue layers.  The lack of a third tissue layer means jellyfish and their relatives (Ctenophores too which are in a different phylum) don't need respiratory (gills, lungs etc.) or circulatory (heart & veins) systems - O2/nutrients/waste can easily diffuse throughout the body without them.
Photo from Me!

    • Example: The politicians argument that the 50 states would be better off merged into one was as thin as a jellyfish - everyone could see he was trying to gain support with the influential Statists from his state.  
      • Point of Note: Statists are in essence the opposite of libertarians. I don't know of any powerful statist groups (or any statist groups all all for that matter) in the US.

  • As difficult to pass as a kiwi's egg
    • Explanation:
Can't remember where I got this exactly but it's EVERYWHERE online.  When I find the original scientific paper that did this, I'll give appropriate credit
    • Example: Our first exam was as difficult to pass as a kiwi's egg.

  • As hard to find as dark matter
    • Explanation: Dark matter is theoretical but strongly suspected to exist by astronomers who realized that the observed mass of the universe did not add up to what it should.  They've been searching for it ever since (and may have found some evidence this year).  That's about as much as I know about it.

    • Example: I looked all over town for my favorite brand of coffee without luck.  It's as hard to find as dark matter.

  • Cuter than a tardigrade
    • Explanation: Tardigrades are tiny (I do mean tiny - 1 mm max for some species) invertebrates which are so damn cute their also called waterbears.  See for yourself -

image obtained from here, but it's up on many websites

                     They have even inspired cute yarn versions - 

image from the Wunderkammer blog

    • Example: Oh my God - your new baby is just as cute as a tardigrade!

  • Blacker than a male mountain blue don's wings.

    • Example: Our new car is white as snow, with soft leather seats and tires blacker than a male mountain blue don's wings.

  • As complex as the Einstein field equations
    • Explanation: Part of his Theory of General Relativity which help explain how the function of gravity is a result of spacetime being curved by both matter and energy.  I only kinda-sorta understand it myself but that hardly matters.  What matters (at least for this simile) is this: 

                    What's more - there are 9 more of them, each as complex as that one.

    • Example: The flavor profile of the 2013 Chardonnay produced by Escalia Vinyards is rich and as complex as the Einstein field equations with hints of oak, strawberry, marshmallow, apple, vanilla, butter, durian fruit and bacon.

  • Beautiful as the world seen through a mantis shrimp's eyes
    • Explanation: mantis shrimp have 16 different photoreceptive pigments in their eyes, compared to our three.  
    • Peacock mantis shrimp, via National Geographic. A piece of advice to this guy - just because you can see more colors than the rest of us doesn't mean you have to wear them all at once.  
      • Example: Oh honey.  My that...what is it?  A picture of me?  Well now, er, I look as pretty as the world through a mantis shrimp's eyes!  I'll just go and hang thin in the closet where I can admire it every time I get my coat.

    I had more - way more - but I haven't had time to do them all.   Be thankful. 

    Have any of your own (scientific or from another field)?  Let's hear 'em!

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