Quote: “Is a human dwarf not a human?” Owen Gingerich, Harvard astronomer and historian, in the Washington Post.
Figure of Speech: diasyrmus (di-a-SYR-mus), the ludicrous comparison. From the Greek, meaning “a ripping apart.”
The world’s astronomers have kicked Pluto out of the planetary pantheon. To qualify as a planet, a body has to be big enough to clear its orbit of smaller objects. Eight big balls in our Solar System can. Pluto can’t.
The astronomers give Pluto’s demotion a positive spin: It will be first in a new class of space stuff called “dwarf planets.” So the former planet, named after the god of the underworld, gets a space underworld of its very own.
The problem is, by the astronomers’ own definition, a dwarf planet is not a planet. Professor Gingerich fingers the absurdity with a diasyrmus, a figure that rips through an opponent’s argument with an absurd comparison.
Clearly, we need to give these parallel objects a name with more, well, gravitas. And Figaro has one! Call this new parallel class of space objects plutarchs, after the Greek philosopher who wrote Parallel Lives.
Don’t thank us. Just name your next new star Figaro.
Snappy Answer: “At least as human as an astronomer.”
Nota Bene: Figaro will be in a different orbit of his own for the next week. He’s walking his son to school, a distance of 110 miles. Meanwhile, you might want to see a few excerpts from his new book. Thanks for reading.