Focusing on Words Newsletter #05

(the fifth newsletter of a series that was formerly presented to subscribers by the Sr. Scribe, a.k.a. John Robertson)

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The Senior Scribe is trying to find more info for his project.

Which is the greater problem, ignorance or apathy?
I don’t know and I don’t care.

Words in the news

In the December 28, 1998, issue of the International Herald Tribune in the William Safire column called, "Language", he wrote: "Now to the alleged mistake that drew the most mail. In a line about the pronunciation of status, I wrote, 'That is usually pronounced STAT-us, as in statistics, by the highfalutin, and STATE-us by the hoi polloi.' "

"From Jim Tart of Dallas: 'My daughter Katie tells me that her eighth-grade teacher would have smacked her in the head with her grammar book had she said 'the hoi polloi'. Katie says hoi polloi means "the masses", and therefore should never be proceeded by the. Live by the sword and die by the sword."

Thank you, Mr. Tart. (And when Katie comes by with her spelling book opened to preceded, watch your head.)

An advanced word: tribo- and Its Modern Applications

The “advanced words” in the following contain valuable information if for no other reason than that the concepts of tribology are so important in all of our lives. You may find some aspects difficult to comprehend, but just knowing what the Greek element tribo means, as well as some of the English words that are derived from it, will give you knowledge that is lacking even among the very educated.

This issue of Focusing on Words will present a relatively new, and not widely known, element from Greek that is used in modern engineering and physics: tribology. This Greek tribo- element means, “friction”, “rub”, “grind”, or “wear away”.

Most of the information for this subject came from an article, “Better Ways to Grease Industry’s Wheels,” from the September 28, 1998, issue of Fortune magazine written by Ivan Amato.

  • Lubrication is central to machine performance, but it’s only part of the story. More and more, the bigger picture of machine health has been going by the label “tribology” [trigh BAH loh gee] which is based on the Greek word for “rubbing.”, “grinding”, or “wearing away”, etc.
  • Tribology combines issues of lubrication, friction, and wear into a complex framework for designing, maintaining, and trouble-shooting the whole machine world.
  • Tribology is already providing data that could be used to produce transmission fluids that give automobile drivers better fuel economy and a smoother ride.
  • The most visionary tribology advocates and practitioners tend to view their field as the cure for much of what ails industry and even entire economies.
  • Tribology has evolved into a bona fide field of research and technology since 1966, when a group of industrialists in England coined the term with assistance from an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.
  • The O. E. D. defines tribology as, “The branch of science and technology concerned with interacting surfaces in relative motion and with associated matters (as friction, wear, lubrication, and the design of bearings).” In 1968, H.P. Jost, in the February 8, 1968, issue of the New Scientist states, “After consultation with the English Dictionary Department of the Oxford University Press, we chose the term ‘tribology’.”
  • Many tribologists devote themselves to uncovering the fundamental chemical and physical dramas that underlie good and bad lubrication, friction, and wear. They are relying on new tools like friction-force microscopes, that can examine surfaces down to the molecular level (nanotribology?).
  • Transmissions are just one place where tribology makes a difference in the automotive industry. Other items on the agenda include controlling brake noise and wear, reducing internal friction in engines, and increasing the productivity, part quality, and energy efficiency of production machinery.
  • The “tribology tribe” points proudly to its crucial role in the thirty-billion dollar-a-year data-storage industry. When it comes to surfaces in motion, this is an especially harrowing arena. Yet it’s through tribological know-how that makers of hard-disk drives have been able to squeeze more and more data into less and less space.
  • The head that reads and writes information to and from a hard disk flies about 50 to 100 nanometers above the disk surface. That’s about one-thousandth the width of a human hair. Meanwhile, the disk typically spins beneath the head at about ten to twenty meters per second.
  • Woody Monroy, head of corporate communications for Seagate Technology, which makes disk drives, says that in terms of speed and clearance, it’s the equivalent of an F-16 jet fighter plane flying one-sixty second of an inch [less than one millimeter] above the ground, counting blades of grass as it goes, at Mach 813 (or 813 times the speed of sound).
  • There are many reasons computers go down, but one of the most dreaded is when the head assembly literally crashes into the spinning disk’s surface, tearing up and destroying precious data.
  • It’s a tribological triumph that, despite all the hazards, vulnerabilities, and abuse by users, most storage systems operate fine most of the time because of proper coatings. The first protective layer is at most twenty nanometers thick. One leading-edge tribo-tactic is to fiddle with the molecular structure of the thin lubrication layer on top of the disk (nanotribology?).
  • Tribologists have plenty of challenges to keep them busy, but it’s all part of making disk drives and economies run smoothly.

