Saturday, June 25, 2011

Two meanings of the word chemistry, with different connotations

Chemistry as a noun has two completely distinct meanings in every day life:
  • A good social relationship: 
 "It was visible that there was chemistry between those two people"
  • Something related to a compound that is supposedly bad for people or the environment. "Chemical" is often used as synomymous with poisonous:  
"A chemical leaked from the container into the sea, endangering the fish"
    How come these two meanings of the same word have such extremely different connotations? After all, the scientific word chemistry represents any kind of reaction between two compounds and does not have any positive nor negative meaning in itself. Water is a chemical. Life is chemistry.

    As a chemist, I wish I could change the negative connotation of molecular chemistry in the news. But if I really do not succeed, maybe I can influence the social meaning of chemistry to make things consistent:
    "There was chemistry between those two! When they first met, she tried to poison him. As soon as he recovered he exploded in anger."

     Somehow I feel this would not be as satisfying.

    [image credit: Nic McPhee on flickr]


    1. Reminds me of Dave Gorman quote: "spent time and diagrams convincing pub quiz master that chemical most common in swimming pools is water, not chlorine".

    2. @Coops, didn't know that one ;-) I would indeed also become defensive, likely only annoying the pub quiz master....