Trivia

Hard

The Original Term Used To Describe Microorganisms Was?

Caminalcules
Animalcule
Infusoria
Minutomia
Paramecium aurelia, the best known of all ciliates, viewed through an optical microscope.
Barfooz/Wikimedia

Answer: Animalcule

Today, we have a plethora of names to describe the microscopic world that exists in our water, beneath our feet, and otherwise out of very non-microscope-like sight. For years, scientists with high power magnification at their fingertips have identified and labeled tens of thousands of microscopic creatures. The catalogs of microbiology are flush with Actinophrys, Noctiluca scintillans, Paramecium, and all manner of tiny creatures.

But it wasn’t always so. Today, we have highly specialized names for the highly specialized creatures, but once upon a time when the universe of microscopic creatures was scarcely understood, they were referred to by a simpler and more encompassing term: animalcules. The term, derived from the Latin “animal” and appended with the diminutive suffix “culum” is, in our opinion, the perfect word to describe microorganisms since it means, quite literally, “little animals”.

Later, as the science of microbiology grew, the term “animalcule” fell by the wayside and was replaced with more specific and descriptive terms for each class and individual type of microorganism—which is why the news reports speak of E. coli outbreaks and not a public struck down by animalcules.

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