Blog

My blog is called "The Philipendium", covering topics in the natural sciences, language, geography, and education. In each article I seek to provide original insights that you won't find anywhere else. More than 50 fascinating articles have appeared so far. Below are links to some older stories.

Digesting Food is Like Playing with Lego Blocks

When you eat, your body tears all the food molecules into much smaller molecules — and then puts them back together. It’s like purchasing a nice 3-bedroom house, dismantling it into a pile of bricks and lumber, and then building a new house in a different layout and style.

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Word Connections: Freedom & Constraint

Our word "free" has two principal meanings: "not costing anything" and "unconstrained". If you want to translate the word "free" to Spanish or any other language, then you need to think about which meaning you are trying to communicate. See more details in this edition of Word Connections!

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How Many Wisconsins Can Fit In a France?

Which is bigger, Israel or New Zealand, and by how much? If you were told the area of both countries in square miles, then your eyes would glaze over. But if you heard that New Zealand is nearly 2 Wisconsins, while Israel is just 1/7 of a Wisconsin, then you would immediately understand.

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Word Connections: Hard, Soft, & Easy

The word “hard” has been part of the English language for a very long time, and we use the word to mean quite a few different things. Find out about the history of this word and its many connections to other words in this week's issue of Word Connections!

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The Fuzzy Line Between Natural and Artificial

For many of us, we feel it is important to distinguish between "natural" and "artificial", especially when it comes to food products. And yet there is a huge, fuzzy gray area between these two concepts, rather than a sharp dividing line. So what's a person to do?

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Word Connections: Window & Door

Our word "window" comes a Scandinavian word that literally means "wind-eye". Our word "cancel" comes from the same origin as an Italian word that means "gate" and a Spanish word that means "jail". For more fascinating word connections, check out this week's episode of The Philipendium.

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When Cabbages Wear Disguises

What do cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi have in common? They are varieties of a single species of plant! Just as humans have created an astounding variety of dogs from a wolf ancestor, we have done the same with this group of vegetables.

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Word Connections: Strong & Weak

What do the following words have in common: fortify, debilitated, foible, stark, flaccid, infirmary, and dynamite. Answer: All of these words are derived from terms that mean either "strong" or "weak". Find out more in this week's episode of The Philipendium!

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Are Greenhouse Gases a Myth?

I recently encountered a simple and logical argument that greenhouse gases are a myth. But is the argument true, or does it have hidden flaws? This question provides an opportunity to discuss some key concepts about energy and how it moves from one place to another.

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Word Connections: Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner

Did you know that breakfast used to be called "morganmete" in England? Or that the word "dinner" originally meant the first meal of the day? Or that "frokost" means breakfast in Norway, but it means lunch in Denmark? Find out all sort of interesting details about our words for meals!

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Is the Tomato a Fruit? Well, It Depends...

If you ask “Is the tomato a fruit?” then the best answer is "Yes, it is a fruit." But if you ask “Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable?” then the best answer is “It is a vegetable.” How can these two apparently contradictory answers both be correct?

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Word Connections: Rock & Stone

What do the following words have in common: Peter, Craig, Einstein, lithium, calculus, roquefort, lapidary, Pierre, petroleum, and regolith? Answer: All of them are derived from older words that mean rock or stone. Check out the full story in The Philipendium!

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Is There Really a Jungle Out There?

When we think of jungle, we picture people hacking their way through a dense, wet tropical forest. We call the lion the king of the jungle, but nature films show lions in dry, sunny grasslands. So what is a jungle really like, and where can we find one?

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Word Connections: Tongue & Teeth

The words “tongue” and “teeth” have been part of the English language for a very long time. We have other more recent words that are also connected to the tongue and teeth, such as "language", "glossary", and "dandelion". Learn the fascinating story behind these words!

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A Day Is Not 24 Hours

Where did we get the idea that a day is exactly 24 hours long? Does it take exactly 24 hours for the Earth to spin on its axis? No! Is it exactly 24 hours between one dawn and the next? No! So where did our standard "day" of 24 hours actually come from?

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Word Connections: Life & Death

English includes a rich set of words that are linked to life and death. For many of these words – such as “vivid”, “mortgage”, and “vitamin” – the connections with life and death are not so obvious. So let's go excavating to see what “life & death” words we can dig up!

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How Many Kinds of Living Things Are There?

For anyone who loves nature, the diversity of life on Earth is breathtaking. And therefore we wonder "How many kinds of living things are there?" To answer this question, we must raise and explore a great number of other fascinating but difficult questions.

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Word Connections: Iron & Coal

In this episode of Word Connections, we look at the words “iron” and “coal”, tracing an intricate web of connections to other English and European words. Along the way, we also touch briefly on several scientific details that are connected to these same words.

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The 5 Senses, or Maybe 7, Probably 9, Perhaps 11

How many senses do we have? Most of us assume that there are exactly 5 recognized senses, although we might wonder about a possible "sixth sense". However, we actually have more than 6 senses. In this issue of The Philipendium, you can find out what these additional senses are!

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Word Connections: Right & Left

Did you know that our word “right” originally meant “straight”? Or that our word “sinister” originally meant “left”? Those are just two of the many fascinating word connections related to the words "left" and "right". Check out the full story in The Philipendium!

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