Sciency Words: Pomology

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Sciency Words, a special series here on Planet Pailly where we talk about those weird and wonderful words scientists use.  In this week’s episode of Sciency Words, we’re talking about:


I picked this word up from fellow blogger Kate Rauner.  Click here to check out her post on some recent and exciting pomological discoveries!

The word pomology comes from a Latin word meaning “fruit” and a Greek word meaning “the study of.”  So pomology is the scientific study of fruit, especially domesticated fruits.  How can we grow fruits more easily?  How can we improve fruits to make them tastier and/or more nutritious?  How can we better protect the fruits we eat from disease?  These are the kinds of questions pomologists seek to answer.

Charles Downing is widely regarded as the father of modern pomology.  He, along with his brother, Andrew Jackson Downing, published a book in 1851 entitled The Fruits and Fruit Trees of America.  Obviously the Downing Brothers were not the first people to ever study fruit, nor do they get credit for coining the words “pomology” or “pomologist.”  Rather, they sought to clean up what they called the “embarrassing” state of pomology at the time, and in so doing they helped to establish pomology as a legitimate science.

Wait, I forget.  Are these fruits or vegetables?

As a science fiction writer, I am delighted to have learned this word.  It seems to me that every space outpost and space colony, every multi-generational spaceship, and every other community of humans that ventures off into deep space, ought to have a pomology officer on staff—perhaps even an entire pomology department.  And I suspect the work of these pomology officers will be very much appreciated, too!

As the Downing Brothers wrote way back in 1851: “[Fruit] is the most perfect union of the useful and the beautiful that the earth knows.”  And that “perfect union” of utility and beauty, of nutrition and flavor… that is exactly what any mission into deep space needs most.

P.S.: In case you were wondering, yes, NASA is already doing pomological research for space missions.

6 thoughts on “Sciency Words: Pomology

    1. For a long time, I thought tomatoes were this one weird exception. Then I found out that cucumbers are fruit, and after that I figured out the rest on my own. The word fruit means one thing in botany and another thing in grocery stores, sort of like how metal means one thing to astronomers and another thing to literally everybody else.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ve often wondered how the astronomy version of metal came about. Like maybe the first things they noticed in their spectral lines actually were metals, but they just kept using the term with everything above helium since, for them, it’s all trace amounts.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. That’s my guess too. At some point, I read a paper from the 1950’s that seemed to use the spectral lines of nickel, iron, and one other metal as proxies for all non-hydrogen and non-helium elements. So I don’t know for sure, but I think that’s where it came from.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. I had to look up what “cant” means. That’s a very useful word to have, especially when there’s so much cant out in the world these days. And no, we should not pretend it doesn’t exist.


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