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Last week we looked at words that were created due to mistaken science. This week we'll note some weird sciences, some obscure names of scientific disciplines.

Now many such terms are obscure only because you don't recognize the prefix, and once it's explained to you there's no further interest.* That's boring. So we'll try to focus on terms which either name interesting disciplines, or have an odd look to them – such as our first.

prosopography (not in OED) – study of the common background characteristics of a historical group, by a collective study of their lives ("collective biography", as it were) to find their patterns of relationships and activities
[sometimes applied to a like study of a group of literary characters]

Our quote discusses the English Puritans who first settled Massachusetts, 1630-1640. A clear majority of them came from East Anglia; the percentage was even higher among the earliest of these settlers, among those who stayed put (many migrated to other parts of New England), and among their cultural elite.
    This little elite was destined to play a large role in the history of New England. Its strength developed in no small degree from its solidarity. Many of its members had known one another before coming to America. They had gone to the same schools. … The intermarried with such frequency that one historian describes the leading Puritan families of East Anglia as a "prosopographer's dream."
    – David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (The unattributed quote seems to be from Clive Holmes, The Eastern Association in the English Civil War.)


*For example, helminthology (from Greek helmins, helminth- intestinal worm) is "the scientific study of worms, especially parasitic worms". There's nothing much more to be said.

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Originally posted by wordcrafter:

prosopography (not in OED)

Actually, prosopography is in the OED--DRAFT REVISION Dec. 2007 . From post-classical prosopographia Latin description of a person's appearance (1577)
1. The description of the form or personal appearance of an individual; an instance of this. Now rare.

2. A study or description of an individual's life, career, etc.; esp. a collection of such studies focusing on the public careers and relationships of a group in a particular place and period; a collective biography. As a mass noun: the study of such descriptions, esp. as an aspect of classical history; such studies or histories as a genre.
 
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Yes, it's in the online version as well.
 
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onomastics – the study of proper names

At first onomastics struck me as a rather frivolous discipline. It may be nice to know that John means 'God is gracious', but of what practical use is it?

But yesterday's quote-sources showed me the use: culture's naming-customs can reveal its values and contrast it with other cultures. For example, we vividly see the Puritan's view of monarchy in this striking fact: "Only one town in Massachusetts was named for any member of the royal family during the first generation–a striking exception to the monarchical rule in most British colonies." [Sidenote: Even that one town, Charlestown, was not named directly for Charles I. The Puritans named it for the Charles River, which had been named before their time.]

Today's illustrative quotation is from the same source. Below is more from that source (ellipses omitted), showing how onomastics can show a culture's beliefs and values. To quote another historian, "The naming of children is culturally never a trivial act."
    The most striking feature of their [the Puritans'] onomastic customs was their strong taste for biblical names.

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"The naming of children," writes historian Daniel Scott Smith, "is culturally never a trivial act." This was specially so among the Puritans[, who] named their newborn infants in ways that differed very much from other English-speaking people.

The most striking feature of their onomastic customs was their strong taste for biblical names. In seventeenth-century Boston, 90 percent of all first names were taken from the Bible. A remarkably small number of biblical names accounted for a very large proportion of choices. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a whole during the seventeenth century, more than 50 percent of all girls were named Mary, Elizabeth or Sarah. [But] Puritan children were not named Jesus or Christopher. A minister explained: "The name is properly to Christ, and [it is] not fit for Christian humility to call a man Gabriel or Michael, giving the names of angels to the sons of mortality." With equal care, Puritan parents also chose scriptural names which seemed suitable to their social rank.
A couple more tidbits, for amusement:
quote:
One unfortunate child was named Mahershalalhasbaz, the longest name in the bible. Another was baptized Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin Pond. There is evidence that parents sometimes shut their eyes, opened the good book and pointed to a word at random, with results such as Notwithstanding Griswold and Maybe Barnes.

Still another onomastic custom in Massachusetts was the use of necronyms. When a child died, its name was usually given to the next-born baby of the same sex.
 
