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The Secret Diary of Mrs A.

The text contains a number of vocabulary items connected with the theme ‘science’. If you’re not sure about the meaning, place the mouse on the purple dot following the phrase or item.



28th March, Monday evening


Spouse has taken the children to an exhibition on Science at the service of humanity. I’m lying in bed sick with flu. At my bedside is the latest X-raya photograph of a part of the body to see if anything is wrong taken with the use of a beam of electromagnetic radiation of very short wavelength of my lungs – proof that it’s not pneumonia after all. Roentgen’s discovery at the service of one miserable human being. At least I can be sure that no antibiotics are necessary – thank you science and thank you Mr Fleming, there’s no need to use your services this time. Some hot lemon tea should help.


What a good idea Spouse had to take the kids out of home. Some peace and quiet, eventually! Maybe I’ll even manage to collect my thoughts and think up a vocabulary test for class IIIc. So my kids have gone to a science exhibition. Hmm ... When I was their age I had to learn science the hard way. My big brother tried to teach me.


Once he demonstrated the law of gravitythe force that causes something to fall or to be attracted to another planet; the law states that every object attracts every other object with a force directly proportional to the product of the masses of the objects and inversely as the square of the distance between them and the rules of movement on the inclined planea  completely flat surface sloping or leaning in particular direction using a dismantled kitchen cupboard and six glasses (the whole set). Result: three stitches on my left knee and no pocket money for a month.


On another occasion we wanted to work out the penduluma rod with a weight at the bottom that swings regularly from side to side to control the working of a clock secret. The problem was that it was much easier to take apart the grandfather clock than assemble it in one piece again. Result: no dessert for two weeks and cotton pyjamas for my birthday instead of a pair of figure skates.


Then we tried to establish the true meaning of the phrase precious metalsrare and valuable metals such as gold or silver. Granny’s set of silver teaspoons, Uncle Robert’s family signet ring and Dad’s gold cuff links didn’t fetch much at the scrap yard – just enough to get three comic books. Result: home internment for a month.


On the rare occasion of a visit to our great uncle (my bro was ten and I was eight) we checked the validity of the law of connected vesselscontainers, joined together, used for holding liquids by drawing off some home made elderberry wine, which we’d found in the cellar. Result: painful familiarity with the terms ‘hangover’ and ‘getting a good hiding’.


But what really infuriated the parents was my big bro’s attempt at explaining why mercurya heavy silver white metal that is liquid at ordinary temperatures and is used in thermometers is also called quicksilvera heavy silver white metal that is liquid at ordinary temperatures and is used in thermometers. We took two thermometers (Mum’s and Granny’s) and having deftly separated the broken glass, played with the little silver drops that were running one after another in the salad bowl. Result: two days in hospital undergoing tests.


My big bro and I – we certainly were a pair! By the time I was 14, I had compiled my inventory of the 10 golden rules of science:


1.       An electric circuitthe complete circle that an electric current travels must be closed before a currenta flow of electricity; the rate of flow of electric charge can flow. (You just take a 4,5 Volta unit of electromotive force for measuring the force of an electric current batterya number of electric cells joined together to give a bigger force and connect the positivehaving the type of electrical charge that is carried by protons and negative poleshaving the type of electrical charge that is carried by electrons with your tongue - guaranteed to give you a mild but not unpleasant electric shocka sudden shock to your body caused by electricity.)

2.       A floating body displaces a volumethe amount of space that an object or substance fills, expressed in cubic meters, etc. of liquid whose weight is equal to its own. Eureka! Eureka! Or Archimedes Principlethe principle of an equilibrium between a floating body and the hydrostatic pressure of the liquid in which it floats. The principle states that when a body is partially or totally immersed in a liquid, its apparent loss of weight is equal to the weight of liquid displaced: i.e. the body experiences an upthrust equal to the weight of fluid displaced. (Always leave three to five centimetres below the brim of the bathtub, otherwise parents will raise hell.)

3.       A ray of light consists of different coloursthe sensation when the eye receives certain wavelengths of light. (Easily proved if your Dad happens to keep a prisma transparent block of glass of triangular cross section that breaks up white light into different colours in his desk. If not, you have to wait for the refractionthe sudden change of direction of light when it passes from one transparent substance into another, e.g. from air into water or glass of sunlight in raindrops and see all the colours in a rainbow. Unfortunately, if you try to release the colours from the prism by smashing it with a hammer, all you’re left with is a mass of colourless rubble.)

