A Journey Through the History of Science—Via the Words of Science
• Poetic Greeks thought of the luminous band of stars in the sky as a field of milk. They called it “galaxia” from their word “gala,” meaning milk. We say GALAXY.
• Arabic women of old applied a finely ground powder to their eyelashes to make themselves more attractive. Their word for the powder was “al koh’l.” This word has come down to us as ALCOHOL.
• In Greek, “haema” means blood and “philia” mans love. To ancient observers, a patient afflicted with a certain disease apparently “loved to bleed.” Our term for the ailment is HEMOPHILIA.
Under 250 headings—from “Absolute Zero” to “Zodiac”—Isaac Asimov explores, explains, and illuminates the scientific vocabulary. In all, some 1,500 terms are traced through history, from their simple roots in the language of bygone times—to their complicated usages today.
This is the first of the ”word” books published originally by Houghton-Mifflin, which are among my favorites of Asimov’s non-fiction. Aimed at a slightly older audience, I think, than the Abelard-Schuman juveniles, it is nonetheless still appropriate for a broad range of audience ages and is a fascinating and interesting book.
Here Asimov briefly describes, in 250 entries, the origins of various scientific terms (or terms in fields related to science). Each entry will typically discuss several words, so the total number of words defined and explained is well over 250. While terse, the entries are not obscure, and the book as a whole provides a thorough introduction to many of the ins and outs of the scientific terminology.