Whatever they split at Los Alamos, it definitely wasn’t an “atom”:

atom (n.) Look up atom at Dictionary.com
late 15c., as a hypothetical indivisible body, the building block of the universe, from Latin atomus (especially in Lucretius) “indivisible particle,” from Greek atomos “uncut, unhewn; indivisible,” from a- “not” + tomos “a cutting,” from temnein “to cut” (see tome). An ancient term of philosophical speculation (in Leucippus, Democritus), revived 1805 by British chemist John Dalton. In late classical and medieval use also a unit of time, 22,560 to the hour. Atom bomb is from 1945 as both a noun and a verb; compare atomic.


Of course, defenders of the modern (mis)use of the term “atom” will point to the notion of “semantic change” — essentially, the Alice in Wonderland (Orwellian?)  notion that if a large enough group (mis)uses a specific word in a specific way, that trumps etymology/whatever context the term was initially ‘stolen” from, etc.

This has always bothered me: the notion of (mis)using terms to refer to what is essentially an antonym (the self-evident absurdity of “splitting” the “un-splittable”, etc.)

Don’t misunderstand me:  I get why this happens: people (mis)use words in whichever way they were initially indoctrinated to (mis)use them.  Thus, we get the “periodical table of elements” (ignoring the fact that the notion of “elements” was originated to refer to four specific — well, you can’t even call them “substances”.  Earth/air/Fire/Water — which modern physics classify as follows:

“Earth” is essentially a “catch-all” term for any number of geological -related stuff: rocks/dirt, etc.

“Air” is a “mxture”

Water is a “compound”.

Fire is a “chemical reaction”

I bring this up because it is directly related to my earlier post about how people in “religious” discussions failing to explicitly define their terms at the outset.

Now, I understand that such notions as “splitting the atom” and talking about the “Sub-atomic” etc. are entrenched to the point where the only thing that would change current practice would the the onset of a future dark-age.  I get it.

I just can’t help wondering why the (mis)use of the term “atom” to refer to something which is neither “indivisible” NOR even “elementary” (in Democritus’ sense of the term) doesn’t bother physicists.



One thought on “Whatever they split at Los Alamos, it definitely wasn’t an “atom”:

  1. I would have thought that when Democritus used the word atom he did so long before the structure of the atom could have been contemplated. Anyway Rutherford not the scientists at Los Alamos first “split the atom” The reason why it doesn’t bother physicists is because they understand the word atom can be understood at different levels. Similarly protons and neutrons are useful approximations even although we now understand a little more about sub atomic particles.
    I do however agree that religious discussions are bedevilled by hazy definitions. For example although I have read there are something like 900 definitions of God (many of which a typical Christian would not accept as reasonable) yet atheists will happily argue with Christians about the existence of “God” when in all probability they mean entirely different things by “God”. As it happens I think of God as a human construct “God is Love” which of course is only one Biblical definition. Others think of God as a “prime mover”, a heavenly Father, a spirit, a Trinity, a changer of outcomes (when addressed in the right way), a creator, a non existent imaginary judge etc etc Can I be cheeky and suggest you Google my name Bill Peddie and “the God who limps” or “Metaphorically speaking” for a much more detailed comment in answer to your question.

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