We know that science means knowledge and that a scientist is someone who pursues knowledge, but what about the individual disciplines within science? Even they must play by the rules of scientific language.
To understand its meaning, we must break the word down into its constituent parts: bio and –lology. Bio comes from the Greek word ‘bios‘, meaning life and –lology comes from the Greek word ‘logia‘ meaning theory or study. In other words, biology means the study of life. The term was coined by the German naturalist Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus in 1802 and was introduced into the scientific lexicon later that year by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.
By itself, that is a very general description. However, prefixes can make the scope more specific. For example, paleobiology (paleo comes from the Greek word ‘palaio‘ meaning ancient or prehistoric) refers to the study of prehistoric life. Microbiology (micro comes from the Greek word ‘mikros‘ meaning small) refers to the study of microscopic life.
Again, by breaking down this word, we can more easily understand its meaning. Geo comes from the Greek word ‘geo‘ meaning earth and, just like in the word biology, –lology means theory or study. Therefore, geology is the study of the earth.
Breaking this word into its constituent parts, we are left with chemist and –ry. Chemist comes from the Greek word ‘khymeia‘ which refers to alchemy and –ry comes from the Latin root ‘-arius‘, meaning ‘the art of’. In other words, chemistry means ‘the art of alchemy’. Chemicals, an important part of chemistry, comes from the same root. Chemistry began to refer to science and not alchemy in 1788.
For once, it is unnecessary to break down the word. Physics comes from the Greek word ‘physika’ meaning the natural things. Physics is the study of the natural world. At first, this can seem very much like biology (the study of life), but life is only a small part of the natural world.
Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, used the term ‘anthropologos’ to mean ‘speaking of man’. Breaking down the word, anthropo comes from the Greek word ‘anthropos‘ meaning human, and –lology means theory or study. Anthropology, therefore, is the study of humans. Paleoanthropology narrows the scope to the study of ancient humans.
Now that we understand the basics of science, we will be able to delve into more complex topics.
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