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shmoo

noun;
the shape of a polarized cell during mating, a cell of this shape This description of a biological process of yeast cells comes from a popular cartoon character of the late 1940s/early 1950s. Al Capp invented this character as a part of his comic strip, Lil’ Abner. The shape of the cartoon actually very much resembles the shape of the polarized cells mentioned. As far as I can tell, this word is of that rare type that is produced from scratch yet is not sound symbolic. However, there was a semantic change. SHMOO changed from representing a cartoon to describing a cell biology process. The SHMOO was a very popular cartoon character at the time the word was given this new meaning. Within the scientific community, new terms do not only come from parsing together Latin and Greek morphemes. Another way to coin new terms is to name a new object or theory after pieces of popular culture. For instance, a new species of spider was named Calponia harrisonfordi after Harrison Ford. Similarly, the scientist who observed this cell behavior felt the cartoon appropriately described the shape of the observed cells.
 
The polarized cells are called shmoos.
Etymology : invented word
Source : Cell biology textbook
Last modified: 10 June 2008


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