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lundi 6 juin 2011

English words of the week: Vermicelli, extremophiles, Spaghetti and spaghettification

Le présent billet a été rédigé par Jonathan Goldberg, que je remercie. Une traduction en français sera publiée prochainement sur ce blog.

These words share common etymological roots but they have widely different meanings.

“Vermicelli”, which exists in different forms in different countries, is a noodle that is thinner than spaghetti.

green mung bean vermicelli

Pasta, Vermicelli Nests

Chinese vermicelli

Italian vermicelli
Vermicelli literally means “little worms”. It comes from the Italian vermicelli, the diminutive form of verme, meaning a worm.

The word “spaghetti” also derives from the Italian word spago, which means “string” or “twine”.

A word that conjures up an association with spaghetti, but has nothing to do with food, is “spaghettification”. In astrophysics, this word (sometimes referred to as the noodle effect) means the vertical stretching and horizontal compression of objects into long thin shapes (rather like spaghetti) in a very strong gravitational field, and is caused by extreme tidal forces. In the most extreme cases, close to black holes, the stretching is so powerful that no object can withstand it, no matter how strong its components.

This word comes from an example given by Stephen Hawking in his book A Brief History of Time, where he describes the flight of a fictional astronaut who, passing within a black hole's event horizon, is "stretched like spaghetti" by the gravitational gradient (difference in strength) from head to toe. (Absolute Astronomy)

A brief history of time: from he big bang to black holes
Une brève histoire du temps : Du big bang aux trous noirs

I began this article with worms and, for my last word, I return to that subject. Extremophile (from Latin extremus meaning "extreme" and Greek philiā (φιλία) meaning "love") is an organism that thrives in physically or geochemically extreme conditions, which most other forms of life on Earth are unable to survive.

Recently, two kinds of worms, the roundworm and another new previously unknown species, have been found living in a South African mine, 1.3 kilometers beneath the surface of the Earth, starved of oxygen. This is the deepest-living "multi-cellular" organism known to science. This discovery has brought extremophiles out of their dark hiding places into the sunlight of scientific scholarship.

Une souche bactérienne hyperthermophile

Vermicelli – Wikipedia (English)

vermicelli – Wikipedia (français)

Spaghettification, Wikipedia (English)

Spaghettification, Wikipedia (français)

Spaghettification and the problem of scientific jargon, BBC, March 8, 2011

Deepest-living land animal found, BBC Science and Environment, June 2, 2011

Worms from Hell, Public Radio International, The World

Extremophile, Wikipedia (English)

Extrêmophile, Wikipedia (français)

Extremophiles, video

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