Additional words that were found which are derived from the Greek element tribo- are explained in the following contents:

Additional words that exist that are derived from the Greek element tribo-: nanotribology, [no dictionary seems to be available that has a definition for this term.] The following definitions came from various sources on the internet.

First, on Thursday, January 21, 1999, there was the following information from Dr. Jacqueline Krim, Professor of Physics at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina:

“Thank you for your inquiry. Yes, I coined the term nanotribology in a paper I wrote in 1991, entitled, ‘Nanotribology of a Kr [krypton] monolayer: A Quartz Crystal Microbalance Study of Atomic-Scale Friction’, J. Krim, D. Solina and R. Chiarello, PRL, 66, (1991) p. 181-184.”

“I would define nanotribology as the sub-field of tribology involving contact geometries which are well-characterized at atomic length or time scales. These tend to be on the order of nanometers and nanoseconds.”


Secondly, on Friday, January 22, 1999, I received another clarifying definition that I had requested from a contact I found on the internet.

I asked for a simple, easy to understand definition of “nanotribology” and this is what he sent to me:

“Tribology is the science and technology of two surfaces in relative motion which encompasses friction, wear, and lubrication. Nanotribology allows the study of friction and wear processes on nanoscale.”

—Prof. Bharat Bhushan, Ohio Eminent Scholar and The Howard D. Winbigler Professor
and Director, Computer Microtribology and Contamination Laboratory,
Department of Mechanical Engineering, The Ohio State University Columbus, Ohio

Now you know what nanotribology means, don’t you? If you want to know more about nanotribology, here are excerpts of other definitions; but be WARNED that if they are too confusing or of no interest to you, you may scroll down to the area where other tribo- words are presented. Don’t give up before you see the rest of the list, please.

Micro/nanotribology as a field is concerned with experimental and theoretical investigations of processes ranging from atomic and molecular scales to the microscale, occurring during adhesion, friction, wear, and thin-film lubrication at sliding surfaces.

This involves determination of the chemical, physical and mechanical properties of the surfaces undergoing relative motion at length scales of the order of nanometers. Interaction between rubbing surfaces occurs at asperities [roughness of surfaces] at which the local pressure and temperatures can be very high.

These conditions can lead to formation of tribochemical films with the unusual properties necessary for efficient wear protection. The nanomechanical properties of these films are being investigated by interfacial force microscopy (IFM) which is capable of determining the elastic constants and anelastic behavior of the films in boundary layer lubrication.

Proposed nanotribology experiments for the Triboscope include studying the effect of different contact areas, scan directions and crystallographic orientations on both lubricated and unlubricated surfaces.

Tribology is the study of friction, lubrication and wear. Nanotribology is roughly defined as the study of these same phenomena down to the nN and nanometer force and length scales.

I hope I haven’t lost you in the sea of obfuscation (confusion, obscurity, or bewilderment) because there are other interesting words to learn. Here are additional examples that are derived from tribo-:

  • triboelectric, an electrical charge produced by friction between two objects; such as, rubbing silk on a glass surface.
  • triboelectricity, in physics, electrical charges produced by friction between two surfaces; static electricity.
  • Frictional electricity … was supposedly known to the ancient Greeks, particularly Thales of Miletus, who observed about 600 B.C. that when amber was rubbed, it would attract small bits of matter. The term “frictional electricity” gave way to “triboelectricity,” although since “tribo” means “to rub,” the newer term does little to change the concept.

