Facts So Romantic

How to Talk Like a Physicist

Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, who probably is the smartest person on her block, has fun in her latest video skewering the scientific braggart.Photograph by Francisco De Legarreta C. / Unsplash

The other night I was out on our street with the neighbors for a socially distanced hang. My two-year-old daughter, mistaking the only street light on the road for the moon, pointed at it saying, “Moooon.” I think she knows that, when it’s full, with a clear sky, the Earth’s lone satellite can appear impressively bright. I crouched down next to her, directing her gaze toward the actual moon which, though not as luminous as the nearby light, had a brilliant shine. “That’s the moon,” I said. “Moooon,” she repeated.

Not long ago I interviewed Sarah Stewart, a MacArthur “genius” grantee, who “reinvented the moon.” Feeling emboldened, I gave my neighbors the gist of Stewart’s findings—that, after a giant impact on the proto-Earth, it became what Stewart calls a “synestia,” a Greek-derived word meaning a connected structure. This produced some magma rain which accreted into the moon. They nodded, seemingly impressed. I gave them the “Aw, shucks” look, “Hey, it was nothing.” Who doesn’t like to sound like the smartest person on the block?

Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, who probably is the smartest person on her block, has fun in her latest video skewering the scientific braggart. And her target is her own profession. Lately, Hossenfelder, author of Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, and a Nautilus contributor, has been producing a series of informative and entertaining videos on key concepts in science. Her titles include “Warp Drive News: Seriously!,” “Are Singularities Real?” and “All You Need to Know About 5G.” 

Her latest, “How to Speak Like a Physicist,” offers 10 examples. As she explains, “Today I will tell you how to be just as annoying as a real physicist. And the easiest way to do that is to insist correcting people when it really doesn’t matter.”

Brian Gallagher is an associate editor at Nautilus. Follow him on Twitter @bsgallagher.

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