- atom (n.)
- 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.