Tiny Animals and Green Things: Describing Our Research with the 1000 Most Common English Words

You may have noticed that, like many science nerds, some of us here on the Baikal Dimensions team are fans of the webcomic xkcd. A few months ago a comic was published that diagrammed and labeled NASA’s Saturn V rocket with only the 1000 most commonly used English words (gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “it’s not rocket science”, doesn’t it?). Today, with the help of this text editor, scientists all over the Twitterverse are trying their hand at explaining complex research topics in simple language.

I decided to give it a shot, and it was hard! I knew “plankton” wouldn’t be in the list of most common words, but it turns out not even “plant” makes the top 1000. For talking about phytoplankton, the best I could do was “tiny green things that are like trees but very very small”. Luckily “animal” is fair game, so I didn’t have to get too creative in trying to find a substitute for “zooplankton”.

Discussing diversity—particularly genetic, functional, and taxonomic diversity—was even harder. Eventually I gave up on this part because the best I could come up with was “different in different ways”. If anyone has other suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

My final text reads as follows:

“We study the small living things in a big body of water in a far-away place. Some of the things we study are tiny animals and some are tiny green things that are like trees but very very small. The water in this place is very cold, but it is getting warmer. We want to know if the things we study can live in warmer water. These little animals and green things are important because without them there would be no food for the many other animals (there are a lot here!) in the water. Also many of the things we study, and many of the other animals in this water, don’t live in any other place in the world.”

This is a fun challenge for anyone, and I highly recommend giving it a shot. If you want more inspiration, check out this great blog post by Anne Jefferson and Chris Rowan, this Storify by @poikiloblastic, or the #upgoerfive hashtag on Twitter.

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5 Responses to Tiny Animals and Green Things: Describing Our Research with the 1000 Most Common English Words

  1. lyampolsky says:

    >big body of water
    ‘lake’ is not among 1000 most common English words?? I can’t believe it.

  2. Kara Woo says:

    I know! Neither is ‘ocean’ or ‘sea’ so I couldn’t compare it to one of those things.

  3. lyampolsky says:

    playing with the editor. It’s funny. ‘Computer’ is among the 1000 words “you find most often”. And lake isn’t.

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