Dissecting Scientific Vocabulary

Most of the terms you see in science are combinations of word parts. This is especially true with technical terms. Scientists originally coined the terms by putting together word parts from the Greek and Latin languages. For example, the word ‘thigmotropism’ comes from a combination of two Greek words: thixis, meaning ‘touch,’ and tropos, meaning ‘turning’ or ‘direction.’ Thigmotropism is the word we use to describe the coiling growth patterns that some plants exhibit in response to touch. Think about vining plants like beans, grapevines and the common morning glory. These plants can climb fences and trellises by coiling their shoots around any object that they touch. You might think it strange that a long, weird word like thigmotropism was ever invented. But, imagine if you were a plant biologist trying to describe a morning glory. How would you talk about its coiling growth pattern? ‘The morning glory climbs by using… its ability to turn the direction of its vine growth in response to a touch stimulus.’ No, that takes too long! If you were a scientist, you would want to invent your own word to describe this concept. Then you could just say, ‘The morning glory climbs by using thigmotropism.’ That’s exactly why scientists invented the word.


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