Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Higgs Boson, and other strange names.

A week or so ago, scientists discovered the Higgs Boson. I don't have a picture of it - don't even know what it looks like. I think it's something like this: . only much, much smaller.

No, I don't have the faintest idea what it is. Brian Cox has tried to describe it, but even his smile and reassuring excitement is not enough. I know only that it's important in some way, and future generations will celebrate its discovery. (Professor Jim Al-Khalili does his best to explain it here.)

But I can't get past the name. Higgs Boson sounds, to me, like a character from Dickens. He belongs between leather covers with gold writing on the front. He is a faded sailor, with drinker's nose and a slight stagger when he walks on land. He is a kindly but ineffectual man, who offers sanctuary for a young hero without asking his harridan of a wife - Brunhilde Boson, who has a thick ankles and throws stones at cats.

And now someone tells me it is some sort of particle! What's more it is a tiny particle - and so surely it should have a tiny name. Atoms - they are small, and atom is a small word. So we need an even smaller word than atom - a word like 'miu' or even a 'tom' (since it's part of an atom).

Do names matter? Of course they do - can you see Oliver Twist renames Kevin Ogilvy? Jane Eyre as Esmerelda Pinkington-Smythe? Mr Darcy as Jason Brown?

So, do you think the scientists should rename the Higgs Boson - not to make it comprehensible, but simply to illustrate that it is a very small thing? And, if so, what should it be called?

And what is the name of the waif that ex-Captain Boson takes in, in spite of his Dickensian wife?


  1. Janet Reid did a post :
    in which she links to a client of hers, Gary Corby, who explains it very, very clearly. His explanation was kind of cool, and there is a Professor Higgs, though not sure who his boson is.

  2. Trudy - thank you very much for that link. Tomorrow I shall sit down without wine and try to make sense of it!

  3. Most people have been calling it the Higgs and as a syllable I am not sure you can get much smaller. Iggs, Ig perhaps. Besides, Higgs is its name and Boson is just what it is.

  4. Mark - I like Ig, though it sounds like something from Lord of the Rings.

    If Boson is what it is, maybe I'm asking the wrong question. (So - what is a boson?)

  5. Brian Cox can explain any manner of obscure words to me and I'll listen avidly. I won't understand a word but I'll be very happy. I love listening to him on that Monkey Cage programme on Radio 4. Anyway, I thought we were all going to implode when they smashed the particles to find the Boson but we're still here... I think.

  6. Oh Ros - I know exactly what you mean about Brian Cox - I don't understand a word but his very enthusiasm cheers me up. And I think we're still here - though maybe we should blame the boson for the weather?