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February 15, 2010
Volume 88, Number 7
p. 72

Painfully Punny Abstracts

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Autumn DeWilde
Abstract inspiration: Popping underground to find chemical comedy's muse.

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My breaking point came when I read one of Angewandte Chemie International Edition's (ACIE) genius ABSTRACT CAPTION TITLES, "Just another Mannich Monday." I laughed out loud and proceeded to loudly hum the tune by the Bangles, a 1980s pop group, for three days. From here until perpetuity, the lyrics "I can't be late, 'cause then I guess I just won't get paid" will remind me of Mannich-derived, stereoselective, one-pot syntheses of "spirocycles, 1-aminoindanes, and 5,6-fused azabicycles that have a quaternary carbon center."

I'm definitely not the first to grin, groan, or comment about the puns, pop references, and general goofiness ACIE puts into its online abstracts. Bloggers such as Derek Lowe, who writes the pharma-related "In the Pipeline," have also admired ACIE's ability to bring Shakespeare ("Double, double, toil and trouble"), "Star Trek" ("Beam me up"), graffiti culture ("React or get capped and tagged!"), and the disembodied voice from the London Underground ("Mind the gap") into the world of chemistry. The journal has even gotten pretty risqué with its "Metal ménage à trois" and "Balls galore!" abstract captions.


But Mannich Monday followed soon on the heels of the caption "The Write Stuff," which permitted the New Kids On The Block hit to breach my consciousness for the first time in 20 years—a particularly traumatic reminder of the boy-band phenomenon. So much so that I had to meet the evil mastermind behind it all. So, I contacted the friendly folks at ACIE, asking whether I could interview (and then, perhaps, hound) the person responsible for all the journal's quirky little abstract captions.

You can imagine my disappointment when Guy Richardson, an associate editor, broke the news that the journal's doozies, like most of science, aren't the work of a lone genius, but the output of many. According to Richardson, "The majority of these texts are indeed the handiwork of the editors (there are about a dozen Ph.D. chemists who work for ACIE, all of whom are native English speakers), but some very good texts do, in fact, come from the authors, and we are always very grateful to authors who join in the fun."

Yet someone had come up with the Mannich Monday gem, and that someone, I found, is ACIE editor Andrew Kelly. He's only been on staff for a few months "but clearly has a knack for this kind of thing," Richardson notes.

While on the topic of the humor hot spot of Weinheim, Germany, where ACIE's headquarters is located, I've received a few inquiries about whether the German version of the journal has abstracts that are just as punny. The answer, I fear, is no.

Many of the German abstract titles have a nice alliterative ring to them, and there are definitely a few puns (one about ruthenium employs the element's symbol: "Rundum erneuert," which means "completely refurbished" and is possibly droll if you read the article), but no thigh-slapping groaners.

It would be unfair to expect a snappy German translation of "Just another Mannich Monday" because it's in reference to an English pop tune. But the risqué "Metal ménage à trois," which needs no translation, was skipped in favor of "Die Kraft dreier Metalle," meaning "the power of three metals." Ah well.

Fearing that my German skills aren't good enough to catch subtle hilarity, I recruited several German chemists whose sense of humor I hold in high regard. The task force agreed with my general consensus, but we are happy to be challenged by someone who wants to dig deeper into the German archives.

Sarah Everts wrote this week's column. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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