All of My Faults Are Stress Related

We need some new geologic metaphors

I’m already on the record as being highly amused by the use of “set in stone” to imply permanence. I find “tectonic shift” and “glacial pace” equally hilarious, given that glaciers can move faster than plates. (Fast tectonic plates move at cm per year; fast glaciers can move at miles per year.)

In fact, geology terms provide a tsunami of really bad metaphors.

I think it’s time to fix that. Let’s suggest some geoscience terms that would make for good slang, if nothing else.

For example: Plinian, as in Pliny the Younger, Vesuvius, and Pompeii, to mean any kind of explosion.


“My dad’s going to go Plinian when he finds out what happened to the car.”

Or allochthonous, as in Highly Allochthonous, to refer to anything that’s really out of place.


“Did you see that guy in the tux riding up the Telegraph Trail?”

“Yeah. Never seen anything so allochthonous.”

And… I’m blanking. What about you?


  1. #1 sanjuanswan
    August 30, 2009

    Guys in tuxes won’t be allochthonous riding on the Telegraph Trail in a couple of weeks. SSWC09 approaching!

  2. #2 Kim Hannula
    August 30, 2009

    Oh, right. I forgot about the single-speed crew. But anyone who comes into town for a party/bicycle race? Definition of “allochthonous,” right there.

  3. #3 Jim Lehane
    August 30, 2009

    I personal find Orogeny a rather humerous word, and I know it’s not just me.

  4. #4 Robert
    August 30, 2009

    A “tectonic shift” is a metaphor suggesting a large change. It has nothing to do with speed and should not be compared to “glacial pace.”

  5. #5 Jude
    August 30, 2009

    Not that this adds to the terms to use, but my daughter feared two things when she was young–glaciers and geysers. She seemed to think that glaciers could advance so rapidly that they could harm her; in her case, teaching her glacial pace would have been helpful. She got over both fears when we took her to see an actual glacier and an actual geyser.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    August 30, 2009

    Well, you have landslide….

  7. #7 clheiny
    August 30, 2009

    A college roommate of mine used to refer to his preferred form of coffee as “ultramafic”.

  8. #8 Lockwood
    August 30, 2009

    Oh I LOVE this idea… I’ll think about it.

    It also strikes me as a potentially hilarious wedge idea.

  9. #9 Bob
    August 31, 2009

    We’ve used “lets get pyroclastic!” as a euphemism for excessive drinking or a while now.

  10. #10 Chris Rowan
    August 31, 2009

    I’m all for this effort, as you’re rehabilitating my favourite word.

    How about using Precambrian to refer to an out of date person or thing? As in, “my department is infested by Precambrians who don’t know what a blog is.”

  11. #11 Cat
    August 31, 2009

    Geologic time is a good. If something’s taking a long time then “it’s working on geological time”.

    e.g. “The kettle hasn’t boiled yet?! It’s working on geological time!”

  12. #12 Ikenna
    August 31, 2009

    During a petrology class one day in my 3rd ungergrad year a girl asked:
    ‘Sir can you throw more stones on this topic.’
    She meant to say ‘ throw more light.’
    Nobody realized until she repeated herself and the guy sittng in front of her ducked to avoid being stoned.

  13. #13 Michael
    August 31, 2009

    Or how about working on “deep time” – that seems to be the buzzword.

    A few random thoughts:

    Boudinaged – separated, as in “Fred and Mildred are delighted to announce their boudinage”

    Stratigraphy – do you organise the piles on your desk chronostratigraphically ot lithostratigraphically?

    There’s been some useful discussion, in the course of David Williams’ virtual book tour (, on “intercalating” and “interfingering” – I think there’s some mileage in that, but I won’t go there right now.

    And, since I write from the viewpoint of all things arenaceous:

    sorting: the crowd demonstrating outside the health care reform townhall meeting was poorly sorted

    oh, and they were also saltating.

  14. #14 Garry Hayes
    August 31, 2009

    A really bad idea should simply be subducted.

  15. #15 Robert
    August 31, 2009

    “Xenolith” is a great word with obvious metaphors.

    How did that guy get hired here? He’s such a xenolith.

    I felt like a xenolith when I visited Cleveland.

    And “craton” is a great word with many pobbible metaphoric uses: unchanging, center, nucleus, base, flat, and so forth.

    He was liberal in college but grew up to be a craton.

    That guy is as interesting as a craton. (sarcasism)

  16. #16 Matthew
    August 31, 2009

    Very old leftovers in the fridge are referred to in our household as “diagenetic lasagne” or “diagenetic phad thai.”

  17. #17 Benton Jackson
    September 1, 2009

    “I personal find Orogeny a rather humerous word, and I know it’s not just me.”
    Especially when you call a mountain range an “Orogenous zone”.

  18. #18 NJ
    September 1, 2009

    Stratigraphy – do you organise the piles on your desk chronostratigraphically ot lithostratigraphically?

    Even better! We can adjectivize “Franciscan” to address such issues:

    “You’d better wait. My desk is totally Franciscan right now and I have no idea where to start looking.


    “He completely Franciscaned his first draft and his advisor wouldn’t even read it.”

  19. #19 Chris Rowan
    September 1, 2009

    Metamorphic terminology is just crying out to be inserted into the workplace conversation: “last week was pure blueschist/amphibolite”* from start to finish”.

    *delete as appropriate to your levels of stress and/or melodrama

  20. #20 Jared
    September 1, 2009

    Alluvial, adj: unorganized and generally uninteresting, but may occasionally contain something useful;
    examples: alluvial writing or alluvial lectures

  21. #21 Coturnix
    September 1, 2009

    “It’s sedimentary, my dear Watson”

  22. #22 Monado, FCD
    September 1, 2009

    “So how are you? It’s been ages!”
    “Oh, I’m one of the old fossils on the Board now. +
    The room erupted with laughter.
    Some people laugh seismically, with an internal motion.

  23. #23 David
    September 2, 2009

    Some of my co-workers have “thrust faults.” Some of the looser thinkers are more “strike-slip”

  24. #24 Anne
    September 2, 2009

    I’d like to repurpose watershed in general use, because I hate the use of watershed event to mean a turning point. In fact, I tried to convince my high school history teacher that he should replace “watershed event” with “continental slope event.” Somehow it didn’t catch on.

  25. #25 Andrew
    September 3, 2009

    I guess it’s good that “tectonic shift” has taken over from “sea change” to signify a pervasive change. But it’s not a geologic term, that is, geologists don’t use it.

  26. #26 Miriam
    September 5, 2009

    My geo dept and I in the years since graduation have been known to use the term “profound unconformity” when referring to more than just your standard stratigraphy issue!

    Works well even in my current life as a park ranger…tho’ not as many people get the joke…

New comments have been disabled.