It’s all Greek to me …

I spent Friday in a meeting on the eighth floor of the Natural History Museum’s Darwin Centre and took this photograph out of the window during one of the breaks.  The two towers on the right hand side of the image are the towers you see as you walk up towards the front entrance of the museum.  The diatom herbarium was located in the right hand tower until just a year or so ago.   Just to their left, if you look carefully, you can see the towers of Battersea power station, which graced the cover of Pink Floyd’s Animals back in the 1970s.


The view from the eighth floor of the Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum, January 2014.

I was at the Natural History Museum for a council meeting for the British Phycological Society and, as ever, sat wondering why we persist with such an obscure name.   “Phycology” refers to the study of algae, responsible for about half of global primary productivity and about 75% of Britain’s photosynthetic biodiversity.  Yet most people would probably look befuddled if you asked them what it meant.   Even Google comes back with “did you mean: psychology?” when you type “phycology” into the search engine.

Brian Whitton recalls, in the early days of the society, advocating the term “algology” over “phycology” but being told by an older, more venerable member, that “algology” involved attaching a Latin prefix (“alga”) to a Greek suffix (“-logy”), so the all-Greek ‘phycology’ won the day.   Strange that.   We have lived quite happily with the term “television” for much longer, despite it, too, being a Latin-Greek hybrid.   At least the 400 members of the society know what we mean, even if hardly anyone else does.