Up-Goer Five – a brilliant, and often hilarious, lesson in precise description

Copyright: www.xkcd.comMy latest discovery, via Twitter, that wonderful source of mind food, is the splendid Mental Floss. It’s stuffed with amazing, informative and fascinating facts and articles. Among them these delightful examples of up-goer five speak. What on God’s good earth is up-goer five speak? I’ll explain. Up-goer five speak was inspired by Randall Munroe of the webcomic xkcd, who published a description of the Saturn V rocket using only the 1,000 most frequently used words in the English Language. Thus restricted, the rocket was called ‘up-goer five’. This  prompted Theo Anderson, a geneticist, who believes science should be accessible, to create a text editor that would force the user to write using only those 1,000 words. In their turn, two geologists, Anne Jefferson and Chris Rowan, created the Tumblr Ten Hundred Words of Science’, a collection of scientific texts that had been turned into up-goer five speak. The Mental Floss site has 18 examples from 18 different fields. I’ve taken some more from the Tumblr site as well. There’s only room here for a few, but I urge you to explore both sites and read them all. Especially the original ‘Up-Goer Five’. Incidentally, if you are a writer, a copywriter or need to write texts of whatever nature, this is a valuable exercise. Not specifically in précis or summary, though it’s that too. It’s primarily an exercise in clarity and precision. And in my opinion the world needs as much clarity and precision as it can get.

©Theo Sanderson

©Theo Sanderson

Olfactory Biology “I watch boy flies try to do it with girl flies to see if they really like to do it, or they like boys flies more. This happens when they can’t smell something the girl flies have that makes them want to do it with girl flies or something the boy flies have that makes them not want to do it with boy flies.” Jennifer Wang, research technician in a lab studying fruit fly olfactory behavior  

Web Development “Computers are used to share pictures, words, and movies (usually of cats) with other computers. The computers need to show the cats on boxes with tiny lights in them, but don’t know how. People like me tell the computer many words so that it knows how to change the tiny lights to look like a cat. We try to make the lights change very fast so that you don’t have to wait for your cats. Some days the lights are all wrong, and we have to tell the computer more words to make them look like cats again.” Brandon Jones, Google Chrome GPU Team

Political Economy “I try to see if bad people with power let bad people in business do bad things for easy money. Also I try to see if this hurts good people and their money.” Warren Durrett, political economist

Biological Anthropology “I study old human stuff. We look at the old stuff to see when and where humans came from and why we look and act so funny instead of acting like other animals.” Meagan Sobel, Biological Anthropology student

Circadian Rhythm Biology “Little flying animals can tell time of day. Little flying animals can tell time of year. It’s all in their heads.” Bora Zivkovic

Robotic Surgery “When people get sick they are fixed by doctors. Sometimes this is hard because doctors need to get into your body using small things moved by computers. I study how to make this better for the sick person so that everything is safer. Lorenzo Grespan. Studying patient safety in robotic surgery

Computer Simulation “Some people learn by trying things out. Some people learn by thinking very hard. I make a world inside a computer the way people think the world works, and then try things out, to see if we are thinking right.”Lots of scientists still don’t understand the value of this. Matthew Hoyles.

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