Beam me up – lab words in different countries
After 6.5 years in Canadaland, I forgot that I learned some new words while here. Not many – about 2 per year – and most of them Canadian or otherwise local expressions that English-speaking folks from other parts of the world might not know, such as tuque or Zamboni. The expression “pencil crayon” that I used in a previous entry was also Canadian. I didn’t even realize that. I’m just absorbing words here and there.
I also had to relearn a few lab words when I moved, because Dutch lab-English is not the same as lab-English in other places. I learned “erlenmeyer” for “(erlenmeyer) flask” and “eppie” (as anglification of “epje”) for “Eppendorf tube”.
These little buggers have a different name according to every single person I’ve asked, in five different countries and even more labs:
My most recent lab had no name for them. When I needed one (because mine were always lost) I had to walk around with a glass pipette, making pipetting gestures while asking for the “rubber thingie for the glass pipette” to express what I needed. Bulb, balloon, pear, rubber thing, or a range of made-up words (I learned “fiepje” in Amsterdam, but a Google image search for the word only brings up people’s pets) all for this little thing.
And then there’s the matter of the projector, of course…
Two friends from Holland recently moved to Canada, and brought up something I had completely forgotten: “It’s so weird that it’s not called a beamer.”
(photo by libraryman)
Beamer! I hadn’t heard that word in ages, but that is also what I called a projector when I arrived, and so did the fresh-from-Zürich Croatian postdoc who started a few months later. But nobody else did. “Why do you call the projector a beamer?” my supervisor asked. That’s…what it’s called? It’s an English word! Like “computer” and “laptop”, “beamer” was just one of those English computer words that are used everywhere, right? Wrong. Apparently, a projector is only called a beamer in Dutch and German. It’s tricky, because it’s an English word, spelled and pronounced the English way.
“Beamer” for a projector is not English, as most of you knew well before me. It’s pseudo-English, and there is a whole list of these words on Wikipedia. Words like this are hard to unlearn when switching to English, because you automatically assume they are English. “Sheets” for overhead transparencies is also on the list of Dutch pseudo-English words. To give a presentation, you either need “sheets” for the “overhead projector”, or “powerpoint” for the “laptop” and the “beamer”. See how much English is in there? It’s very confusing that some of those words are not English after all!
Where does the word “beamer” come from? I have no clue.
I just deal with knowing different words for the same thing. Much like how, in the lab, I wrote “glucose” on the jar labeled “dextrose”, filed the IGEPAL bottle under the “N” for NP-40, and was somewhat confused in undergrad physiology when the textbook kept saying “epinephrine” where I knew it to be “adrenaline”.
It’s enough to make you want to break out the Tylenol/paracetamol.