Where does the word "scientist" come from?


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“I think we must be content to be anatomists, zoologists,
geologists, electricians, engineers, mathematicians, naturalists,” he
argued. “‘Scientist’ has acquired—perhaps unjustly—the significance of a
charlatan’s device.”

This reminds me a bit of the angst amongst engineers (in the UK, at least) about the ‘appropriation’ of that term by people who aren’t. Seems to bother some people more than others…

FWIW, on that subject, I prefer the European “Ingenieur”, making the root from Latin ingenium, meaning “cleverness” and ingeniare, meaning “to contrive, devise” more clear.

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I prefer Enginerd – people who aren’t will stay away form that one.

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‘ingenium’ sounds like a synonym for ‘bemused’

The Online Etymology Dictionary has an excellent entry on the derivation of the word “science”. It may be that 19th-century scientists simply wanted a title with “oomph” (like “master of high new knowledge”), but IMO the word “scientist” is perfectly descriptive of who they are and what they do:

• They cut apart a problem with intelligence to find knowledge.


This exact sort of discussion is the root of the difference between Aluminum and Alumin-I-um.

Humphry Davy, the man who discovered the element, named it “aluminum”, and that should have been the end of things.

But then some busybody wrote in to a British political-literary journal called the Quarterly Review complaining that aluminum “has a less classical sound”, and proposed instead to call the metal “aluminium”.

Oh, of course! Let’s disrespect the discoverer of the element’s wishes and change the name of his discovery to suit our own petty differences of aesthetic taste!


Didn’t he go with Alumium first of all?

But yes, we should probably all call it Aluminium, and we should use -ize instead of -ise (but -yse instead of -yze) :slight_smile:

He had several names for it, yes, but the final one he settled on was “aluminum”.

To employ one of the earlier choices he discarded would be odd. It would be like reading The Hobbit and insisting on using the name “Gandalf” instead of “Thorin Oakenshield”, and using “Bladorthin” instead of “Gandalf”, because those were the original names for those characters before Tolkien changed his mind.

Heh. I meant to write Aluminum there. Stupid autocorrect :slight_smile: I was agreeing with you.

I always thought that natural philosophy sounded cool when I was a kid, but you don’t see that used much anymore. Being a naturalist sounded pretty noble to me, too.

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Being a naturalist always sounded a bit dirty to me…


Perhaps we should return to ‘boffins’?

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Boffins is good. And they’ve that whole multi-coloured beak thing going on for them.


There are scientists who call themselves “naturalists” to this day. They are the more old-fashioned sort of biologist who observe animals in the wild rather than work in a laboratory or use molecular methods.

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I prefer our German word “Wissenschaftler” - “Knowledge-Maker”.

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Ja. But that is more than just scientists. For example, a historian would be considered a “Wissenschaftler”, but in English not. They would be considered a “humanities scholar” along with the sort of person who is obsessed with the variations in the various 17th century printings of Shakespeare’s plays.

While the English world has a stronger distinction between science and humanties, it had long embraced the concept and terminology of “social science”, though.

Also, he named it because of its association with alumina, not aluminia whatever that would be.

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