I’ve been using my large brain to hunt for a word to describe what happens when you have planned a great improvement for mankind and then, out of the blue, that improvement results in mayhem.
“Blindsided” comes close, but it won’t do. Blindsided, while colourful, does not indicate that your misfortune happens due to your own tinkering.
“What happened to cause me to search my vocabulary?” you might ask. Fair enough.
The very clever scientists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York have gotten their mitts on a lot of taxpayers’ money and built a spanking new particle accelerator. During this month they will be testing it, providing us with a thrilling insight into the creation of the universe.
The slight downside is that many well-known scientists are terrified that their Brookhaven colleagues will create a black hole that will suck everything from chickens to cheese into it. At first, the black hole will be tiny, but after a few weeks it will swallow the earth and then the sun, and so on.
I am not kidding about this. The July 1999 issue of Scientific America outlines the fears that world-renowned physicists have concerning what may be an insane experiment. I e-mailed a few notes to Diane Greenberg to voice my concerns:
Brookhaven National Laboratory
Media & Communications
Hi, I’m a writer. Is there any chance that you will destroy the world in a little while? I’m talking about this marvelous idea you have to duplicate the Big Bang. I don’t mind if you destroy the world and our universe; however, if you plan to do it, I’m not going to spend a lot of time repainting our bathroom. My wife has been after me to do this for some months.
Dear Mr. Summers:
Paint the bathroom! We don’t believe any of the disaster scenarios associated with our experiments are plausible. Brookhaven Lab’s director plans to issue a definitive report on this with a couple of weeks. Please check our website for the report at www.bnl.gov.
I thought about what Diane said but I was busy with other things. I was in the midst of a contest in which I promised to give away 100 pounds of M&Ms to the reader who e-mailed copies of my column to the greatest number of friends. The M&Ms plus the end of mankind were on my mind when I sent the following e-mail a few days later:
Dear Diane Greenberg,
Thank you for your cheerful and positive response to my concerns about painting the bathroom prior to the end of the world. Are you certain the world won’t end? Because if it will, then I will offer a prize of a MILLION pounds of M&Ms. Also, which would be sucked into a black hole first – a person or an M&M?
Also, I don’t want to press the point, but is there any danger your scientists have made an error with something as simple as feet and metres?
I am an expert in both and would be happy to check your figures. Of course, I would want to be paid. Do you have any money to pay me to check your arithmetic and other stuff?
Do you know about “casting out nines” to check for mistakes? I would not charge extra to do this.
We’re sure we haven’t made any mathematical mistakes. In any event, unless you are a physicist with a specialized background, I don’t think you would qualify to check on our math. But you might try for an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman.
By the time you read this, the experiments at Brookhaven will be underway. I will continue to write about whimsy and science until both my computer and I are sucked away and compressed to something much smaller than this period.
What vexes me is that I still don’t have the precise word to describe the event when very clever scientists (who may even be extremely apologetic) erase our little universe. About the closest I’ve found is schlimmbesserung, a German word that means “an improvement that makes things worse.”
Flash! How stupid I am. The word that will denote the end of us after science runs amok in New York will, of course, be “Brookhaven.” Lucky I have the larger brain.
I was wrong, Diane was right. But that does not stop the mad scientists from continuing to create a black hole that will eat us alive in nanosecond.
Have a look at this.
And here is is:
Sooner or later we will be able to blow up the earth with our collective tax money. Maybe this time the word that totally blindsides us will be CERNed.
Update 2009 — I’ve been hunting for the right word for ten years to describe what happens. This year I found the phrase. So did the world.
It’s still a phrase. So I’m still looking for the precise word.
Maybe the word is LHC. But that’s still not a word.
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