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Two disciplines involving unconscious behavior in the interactions between people.

kinesics – study of body movements and gestures which convey meaning non-vocally
[Note: most definitions seem to me to have a sense of communicating willingly, but I think the word encompasses gesture that give you away, such as a "tell" in poker. See quote]
    She was amused to realize that her own eyes occasionally slipped to doors and windows. This was a kinesic response that meant the subject was subconsciously thinking about ways to escape—that is, was feeling stress.
    – Jeffery Deaver, The Broken Window
proxemics – the study of how people structure the physical proximity between them in various situations

Our quote tells of some very interesting research.
    . . .Text chats lack nonverbal cues that facilitate face-to-face conversations. Graphical chats attempt to address these limitations by introducing surrogate representations for physical bodies and spaces.
    . . . Proxemics is the study of animal territoriality. Can the same proxemics be observed in graphical virtual environments? That is, do people cluster together when interacting in graphical space much as they would in face-to-face interactions?
    . . .These results suggest that people use their avatars to stand closer to people to whom they are talking, they look towards people to whom they are talking, and they frequently reposition their avatars during the course of their conversations. Overall, V-Chat users appear to be using the 3D features of the program to reproduce the social conventions of physical proxemics.
    – M. A. Smith, S. D. Farnham, and S. M. Drucker (Microsoft researchers), The Social Life of Small Graphical Chat Spaces (2000?) (ellipses omitted)
 
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Today, another related pair of areas of study.

Mariology – the part of Christian theology dealing with the Virgin Mary
patrology – the study of the lives, doctrines, and writings of the Fathers of the Church; patristics (also: a treatise on this)
    There is no need to speculate about Robin's [Hood's] devotion to St Mary, to whom an appeal and dedication is made in every early ballad. … His devotion is a recurring theme in tune with the prevailing Mariology of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.
    – A. J. Pollard, Imagining Robin Hood: The Late-Medieval Stories in Historical Context

    The bishop's library was maintained in perfect order. The bookcase with the works on theology and patrology was located at the center of the longest of the walls (the one that that no windows or doors).
    – Boris Akunin and Andrew Bromfield, Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog
 
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Isn't it odd how rare words, when they crop up at all, always seem to crop up more than once in a short time? (In this case in a slightly different form) Five minutes ago I was sitting reading A.C. Grayling's Ideas That Matter and came across this in his essay on Chrstianity.
quote:
Because Christianity's first official form was Roman, it adopted much of the administrative techniques and hierarchy of the Roman state, took over and Christianized many of the pagan feasts and festival, and incorporated, as saints, many of the favourite deities of the peoples of the empire, most notably exploiting the widespread and fervent worship of the virgin goddess Diana by offering worship of the Virgin Mary in its place. In the Roman Catholic version of Christianity, Mariolatry and the cult of saints constitutes one of the most important features - and are much despised by the austerer Protestants.


One thing I wonder about is the use of Mariology vs Mariolatry. It seems to me that the meaning is the same in both cases but that the -ology version does not carry the disparaging implication that is present in the -olatry version.

Would you agree with me about that?
 
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Would you agree with me about that?

Yes, especially because of the word idolatry which uses the same root. Bardolatry is not a good thing either.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Worship of Brigette Bardot? Roll Eyes
 
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Worship of Brigette Bardot?

[Eye-rolling emoticon, indeed.] Bardolatry (link) is the idolization of Shakspere. How about the worship of surgeons? Iatrolatry.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Weird science recommends testosterone-fueled tracking polls

I still recall the moment when my parents could no longer help with my math homework- calculus. They were still supportive, in the sense of being great about having friends over to do homework and the like, but I was just gobsmacked that they couldn't do trig integrations. They had literally never failed me before then, or looked like it even cost them some token effort to prod me in the right direction to the solution.

Incidentally, we never had a talk about drugs. It was assumed to be unthinkable, and anyway I couldn't have afforded it.
 
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