4.       Light travels approximately in straight lines. (If somebody directs the beam of a torch onto your pressed palms with both thumbs sticking up, you may see a profile of a dog on the wall. If you’re creative, the shadows you make with your hands may conjure up a little menagerie – a snake, a lion or a turtle and what not. Don’t try to use a lighter instead of a torch and remember that blankets are made of inflammable materialssubstances that catch fire easily.)

5.       Metals may rustbecome covered with the reddish-brown substance that forms on iron and steel when they get wet. (So never leave your bicycle on the balcony for three days in the pouring rain. You’ll never get a new one!)

6.       The basic law of electricity and magnetic fieldan area around an object that has magnetic power, e.g. a magnet is: Like polesa pole is a point at the end of the magnet, like poles are either two positive poles or two negative poles (a negative pole is the end of a magnet which turns naturally towards the south) repel, unlike polesopposite poles, i. e. a positive plus a negative pole attract. That explains why my bro and I were always to be found in the company of the worst hooligans in the neighbourhood. Mum obviously knew nothing of Faraday’s theory hoping against all hope that one day we’d stop mingling with the wrong crowd. But ‘the wrong crowd’ were just our ‘unlike Poles’.

7.       The atmosphere(1) the mixture of gases that surrounds the Earth; (2) the feeling that an event or place gives you is in an electric state, which is scientifically proven by the phenomenon of lightning. The atmosphere at our home was always highly charged(1) such that makes you feel angry, nervous or excited; (2) with stored electricity on the day of mid-term school results. But if lightning is a discharge (1) the act of sending out (gas, liquid, smoke, etc); (2) electricity that is sent out (e.g. in a storm)of energythe capacity of a body or substance for doing work, why on earth did the discharge of Father’s anger (accumulated energy), not result in his emittingsending out heat, light, gas, etc. some form of light, just thundering(1) the loud noise which you hear during a storm usually after a flash of lightning; (2) shout loudly and angrily?

8.       Optical illusionsoptical illusion – a picture or image that tricks your eyes and makes you see something that is not usually there are the result of a deliberate or unintentional use of false perspective. The opinion that I was chubby as a child is an example of an optical illusion created by the utterly false perspective of my numerous aunts, uncles and cousins, whose only intention was to undermine my self-confidence.        

9.       To every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. In fact Newton’s law of motion must be slightly modified. Although our parents’ reactions were definitely ‘opposite’, they were far from being equal. Greatly exaggerated, which my bro and I discovered to our cost!

10.   Women’s brains are perfectly equipped to deal with the most complex problems of science. Since Marie Curie became the first woman professor at the University of Paris, there’s nothing to stop me from becoming whoever and whatever I dream of becoming. Time will show where my true interests lie.


Time indeed did show. When it came to choosing between the world of diffractionan important property of light and other waves when a wave in motion is spread into secondary waves by objects in its path and interferencewhen waves from different sources superimpose, electromagnetic waves and quantum theory, nuclear reactorsan apparatus in which a nuclear fuel undergoes fission (when the nucleus of an atom splits into two parts) under controlled conditions and nuclear power stations, satellites and lasers and the language of Shakespeare and Winnie-the-Pooh, it was the Bear with a little brain that proved to have more magnetism(1) the physical force by which a magnet attracts metal; (2) a quality that makes people attracted.


I’m lying sick in bed reminiscing about my childhood. My big bro remained faithful to his early fascination with physics but I proved an unworthy disciple. When did I rebel? And when was it that we built salt crystalsa small regular shaped piece of a substance, formed naturally when this substance becomes solid; a solid composed of a group of atoms or molecules which is repeated in space to form a very regular structure together, flew kites, experimented with grandfather’s medals immersed in Coca-Cola and assessed the value of different lubricantsa substance that is put on surfaces in order to make them move smoothly and easily on our neighbours’ skis? When did we stick potatoes in exhaust pipes, try to hide away countless blown fusesa short thin piece of wire that is inside electrical equipment which has melted because too much electricity was running through it, avert our faces not to show singed eyelashes and a succession of skin conditions? So long ago or so recently? Time is not absolute. E=mc². Thank you, Mr Einstein for your theory of relativityEinstein’s Special Theory of Relativity maintains that the velocity of light is constant and that the observation of time, size and mass in a system depends in its velocity. There’s no need to feel old.

Follow-up Activities

  1. For a quiz based on the idioms used in the diary, click here.
  2. For the full list of idioms used in the diary, click here.

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