Doo-Dah Chemistry

I found this anecdote by William Tuning in a 1981 collection of science fiction stories edited by Isaac Asimov. I take it to be a true story.

Several years ago there was a great deal of talk about what was thought to be a new molecular form of water — a long-chain molecule of H2O which had silicates present in it and, it was theorized, formed directly from gases and solid components in crevices of quartz rocks.

This material was called polywater, and it excited a great deal of scientific inquiry at the time. The interest in polywater was, of course, involved with what was thought to be the peculiar nature of its formation and some odd properties which it seemed to possess.

Needless to say, a number of research laboratories were conducting quite a bunch of experiments–hoping for some kind of polywater breakthrough.

It was during this period that I had occasion to visit a chemist friend who was in charge of some of these polywater experiments in his laboratory. He went on at some length to enthusiastically explain all the benchwork in progress under his supervision.

Since I have no knowledge of science, I was not greatly interested in the conversation and I soon grew bored. As a polite means of getting shut of all this talk about polywater, I suggested that we might adjourn to a local water-hole for some lunch.

My friend expressed his regrets, explaining that he could not leave the lab unattended, since he had to monitor all these tom-fool experiments that were in progress.

“So you can’t go to lunch,” I said.
“That’s right,” he replied. “I’m on polywater duty all the day.”

Unauthorized Twinkle

As  I was pronouncing on the awfulness of dessert to the kids at the dinner table, David was getting huffy.

Says Valerie: “David, I can see a twinkle in his eye from here.”

David says, “I can’t see it.”

And  I say, “You ain’t looking close enough.”

So David got right up in my face and looked deep into my eyes.  I crossed them.

“I see it,” he said.  “And it’s not supposed to be there.”


It’s what I do best:

It’s really disconcerting for me when I say something funny and people actually laugh. It feels like I’m being singled out and made much of for just speaking my mind. In my family growing up, ironic wit was just how people talked. It feels really bald and unguarded to say something straight out, so that’s something I would normally only reserve for lecturing or careful argument. Normal conversation is made gentle by layered meaning and ironic inversion.

So, growing up, if you said something terribly clever, you might get a nice chuckle. Scaling down from there, the next level might be a funny face. Otherwise, pleasant conversation consists entirely of wit, irony, and anecdote, sprinkled liberally with quick analytical jabs. Poor shots, of course, merit an eye roll. And then we go on.