What’s in a name?

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Let’s have a game.

Can you invent a word for light? Think of an original word that can best describe the thing which we now call “light”.

This is not new by the way, as scientists have been coining words left and right for newly discovered “things.” Take for example the word “photon.”  Of course we define photon as just light quantum. But did you know that the term “photon” predates the meaning of photon we know now?

According to science historian Helge Kragh [1], the photon was first used as a unit for the illumination of the retina. In 1916, American physicists and psychologist L. T. Troland used the term in his studies. It never gained traction but troland the unit is still being used in physiological optics today (1 troland = 0.000001 candela).

The next use of photon is by Irish physicist John Joly, professor of geology and mineralogy at Trinity College, Dublin. He defined it as the unit of light stimulus or sensation. Similar to Troland´s, it never became popular.

Fast forward to 1926, G.N. Lewis, a chemist known for covalent bonds and the concept of electron pairs coined the term “photon” but is conceptually different from Einstein´s light quantum. Lewis´s idea is “that instead of the light quantum one should consider “a new kind of atom” or what he called a “photon” as the carrier of light” which he wrote in the journal Nature.

But it was A. Compton in his Nobel lecture, who used the word “photon” which he got from Lewis, as an equivalent word to the “light quantum.” He introduced the word in popular science literature such as in Scientific American. Austrian physicist Arthur Erich Haas of the University of Vienna may have been the first book author to use photon as a substitute for light quantum.

The Photonics Research Laboratory as part of its celebration of the International Year of Light, asks, “Can you invent another name for light?” The word must be original and must evoke the sense of what light is; be it the emotions that we got from the word light, to the several uses of it or how light is reflected in one’s cosmology.

Here is what 3 of our members have made:

We start with Tor. Tor’s words are “Blight and Dlight” which dichotomize the nature of light. In this phrase, Tor portrayed light having bright and dark sides. “Simple but sounds poetic,” said Mr. Bareza.

Nina coined Selflux. “Selflux” is a fusion of the English word “self” and the Latin word “lux” meaning light. Words for light can mean something profound. As Nina said, “For the world to be a better place, shine your own light.”


And lastly, “Elyhor” is a combination of Hebrew terms “El” for God and “yehi ‘or” meaning “let there be light”. A word for light may reflect one’s cosmology. Rommil also managed to include pun in his word for the Internation-elyhor of Light.


How about you? Do you want to join our game? Send an email or video of your new word for light to nhermosa@nip.upd.edu.ph and we might give you a surprise gift if we like your entry.

[1] Kragh, H (2014). Photon: New light on an old name Arxiv.org : eprint arXiv:1401.0293