The british poet and also alchemist thomas Norton used the native "attoms" in his 1477 poem, The Ordinal the Alchemy. Chronicler Howard Markel explains how Norton pertained to use the word, and points out earlier philosophers who raised the ide of indivisible units of matter.

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Unidentified Man: The alphabet has only 26 letters. V these 26 magic symbols, however, countless words space written every day.


And that deserve to only typical it"s time because that this month"s illustration of scientific research Diction, whereby we talk about the history of clinical words with my guest, Howard Markel. Dr. Markel is professor of the background of medicine at the university of Michigan in Ann Arbor and director of the center for the background of medication there. Welcome back.


FLATOW: Hey, what"s our word this month?

MARKEL: words is atom.


MARKEL: A-T-O-M. No the guy Adam, but the concept, atom.


FLATOW: Or in new York we"d spell that A-D-E-M here.



FLATOW: Who an initial coined words atom in the English language?

MARKEL: Well, in the English - prior to the English language, it"s in reality a Greek term. Now, there are some human being who think that Indian Jainism clerics may have actually come up through the idea of indivisible units comprising matter. And also you know, sir Isaac Newton thought it to be a Phoenician called Moses the Phoenician native the 13th century B.C., who we(ph) additionally link to the actual Moses or the Moses of Charlton hoston fame.

But once it pertains to the native atom, we have to go to ancient Greece of 400 B.C. And there was a brilliant philosopher called Democritus, and he proposed the Greek word atomos, which means uncuttable. And also so together he explained, all matter was at some point reducible to discrete, tiny particles or atomos.

FLATOW: and Thomas Norton, he created a publication called "Ordinal that Alchemy" in 1477.

MARKEL: Well, that"s right. I mean, that totality difference, by the way, between Democritus and then thomas Norton is a couple of thousand year is because the good experts of the day, the original groves the academe, to be Plato and Aristotle, and they had actually a different theory. They thought that matter was divisible right into air, fire, earth and also water. For this reason they didn"t favor his theory and that to be worse than not acquiring tenure back then.

So it didn"t come up until 1477, when a excellent alchemist and also poet called Thomas Norton - he was also a courtier for King Edward IV that England - came up with the word atoms in his poem "The Ordinal of Alchemy."

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. 1-800-989-8255 is our number, talking with Howard Markel about this week"s word on science FRIDAY from ubraintv-jp.com. I"m Ira Flatow.

Howard, when did atom very first enter the vernacular? We"re going native the Greek, the English, things choose that.

MARKEL: Well, it begins to record on, you know, the so late 17th come 19th century, the golden e of chemistry, and also there were every these great natural philosophers - Boyle, la Vossier(ph), Priestly, and also they"re all obsessing around composition and the nature of matter. And also so that carried them back to reconsider the atom.

And it remained in 1803 as soon as John Dalton published his atomic theory on indivisible elements and also the regular table the - the routine chart of the table that elements, which we all brought around and memorized in high institution days. And also that kept scientists busy for decades.

But that was really the 1890s when scientists started looking at radioactive elements. Henri Becquerel and also the Curies, and also they began looking in ~ - i love this - subatomic particles. First we speak the atom is indivisible, yet then we recognize there"s protons, neutrons and also electrons and also so on, and then things kept going and also going.

And that course most notoriously was the atomic bomb ~ above Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We gotten in the atomic age, i beg your pardon is not just a clinical term, yet it"s likewise a entirety era of renowned culture, even if it is it"s movies or scientific research fiction or novels.

FLATOW: you know, we kept dicing the atom. As you say, we visited sub and also then sub-subatomic. Do we need a new term?


MARKEL: Well, we do. And I was reasoning of, girlfriend know, that"s still another episode of science Diction when you walk from protons, electrons, neutrons to quarks. And it"s just so funny to call it - it"s sort of prefer jumbo shrimp or, together Groucho Marx said, armed forces intelligence. For this reason the idea the subatomic corpuscle is rather funny.

