Lexicon: Let's dance the metathesis!
When I was writing yesterday’s post I must have had the gift of foresight: I see that today the Nobel Prize has been awarded to a Frenchman, Yves Chauvin, and two Americans, Robert H. Grubbs and Richard R. Schrock ... for their work on metathesis! In this case, it’s chemical metathesis, a reaction which has turned out to be very useful in the production of plastic, rather than phonetic metathesis.
The etymology is the same. The word comes from the Greek metatithenai, which means "to change place, to transpose". That’s exactly what happens to the phonemes in slips of the tongue like aks for ask, or foilage for foliage [fr]. Chauvin and his colleagues make atoms do the same thing, in reactions such as this:
A-B + C-D → A-D + C-B.
The Nobel jury compared metathesis to a dance in which we swap partners [like this]. What a lovely metaphor! Such poets, those scientists. I feel a good chemistry between us.
The AFP tells us of the first reaction (no less!) of Yves Chauvin, now 74 years old, when he heard the news. Extremely modest, he didn’t expect his work to be rewarded thirty-five years later. Let’s just hope he doesn’t have a haert attack [fr]!