The Word "Scientist" or its Substitute


SCIENTISTS have hesitated to use the word “scientist,” not because it is a hybrid (they are well used to hybrids); nor because it ends in a sibilant “List” (they are most of them “Lists,” of one kind or another); nor because the word is appropriated by the unqualified (professors are inured to such treatment); nor yet because the word was originally used opprobriously (they are not really less courageous than Tories or Radicals); but because they were diffident. They feared to offend classical taste. No scientist ever puts his pen to paper without casting a fearful glance over his shoulder to see whether a classic should be looking on. You may reproach a classic with ignorance of science and he will plume himself with the compliment. But to suggest to a scientist that he is guilty of a classical lapse is more mortifying to him than to tell him he should have said “napkin” instead of “serviette.” It is thus sheer nervousness which has prevented him from using a generic term as obvious and inevitable as is the word “artist”. Now, thanks to you, the scientist is discovering, with some thing of the naïveté of M. Jourdain, that the classic never dreamt of objecting to the word and only wonders why there should be so much shyness about the use of it.

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WILLIAMSON, J. The Word "Scientist" or its Substitute. Nature 115, 85 (1925) doi:10.1038/115085b0

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