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How I got confused by Randall Munroe’s new book on science

December 31, 2015

I can easily understand the confusion. For me, a ‘sky bag’ sounds like something cloud-like. Earlier this week I learned about ‘phrasal verbs’; now today it’s ‘tmesis’ which just happens to relate to phrasal verbs but was not mentioned in the other article. That aside, I agree with Matthew. You can’t necessarily use what makes sense to you, and need to go with what makes sense to the other person. That was one of the harder jobs with being a nurse. I loved the teaching aspect, but was always needing to come up with ways to better explain medical terms.

Matthew Wright

I had a chance the other day to glance through Randall Munroe’s new book Thing Explainer (Houghton Mifflin 2015), explaining science and technology in ‘simple’ language.

Soyuz TMA spacecraft. Public domain, via Wikipedia, re-saved as JPG without transparent background. Click to enlarge. A ‘space boat’, apparently. To me it’s a Soyuz TMA spacecraft. Public domain, via Wikipedia.

It’s something New Scientist has been trying for a while, too. And it’s great to see science presented in straight-forward ways. It’s important.

The problem I’ve got is that the conceit – rendering the text in the most common thousand words in English – doesn’t work.

Monroe says it’s in the style of ‘Up Goer Five’, which I then had to look up because I had no idea what he meant. Was it a ‘thing’? Was it the name for the approach he’d taken?

Can anybody guess what an ‘Up Goer Five’ is? Eventually I found out it’s a Saturn V rocket, renamed using two of the thousand…

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