FLATOW: Yeah. Why go Plato and also Aristotle have actually such an concern with poor Democritus"s idea around atoms gift the straightforward units the matter? What to be so bad about that idea?

MARKEL: Well, that ran counter to your theory.


MARKEL: lock were really these earth, wind, fire and water types of guys, and also so they assumed Democritus to be a tiny bit also junior. Plato want to burn every one of his books. He assumed his occupational was for this reason shoddy.

But, friend know, there"s a genuine humor come that. We"re talking about it now. Friend know, several thousand years later we select to remember Democritus, even though his idea the the atom is very different from contemporary concepts. However his concepts were to let go by the leading lamp of his day, Aristotle and Plato.

FLATOW: How challenging would it be to coin a brand-new phrase for sub-subatomic? i mean, can we gain one started? execute you have any suggestions?

MARKEL: for the entirety genre?

FLATOW: Yeah. Ns mean, you"re constantly speak sub-subatomic. Why - can"t we simply put miscellaneous in different?

MARKEL: Well, friend know, maybe if we maintained to something Greek or Latin, it might be atomos obscura. However they"re all fairly obscure, aren"t they? ns think subatomic right now is yes, really the ideal way, and also we simply bite our tongue together we to speak it.

FLATOW: Yeah. Exactly how do you discover the words that you"re interested in spring up these days? You have - do you perform triage? do you find things that are in, girlfriend know, in vogue or what should we be looking for, friend know?

MARKEL: Well, ns look for words everywhere due to the fact that I read all the time.


MARKEL: and if any type of time a word comes up that"s interesting, i think about it. Girlfriend know, following month we"ll probably review words common. That"s because I occur to drink in ~ a coffee shop called usual Coffee. Yet it"s also a an excellent scientific term.

But if civilization want come send me in part words, I"d be delighted to look lock up, and then you begin with the Oxford English dictionary and also work your way down, so to speak, right into the archives.

FLATOW: Well, you know, there"s a many talk about scanners around, you know. Everybody"s talking around scanners at airports. Possibly the native scanner...

MARKEL: Well, I will certainly look that up, Ira.

FLATOW: girlfriend know, something like that.

MARKEL: Yeah. Yeah.

FLATOW: Or miscellaneous that have to do - anything. Or we had - we have actually something on physics, bit physics, that"s even - how do we record these small subatomic - antimatter?

MARKEL: The antimatter...

FLATOW: We have actually antimatter.


FLATOW: We have anti - whereby does - anti has actually been around a while, too, I"m sure.

MARKEL: Yeah. Antimatter...

FLATOW: Is anti a Greek word?

MARKEL: girlfriend know, you capture me ~ above the paris here. I suspect it is. And, the course, we have actually the term the anti-Christ, if friend look at, you know, larger literature, the idea of opposing of something...

FLATOW: Right.

MARKEL: ... You desire to look at at.

FLATOW: Well, I"ll take you off the hook and let you perform your homework.


MARKEL: Professors always prefer that that way before we go before an audience.

FLATOW: and also we favor that you gain it right, so girlfriend don"t need to come earlier and placed a tiny asterisk...

MARKEL: That"s good. That good.

FLATOW: pretty to have actually you, as always, Howard.

MARKEL: thanks so much and also Happy Thanksgiving to you and also yours, Ira.

FLATOW: girlfriend too. Howard Markel. Dr. Markel, he"s one MD and also professor of background of medicine at the university of Michigan in Ann Arbor, also director that the facility for the background of medicine there.

And as he says, if there is a word that you"d prefer us come look up because that you and also have Dr. Markel to talk about it, walk to our website. It"s sciencefriday.com, and leave united state a ide there.

You can also go there and also see our video clip Pick of the main that"s up this week, at just how Disney produced Rapunzel"s locks in their latest animated film. And we have a great little piece done there by our multimedia editor, Flora Lichtman, about how the works. Some - beautiful item of video up over there also.

Have a an excellent week. We"ll check out you next week.

I"m Ira Flatow in new York.

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