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Treebeard's Stumper Answer
9 October 98

The ABCs of Science

Middle school is probably the last time in our education that we have a class called "science." In high school and beyond, the sciences are split into increasingly specialized disciplines. That's one reason why I love teaching science at DMS. We can do everything and not worry about what it's called! How many different kinds of science are there? Try to find a branch of science that begins with each letter of the alphabet from A to Z. Starting with Astronomy, Biology, and Chemistry, can you complete the ABCs of science?

Science is a tree with many branches! I spent time on the Internet last week and found many of its ABCs, some familiar, many not. So did several kids and families. "Ology" means the study of, so maybe this pursuit should be called ologyology? We all had special trouble with J, W, and Y. This makes sense. I believe these letters were relatively late additions to the Latin alphabet, so there aren't many Latin root words to draw from.

This is the short list. I managed to find 250+ different branches of science, and I'm sure there are more to be found! I'll put the big list on the DMS Science Web page (with links!) when I find time to format it. I found a legitimate "W", but "J" and "Y" are still difficult. I'm not sure "Jungian Psychology" is legal for the J-word, but it's the best I've seen. (Is that a branch of psychology, or a school of thought?) Thanks to the Tanney family for help with this. Graybear suggests "Jurisprudence" and notes that the American Heritage Dictionary - Second College Edition defines it as, "The philosophy or the formal science of law." We wish it were a science! Graybear also suggests "Yoga," and I think that will do to finish the list!

Astronomy- the heavens
Biology- life
Chemistry- elements and compounds
Dendrology- trees
Ecology- environment
Forestry- forests and trees
Geology- the Earth
Hydrology- water
Ichthyology- fish
Jungian Psychology- depth psychology (is this legal?)
Kinesiology- human movement
Limnology- lakes and rivers
Mycology- mushrooms
Neurology- nervous system
Oology- eggs
Paleontology- fossils
Quantum Mechanics- matter and energy
Radiology- x-rays and radiation
Scatology- excrement (really!)
Taxonomy- classification of life
Urology- urinary tract
Volcanology- volcanoes
Wave Mechanics- wave properties of elementary particles
Xenobiology- extraterrestrial biology (still speculative!)
Yoga- enlightenment (why not?)
Zoology- animals

Now to make this into a poem!
    A is for Astronomy, that studies the stars,
    B is for Biology, that knows life near and far...

How far can you get?

Note: Graybear got me thinking deeper about why I couldn't find J, W, and Y words. He writes:

Most science names have either Latin or Greek origins. (Interesting that the intersection of these sets is {J, W, Y}, the hard ones - Treebeard)

W was added to the alphabet long after the Greco-Roman era. As it's name implies, it replaced the letter U when it was doubled, or combined with another vowel, such as Eduuard/Edward.

J and Y are both derived from the letter I. In lower case, a j was used as the second i if a double i was needed in a word, i.e. 'ii' would be written as 'ij'. If you write 'ij' in calligraphic style, you can see how it was shortened to the lower case y. My favorite surname has been written Smith, Smiith, Smijth, and Smyth. J and Y also started being used in place of I in words that began with I followed by another vowel such as Iulius/Julius and iard/yard.

English is such a funny language! I bet you can find a branch of science for each letter of the Greek alpha-beta, even if you restricted yourself to those with Greek root words. Astronomy, Biology, Geology, ..., Philosophy, Chemistry, Psychology, and Ecology (yes, ecology starts with an omega - the root word is 'oikos'). If you want to stick with English, I would suggest Jurisprudence, Wave Mechanics, and Yoga.

Thanks for getting me thinking about this, Graybear! Language, like the calendar, seems so quirky and human. I love these complexities. And I love how a simple question can expose those deep roots.

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Copyright © 1998 by Marc Kummel / mkummel@rain.org