Submit your neologisms here

My primary supervisor once introduced me to a colleague with the words “Cath has the ability to translate Science into English”.
That’s actually not a bad description of parts of my job, which includes writing lay summaries of research projects for grant submissions and websites. This is actually one of my favourite duties, to the surprise of many of my colleagues.
Word must be spreading, because I’m getting more and more requests to provide lay summaries for various purposes. What bothers me though is the language used in these requests. There is a definite trend towards making nouns and adjectives into verbs.
I’ve had:
“please can you lay this language for me”
“if you could just laymanise this technical abstract”.
Please, people. It’s painful. Can anyone on Nature Network suggest a better term? I suppose I’ll let you verb a noun if it sounds better than the alternatives above…

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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29 Responses to Submit your neologisms here

  1. Neil Saunders says:

    Not a neologism or a derived verb, but I’m very fond of the word “deobfuscate”.

  2. Brian Clegg says:

    Clarify? I think I’d just say ‘turn this into plain English’ – otherwise this word you are looking for is doing just what you are trying to avoid. Using inpenetrable jargon.

  3. Bob O'Hara says:

    I think Brian has the answer. If someone asked me to “laymanise” something, I think I would write it as a layman would say it – “calcium (that’s chalk, innit?) is released from out of inside the cell”.
    I will refrain from commenting on laying a language.

  4. Richard P. Grant says:

    Thank you.

  5. Stephen Curry says:

    I’m with Brian and Bob. I guess it comes as no surprise that your colleagues who cannot (will not?) write in plain English might also struggle to express what they would like you to do. Shame that they won’t even try. Puts me in mind of an ancient Irish Earl who refused to speak the language. “I will not writhe my mouth with clattering English,” he said, presumably in Irish. The circumstances were very different but the bloody-mindedness sounds familiar.

  6. Brian Clegg says:

    Of course, the other problem with ‘laymanize’ (I’m sure better than ‘laymanise’ which sounds too like a chemical) is that the more medievally minded of us would be aware that a ‘leman’ or ‘layman’ was the word for a mistress…

  7. Maxine Clarke says:

    “Please could you rewrite my abstract into plain English?”
    “Please could you rewrite my summary into an accessible version?”
    I guess that part of the problem is circular, because the English of the people making the requests isn’t good enough for them to realise that the term “lay” isn’t a verb. I am sure I would be equally useless if I had to make such a request in Swahili or Spanish or Swedish.

  8. Richard P. Grant says:

    bq. _ realise that the term “lay” isn’t a verb_
    Oh yes it is.
    (‘realize’. Thank you.)

  9. Maxine Clarke says:

    Good editing, Richard … “…in this context”.
    Yes, I like to rebel in small ways against journal style (realise). You caught me out.

  10. Richard P. Grant says:

    I like to write in English. YMMV, of course.

  11. Henry Gee says:

    I’ve just come across a news headline in which each and every one of the six words could be read as either a noun or a verb:
    *Retail surge fans rate rise fear*
    That, and the absence of hyphens, imbues this statement a certain ambiguity.
    Does it mean that fans (n, i.e. supporters) of retail surges (n) rate (v, i.e. approve) of fears (n) of a rise (n)?

  12. Henry Gee says:

    … reminds me of the apocryphal story about a serial sex offender who assaulted two cleaning staff before absconding from custody:

  13. Cath Ennis says:

    The scientists whose lay summaries need the most work probably are the ones who will not be able to communicate this need effectively. I hadn’t thought of it that way.
    My husband has suggested “this abstract needs to get laid”.
    He also mentioned a local sports radio show that uses effort as a verb – as in “we’re just efforting to get the team captain into the studio for an interview”. They’ve been challenged by listeners but claim that it’s a proper radio term.
    Propter Doc has uncovered a similar phenomenon – the verb to prototype.

  14. Cath Ennis says:

    BTW Henry, keep up the good work!

  15. Corie Lok says:

    Is it just me or does ‘laymanise’ sound a tad arrogant? (Let’s ideate on that.)

  16. Cath Ennis says:

    It’s not just you, but I can’t blame my colleagues when it’s such a ubiquitous term! Most of our grants demand a “lay summary” or a “summary written in language suitable for a lay person”.
    Let’s dialogue this ideation a bit more.

  17. Niranjana Nagarajan says:

    Accesible-ize? Render accessible? Majoritize?

  18. Frank Norman says:

    Layify. Plainify (a la Plain English). Simplify (oh, that really is a word!).
    I have started getting a few requests to do this as well. It can be enjoyable, but I struggle with some fields.

  19. Heather Etchevers says:

    In French, the process is “vulgarisation”.
    Cute, non?

  20. Richard P. Grant says:

    We’re all pretty vulgar here. Get off my lap, Henry, there’s a good chap.

  21. Åsa Karlström says:

    Heather: well, it is ‘vulgar’ since it is ‘common’ right? Au contraire d’aristocratie….. I mean, who wants to be like all the commoners? 😉 (I like French!)
    Brian: that a ‘leman’ or ‘layman’ was the word for a mistress…
    really? How does the do? From man to woman I mean… Oh, I really miss language comparatives.
    Cath: I think rewrite would be the word… or make it more understandable to every one? I personally don’t really fancy that word ‘lay man’ since I think of an average person without an uni degree but I guess it means “every person who isn’t as deep in the field as those people?” (My way of saying that in order for me to understand some of the texts from other departments I would need a “layman” version. I know little to nothing about physics for example….)

  22. Cath Ennis says:

    Always intrigued when an old thread bursts back into life!

  23. Åsa Karlström says:

    Cath> never even occurred to me to read the dates… seriously, I really need a weekend 🙂

  24. Heather Etchevers says:

    Yes, me, too. And a wife, as I’ve mentioned before.

  25. Cath Ennis says:

    Yes, that’d be nice!

  26. Henry Gee says:

    Lay, Lady Lay
    Laymanize transversely on my big brass bed.

  27. Mike Fowler says:

    I agree that Brian cracked it early, but I might still be swayed by “could you demystify our nonsense”.
    And to continue Henry’s theme, we could play with punctuation to laymantridifis(z)e any newspaper headline:
    Old man bites dog.
    Old: man bites dog.
    “Old man bites”, dog.
    “Old man!” bites dog.

  28. Lee Turnpenny says:

    Accommodate (???).

  29. Pingback: Lay it on the line | VWXYNot?

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