Word of the day: Haboob

Fun to say. Less than fun to experience. Haboobs are dust storms known for their distinctive wall-like appearance. Think the ice wall from Game of Thrones, but made of dirt, and heading right for you at speeds as high as 60 miles per hour.

The word is Arabic, but haboobs can happen all over the world. In fact, one of them hit eastern Washington state last weekend.

Image: Hey, Haboob... You suck., a Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from nickbastian's photostream

Read the rest

Learn the sign language of physics, male genitalia

A couple of years ago, Scientific American's Ferris Jabr wrote a really fascinating story about the sign language of science. Along the way, he touched on an issue I'd never thought of before. Turns out, a lot of technical, scientific terms haven't made their way into official sign language vocabulary. At the same time, these words are often far too long to bother fingerspelling. The solution: Translators at scientific conferences invent signs, often on the fly.

Not surprisingly, though, that can get confusing. What if two translators use different signs for the same word? That's why the Scottish Sensory Centre has taken the time to standardize translations of 119 words from the world of physics into British Sign Language. The the new signs will make it easier for Deaf students to understand what they're learning in science class, and make physics more open to them as a career choice.

The glossary builds on existing signs used by the deaf community and on "the visual or metaphorical relationship to what the things are like in real life", explains O'Neill.

The signs also build on one another to help convey the scientific relationships between the terms. The sign for mass, for example, is a fist which is then used as a basis for the sign for density (a hand around the fist) and weight (the hand and fist moving downwards).

Coincidentally, within minutes of spotting this story, I came across another bit of specialized sign language vocabulary. In a tweet, mjrobbins linked to a poster that provides everything you need to know to talk about a man's naughty bits in (I think) British Sign Language. Read the rest

Words matter

In an answer to a reader question, NPR explains why it uses both "climate change" and "global warming" to refer to the concept of rising anthropogenic greenhouse gasses forcing a corresponding rise in global average temperature. Personally, I try to use "climate change" in all cases, for the same reason NPR likes that name—it doesn't confuse people who might otherwise not realize that a rising global average temperature can cause diverse local effects that aren't limited to higher temperatures. Read the rest