    —A.D. Moore (as seen in The American Heritage Dictionary of Science
    by Robert K. Barnhart; Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston; 1986).

  • tribofluorescence, triboflurescent; to give off light as a result of friction.
  • tribologist, a specialist in the science of tribology.
  • tribology, tribological, the science of the mechanisms of friction, lubrication, and wear of interacting surfaces that are in relative motion.
  • triboluminescence, the quality of emitting light under friction or violent mechanical pressure.
  • triboluminescent, exhibiting triboluminescence.
  • tribophosphorescence, tribophosphorescent; to produce light by friction.
  • tribothermoluminescence, thermoluminescence [luminescence resulting from exposure to high temperature] produced in a material as a result of friction.
  • tribometer, an instrument for estimating sliding friction.
  • tribophysics, the physical properties or phenomena associated with friction.
  • tribophosphoroscope, an instrument for examining triboluminescence.
  • tribulation, originally from Greek; then through Latin, “to press; affliction”; distress, great trial, or affliction.

“The Roman tribulum was a sledge consisting of a wooden block studded with sharp pieces of flint or iron teeth. It was used to bring force and pressure against wheat in grinding out grain.

The machine suggested the way trouble grinds people down and oppresses them, tribulations becoming another word for troubles and afflictions. The word is first recorded in English in 1330.”.

—From the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins
by Robert Hendrickson; Facts On File, Inc., New York; 1997.

The Romans ground out their corn [make that grain-J.R.] with a heavy roller, mentioned in Vergil’s Georgics among agricultural instruments: the tribulum, diminutive noun, from tritere, trit —, to rub, from Greek tribein, to rub. Being ground under and pressed out made an excellent metaphor to express the trials and tribulations of the early Christians.

Dictionary of Word Origins by Joseph T. Shipley.

“To know the origin of words is to know how men think, how they have fashioned their civilization. Word history traces the path of human fellowship, the bridges from mind to mind, from nation to nation.

“Some of the words in our language can be traced to a remote past; some have histories that begin but yesterday. Many are members of large families, with intertwining legend and history. Slow change, swift new coinage of science or slang, ancient or recent borrowing from many tongues: together they give flexibility, power, and beauty to English, the richest and most widespread language of all time.”

— Joseph T. Shipley, from the Preface of his Dictionary of Word Origins.
“Lawyer Idiocy” as Demonstrated by Some of Them

On November 8, 1998, there was an article in “Dear Ann Landers” titled, “Lawyer-bashing: Sometimes wounds are self-inflicted.”

The Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyers Journal printed the following questions actually asked of witnesses by lawyers during a trial. The responses to some of the questions were given by insightful witnesses. This is not a put-on. It’s for real. —Ronita in Center Line, Michigan”

  • Question: Now, doctor, isn’t it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn’t know about it until the next morning?
  • Question: The youngest son, the twenty-year-old, how old is he?
  • Question: Were you present when your picture was taken?
  • Question: Was it you or your younger brother who was killed in the war?
  • Question: Did he kill you?
  • Question: How far apart were the vehicles at the time of the collision?
  • Question: You were there until the time you left, is that true?
  • Question: She had three children, right?

    Answer: Yes.

    Question: How many were boys?

    Answer: None.

    Question: How many were girls?

  • Question: You say the stairs went down to the basement?

    Answer: Yes.

    Question: And these stairs, did they go up, also?

  • Question: How was your first marriage terminated?

    Answer: By death.

    Question: And by whose death was it terminated?

  • Question: Can you describe the individual?

    Answer: He was about medium height and had a beard.

    Question: Was this a male or a female?

  • Question: Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition notice that I sent to your attorney?

