People have a horrible tendency to use the wrong word in press releases, especially when using scientific terms they don’t understand. Hype words and frankenquotes make them almost unreadable. For example, people often use words like science loanwords ‘quantum leap’ wrongly.
Check out my advice on this blog if you want to write like a hacker.
I was thinking of that when I read this on Callan Bentley’s blog. (Hat tip: Communicating the Science of Climate Change.)
Terms that have different meanings for scientists and the public
|Scientific Term||Public meaning||Better choice|
|aerosol||spray can||tiny atmospheric particle|
|positive trend||good trend||upward trend|
|theory||hunch, speculation||scientific understanding|
|positive feedback||good response, praise||vicious cycle, self-reinforcing cycle|
|error||mistake, wrong, incorrect||difference from exact true number|
|bias||distortion, political motive||offset from an observation|
|sign||indication, astrological sign||plus or minus sign|
|values||ethics, monetary value||numbers, quantity|
|manipulation||illicit tampering||scientific data processing|
|scheme||devious plot||systematic plan|
|anomaly||abnormal occurence||change from long-term average|
The wrong word for the wrong book
PS. When I was a teenager, I worked in a bookshop in Bath. A woman came into the shop and asked for ‘one of those books where you look up a word and it tells you other words that mean the same thing.’ I said, ‘Ah, yes, a thesaurus.’ She said, ‘No. It’s not that. What’s another word for it.’ Really.
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