I’m stopping. This is not a post about Dress Barn, but it is about the word barn in an unusual context — a context that just happens to be my word of the week.
barn (bärn) — noun: 1. a large farm building used for storing farm products and sheltering livestock. 2. a large shed for the housing of vehicles, such as railroad cars. 3. a unit of area equal to 10-24 square centimeters, used to measure cross sections in nuclear physics.Guess which of these American Heritage Dictionary definitions I think is the most interesting?
Yes, barn has a scientific use: describing an extremely small amount of surface area. In fact, 10-24 square centimeters is roughly the area of the cross section of a uranium nucleus. How did this scientific barn come to be, and why is it grouped with the “farmhouse” definitions as opposed to being listed as a separate barn, since it couldn’t possibly share an etymology with regular definition of the word?
The terms are, in fact, related, and in a lighthearted way I wouldn’t associate with men who split atoms. According to the physics journal Symmetry, the name arose in 1942, when Purdue University physicists Marshall Halloway and Charles Baker took a moment away from the Manhattan Project to eat dinner and bat around potential names for the cross section measuring 10-24 square centimeters. On the subatomic level, this expanse is actually quite large, or “as big as a barn,” so barn and whimsy won out as the term and the mood, respectively. The name stuck, and today this common word barn — which, by the way, comes from a the Old English bereærn, literally “barley house” — gets paired with all the metric system prefixes denoting various sizes, from megabarn (10-18 square centimeters) down to the far more interesting micromeasurements of attobarn (10-46 square centimeters), zeptobarn (10-49 square centimeters) and yoctobarn (10-52 square centimeters). But here’s the especially quaint footnote to all this atypically folksy barn business: Though rarely used, a special term exists for the yoctobarn measurement. It’s shed, and no, I’m not kidding. And in case you’re ever describing an area of 10-34 square centimeters and you don’t feel like using the standard terminology, microbarn, you can always go with the synonym outhouse. No, really.
|vintage barn (weiser, idaho), via|
Previous words of the week after the jump.
- acné excoriée des jeunes filles, adulterine, ageusia, ambeer, anosmia
- barrack, beeturia, bissextile, bloofer, breastsummer, brinicle
- catholicon, cecaelia, cephalophore, cherpumple, chilver, chyron, cockernonnie, collywobbles, coprolalia, couvade, cranberry morpheme, crwth, culaccino, cummingtonite
- darkle, deasil, decussate, deuteragonist, dingbat, dingle
- eidolon, epeolatry, epopt, espalier, etui, exoterica
- fabiform, Feghoot, fissilingual, Föhnkrankheit, folderol, freekeh, froward
- gallinipper, gnaborretni, grandgore, grue, guilloche, gyaru
- hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, hobson-jobson, hogo, honorificabilitudinitatibus, hoyden
- ignivomous, iracund, isabelline, itaiitai, izod, izzard
- jabroni, jamais vu, jehu, jumentous
- kaffir, kakopygian, kayfabe, knipperdollin
- lagniappe, leman, lemniscate, limnovore, linsey-woolsey, longicorn
- malacia, malison, maroon, milt, mongo, mooncalf, morepork, muzjiks
- narrenfreiheit, nef, nihilartikel, nobiliary particle, nosism
- ochanee, ogonek, ombré, ooglification, orchidectomy, ordured, orf, osculate
- pace, padiddle, paraprosdokian, pareidolia, pavonated, perendiate, perigee, petrichor, pettifogger, pettitoes, phlegmagogue, pismire, pixilated, pogonip, pong, pruniferous, puggle, pulveratricious, purse
- quacksalver, quagga, qualtagh, quidnunc, quiff
- ronion, roynish, rubirosa, rumpsprung, runcible
- salmagundi, scrutator, seneschal, sharrow, shebang, sinople, slampadato, slubberdegullion, stan, stevedore, suovetaurilia
- tappen, tatterdemalion, teratogenesis, tergiversate, tetromino, thagomizer, thon, tiffin, tittery-whoppet, tmesis, toby, tutoyer, tyro
- ucalegon, ultramontane, umiaq, umquhile
- veneficial, verdigris, vespertilionine, vinegeroon
- weeaboo, widdiful, williwaw, witzelsucht, wooper looper
- xenodocheionology, xyster
- yazoo, ypsiliform, yoink
- zanjero, zenzizenzizenzic, zinnober, zugzwang