Tuesday 11 October 2022

#17 Science/Scientist....from old Math Terms notes

 Science is from the Latin root scire, to know. The earliest origin of the word is realated to cutting or splitting apart. Knowing is, in a sense, the art of being able to seperate ideas from each other. Related terms include conscious, omniscient (all knowing) and less closely related to schizm and schedule.

Although science has been around for a long time, the related term for one who practices science, scientist, was only created in the early 19th century. Prior to this time a person who practiced science was addressed as a man of science, or a natural philosopher (see below). In 1833, William Whewell, a Master of Trinity College at Cambridge, was aproached by William Wordsworth, the poet, for a single better term, scientist was the response. (OOPS, That's wrong.  Thony just sent me a correction. " At the 1833 meeting of   British Association for the Advancement of Science, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the expounder of poetic tales about albatross murdering mariners and the construction of pleasure domes in Xanadu, who was also a philosopher of science largely responsible for having introduced Schelling’s Naturphilosophie into the English philosophical discourse, protested strongly about the use of the term (natural) philosopher for men of science.  William Whewell, Cambridge polymath and himself both a man of science and a historian and philosopher of science, suggested using the term scientist, which he had coined parallel to the term artist." 

 Whewell was also frequently in correspondence with Michael Faraday, and created the scientific terms anode, cathode, and ion. A letter between the two discussing these three terms is in the Wren Library at Trinity College in Cambridge. I have tried to capture an image below, but the library does not allow flash and the image is taken through the glass case... my apologies that it is not clearer.

In spite of its creation at such a high academic level, the word scientist was not well accepted for a long time. Its eventual acceptance came first in America, but it seems even there it encountered fierce opposition to its formal use well into the Twentieth Century. In The American Language in 1921, H. L. Mencken wrote

The last-named scientist was coined by William Whewell, an Englishman, in 1840, but was first adopted in America. Despite the fact that Fitzedward Hall and other eminent philologists used it.

Despite this fact an academic and ineffective opposition to it still goes on. On the Style Sheet of the Century Magazine it is listed among the "words and phrases to be avoided." It was prohibited by the famous Index Expurgatorius prepared by William Cullen Bryant for the New York Evening Post, and his prohibition is still theoretically in force, but the word is now actually permitted by the Post. The Chicago Daily News Style Book, dated July 1, 1908, also bans it. The use of the word aroused almost incredible opposition in England. So recently as 1890 it was denounced by the London Daily News as "an ignoble Americanism," and according to William Archer it was finally accepted by the English only "at the point of the bayonet."

The term Natural Philosopher which scientist replaced had not been around long itself. Prior to the time of Galileo a Philosopher was indifferent to the observed facts, and dealt only with moral and logical theory. Galileo thought that,"The proper object of Philosophy is the great book of nature..." and not the words of other men. Eventually these new students of the "book of nature" became the "Natural Philosophers".

Despite several common assertions to the fact that Whewell coined the term in 1840, the OED lists an earlier use in print, "1834 Q. Rev. LI. 59 Science..loses all traces of unity. A curious illustration of this result may be observed in the want of any name by which we can designate the students of the knowledge of the material world collectively. We are informed that this difficulty was felt very oppressively by the members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at their meetings..in the last three summers... Philosophers was felt to be too wide and too lofty a term,..; savans was rather assuming,..; some ingenious gentleman proposed that, by analogy with artist, they might form scientist, and added that there could be no scruple in making free with this termination when we have such words as sciolist, economist, and atheist but this was not generally palatable."

William Whewell is buried in Trinity College Chapel in Cambridge, UK. A memorial marker in the chapel is shown here and there is a statue in the ante-chapel

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