Geology Jargon Ripe for Zombie Re-Animation
One of the things I love about geology is the jargon. After all, what could possibly be more fun than laying down “clayey” or “vug” on a triple word score and being able to say that yes, it is too a word?
Wait, don’t answer that one. Instead, let me give you one of my favorite passages from Basin and Range:
Geologists communicated in English; and they could name things in a manner that sent shivers through the bones. They had roof pendants in their discordant batholiths, mosaic conglomerates in desert pavement. There was ultrabasic, deep-ocean, mottled green-and-black – or serpentine. There was the slip face of the barchan dune.
In 1841, a paleontologist had decided that the big creatures of the Mesozoic were “fearfully great lizards,” and had therefore named them dinosaurs. There were festooned crossbeds and limestone sinks, pillow lavas and petrified trees, incised meanders and defeated streams. There were dike swarms and slickensides, explosion pits, volcanic bombs. Pulsating glaciers. Hogbacks. Radiolarian ooze. There was almost enough resonance in some terms to stir the adolescent groin.
One can only imagine what would happen if McPhee ever considered the effect of Love waves on the extending adolescent crust.
Kim wants to know which parts of this beautiful language should be killed. I suppose I understand her point – we have accumulated a thick, almost oolitic blanket of jargon, words like “flysch” and “miogeosyncline” that accreted around the nuclei of now-discredited theories. Some terms are no longer useful descriptions of the world, and trying to apply them in a modern theoretical context only leads to confusion.
Clarity and utility aside, though, I don’t want to work in a field where McPhee’s lingering, poetic attentions are discarded for the clinical decisiveness of “titanite”. For every word we lay to rest, I think we should find something equally beautiful to lift out of obscurity. Conservation of jargon, if you will. Perhaps we can think of some more old place names to honor. Maybe we can even find a word ugly enough to replace “miogeosyncline”.
I’ll start with tiphon, the loser in a late 19th Century competition to describe what are now called sedimentary diapirs – or perhaps English spelling would prefer it as typhon. Typhon was the son of Gaia; according to legend (or at least to M. Paul Choffat) his weaning was a traumatic experience, as he tore off a piece of his mother’s side while ripping himself away from her breast. He is also occasionally reputed to have thrown Mt. Etna at the sky.
While I know better than to think the term “mud volcano” is anything other than firmly entrenched, I am so, so sick of typing out “mud volcano” and “magmatic volcano”. I’d much rather be talking about tiphons.
I also want to bring gnamma, an indigenous Australian term from the Western Desert, into broader usage. I did a rock blog on gnammas a while back; as far as I know, it’s a generic term for any pit in a rock that holds water, but many (most?) gnammas are created by a feedback loop in the erosion process. What that starts as a small dimple will eventually become a deep hole, because the water that collects in the dimple accelerates the erosion of the underlying rock during freeze-thaw cycles.
… and that’s all I can think of for now. Who’s got something to add?