    Answer: No, this is how I dress when I go to work.

  • Question: Doctor, how many autopsies have you performed on dead people?

    Answer: All my autopsies are performed on dead people.

  • Question: All your responses must be oral. OK? What school did you go to?

    Answer: Oral.

  • Question: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?

    Answer: The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m.

    Question: And Mr. Dennington was dead at the time?

    Answer: No, he was sitting on the table wondering why I was doing an autopsy.

  • Question: Mr. Slatery, you went on a rather elaborate honeymoon, didn't you?

    Answer: I went to Europe, sir.

    Question: And you took your new wife?

  • Question: So the date of conception was August 8th?>

    Answer: Yes.

    Question: And what were you doing at the time?

  • Question: Are you qualified to give a urine sample?

    Answer: I have been since early childhood.

  • Question: You were not shot in the fracas?

    Answer: No, I was shot midway between the fracas and the navel.

Oh, well! That's the way it goes sometimes.

Results of Previous "Mnemonic devices can guarantee greater accuracy in spelling English words.

First, the results of the principal/principle survey

The spelling of many English words are confusing even to those whose first language is English.

There were 45 per cent of the subscribers on the Focusing on Words Newsletter list who responded to the survey.

  • 1. The (principal/principle) reason for this discussion is to improve one’s spelling skills.

    Of those responding, 68 per cent chose the right answer (principal).

  • 2. All of us should live by certain moral (principals/principles).

    Ninety-nine per cent chose the right answer (principles) in number two.

  • 3. The (principal/principle) character in the play is ill.

    In number three, eighty-two per cent chose the right answer (principal).

  • 4. His political (principals/principles) are less than acceptable.

    In number four, ninety-seven per cent chose the right answer (principles).

  • 5. As a matter of (principal/principle), he refused to borrow money from anyone.

    In number five, ninety-seven per cent chose the right answer (principle).

  • 6. The (principal/principle) invested in that project was $100,000.

    Of those participating, eighty-five per cent made the correct choice of (principal) in number six.

  • 7. We must instill into the minds of our youth (principals/principles) of honesty and morality.

    Ninety-seven per cent of participants indicated the right answer (principles) in the last number.

A few words about the use of mnemonic devices that make it easier to remember how to spell certain words correctly.

Although many subscribers had different mnemonic devices for determining which principal/principle to use in a sentence, the best mnemonics to use seem to be “main” for principal and “rule” for principle.

Note the relationship of the “a” in main and principal and the “le” in rule and principle. Always make these relationships and you will always use them correctly.

Mnemonic [nee MAH nik], as in mnemonic device, comes from the Greek element that means, “memory” or “to remember” and refers to a technique that facilitates making the right choices for words that are otherwise confusing.

Whenever you want to make sure you have chosen the correct principal/principle, substitute the words main and rule in place of one or the other principal/principle, to see if it makes sense and when it does; it is certain that you have the right choice. For example, in number one, you could say, “The rule reason for this discussion ....” or say, “The main reason for this discussion ....” and you would logically have to choose main or “principal” because the other choice simply doesn’t make any sense.

So many people have used the mnemonic device of saying, “You spell the principal of the school with pal because he/she is your pal” or something similar to that. I strongly urge that you NOT use this mnemonic because it can be very misleading. It tends to make people think that the use of pal is used only with that particular principal. It is far better to say that the principal of the school is spelled with pal because he/she is the MAIN administrator, teacher, or educator of the school.

Did you notice the erratum in sentence number seven of the survey. Mea culpa. I used “install” instead of “instill into the minds ....”

Congratulations to nine subscribers (out of the 412 who participated) who saw and told me about this error (erratum). If there had been more than one erratum, then I would have had to confess to errata.

Thank you, if you were one of those who contributed to the survey. It was amazing to see that MOST of the participants made no errata in their submissions. I apparently have a VERY knowledgeable list of subscribers!

See this Focusing on Words Newsletters Index for other newsletters.