Oh, Be a Fine Girl!


Readers, help me sort out an egregious detail of astronomical lore.

The most common method of classifying stars -- Harvard Spectral Classification -- was thought up by one of the most famous female astronomers of all time, Annie Jump Cannon. Adapted from a cumbersome older method which sorted stars into 22 alphabetical categories of observable hydrogen in their spectra, the Cannon method orders stars from hottest to coldest. This, despite being functional and elegant, left her (and us) with an unpronounceable acronym: OBAFGKM. With the recent addition of two colder categories of stars, the problem has worsened. How to remember OBAFGKMLT?

And here's where the problem lies. OBAFGKM(LT), though invented by one of the most admirable and brilliant women of the 20th century, is universally remembered by scientists, graduate students, and backyard astronomers as "Oh, Be a Fine Girl, Kiss Me!"

There has to be a better way. Although Annie herself may have come up with the name, what was appropriate in 1896 certainly isn't now. Women of the sciences, bite back! Let's come up with an acronym as memorable, as easily recalled as "Oh, Be a Fine Girl, Kiss Me;" perhaps one as snarky and condescending to the male scientific establishment as its predecessor has been to women -- or, perhaps, one which will serve its purpose without making anyone wince. In my research on the subject, I've found only one worthy successor:

"Only Boys Accepting Feminism Get Kissed Meaningfully"

Which, adapting for the two new letters, might perhaps read:

"Only Boys Accepting Feminism Get Kissed -- Men, Learn This"

Other contenders from the desk of Universe:

For the exasperated female grad student, "Oh Brother, Another Fucking Geriatric Killjoy Male Lesson Today?" For the sex-positive feminist, "Often Boys Assume (Falsely) Girls Kissing Means Lesbians." For the reactionary riot grrl, "Oh, Be A Fine Girl: Kill Male Loser Tightwads!"

Or, perhaps, a more neutral acronym, one which speaks to general vexation against entrenched hierarchies and over-rigid educational contexts? "Over Bearing Adults, Frankly, Give Kids Much Lifelong Trauma."

And now I turn it over to you, dear readers. Think of dear Annie Jump Cannon, with her amazing name and due scientific diligence, working long underpaid hours at the Harvard Observatory, cataloguing some 230,000 stars. I'm certain that together, all us fine girls and guys can come up with something both funny and appropriate -- or at least exercise our minds in the process.

More like this

I understand your concern. But, it is nothing compared to how I was taught electrical color coding in 1980: Black Boys Rape Our Young Girls, But Violet Goes Willingly. Pretty nasty, huh?

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 05 Jul 2010 #permalink

Haha! Seriously? Wait, how many more nightmarishly sexist acronyms are there yet to be amended? I smell a crusade.

Order Bat And Fried Giant Kraken Marinated Leftovers Tonight.

What's wrong with "Guy"?

The fact that the initialism seems snarky and sexist now doesn't mean it did when it was invented. You can't just ignore the historical context when you judge the past by modern standards.

Any decent professor of astronomy will point out that the G can stand for "girl" or "guy." Now you're asking for revisions that are /meant/ to be sexist? How exactly is that helping the problem?

When I learned the mnemonic for the resistor color code, it was "Bad Boys" for black & brown, "Gives" for gray, but otherwise the same as Mike reports. Of course, I learned it well before 1980, which may or may not be relevant.

Regarding the spectral classification, one way to remember the basic sequence (minus the last two classifications) is:

Oh but a fine girl knows more.

For L & T, you could change the period to a comma and append:

learns theory.

If you wanted to be provocative, you could substitute:

likes tantra.

By Chris Winter (not verified) on 05 Jul 2010 #permalink

No edits allowed, so replace that last "sexist" with "snarky/offensive/abrasive/etc" as you see fit.

This is awesome.

The fact that the initialism seems snarky and sexist now doesn't mean it did when it was invented. You can't just ignore the historical context when you judge the past by modern standards.

It doesn't matter how it seemed when it was invented. "Now" is where we live.

Hi anon, I feel you. But I'm asking for any revisions that might be of interest -- the reverse snarky ones I presented are all in good fun, and feel like a little kick in the pants to decades of sexism. Anyways, Azkyroth is right on: "now" is where we live, and now is where girls studying science already have enough deterrents as it is.

I quite like blf's suggestion at comment #4 but that may be because it's dinner time here . . .

I was taught the acronym from #1 for resistor color codes in 1998. It was often quite awkward being the only female EE student in my classes.

NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day suggested (4/18/04) "Oven Baked Apples From Grandpa's/Grandma's Kitchen. Mmmm".

Other proposals have included -

Old, Bald, And Fat Generals Keep Mistresses, and

Oh Boy, An F Grade Kills Me

Only Beer And Fine Grass Keep My Rattled Nerves Sane.

Previous online contests offer other prospects.

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 05 Jul 2010 #permalink

Forget the sexist, racist, and mysogynistic and remember...

Observatory Bound Astronomers, Forget Grades, Know Life Must Triumph.

I like your blog, and will look in again.

The best solution is a new classification of abcdefghi, then no mnemonic is necessary.

For those with a science fiction bent:

Olive, building a friend, gets kind metal. Loving titanium.

For those of you hepcats:

Ouch! Burned a finger, got killer munchies, Love Tallahassee

[I quite like that opening since it reminds you that you are starting from the hottest classification.]

And last, an anti-war message:

Only bitter and foolish generals, killing machines, love tanks.

Black Boys Rape Our Young Girls, But Violet Goes Willingly. Pretty nasty, huh?

In the navy schools I attended in the 70's it was:Batman Blows Robin On Yon Gotham Bridge, Very Good Work.

By bullofthewoods (not verified) on 05 Jul 2010 #permalink

I still like this one (amongst a number) we got in class (not certain of the original source - it was possibly in response to a previous class contest):
Only Bored Astronomers Find Gratification Knowing Mnemonics...

By Stellar_muddle (not verified) on 05 Jul 2010 #permalink

Oh boy! A friendly guy/girl/goat kissed my lips tenderly!

So many words can be levered into this ... magnitude, mass, luminosity, astronomy, galaxy, kelvin. I ended up with this:

Observer Bazooka Annie Furthered Galactic Knowledge Melding Luminosity and Temperature

Not too happy with it though - the luminosity bit is a stretch. Also came up with this variation:

Overhauling Balmer, Annie Furthered Galactic Knowledge Making a List by Temperature

A few possible phrase "building blocks":
W: wormhole, Worf(Star Trek), Wolfram (Steve) warp (speed) O: Orbital, occultation B: Bender (from Futurama), blasted (as in drunk) binary, bunk (as in rubbish), boson A: antimatter, arbitrary, AI (as in computer), F: Feynman, flunk, foggy (as in mind), force-field G: Gravity , gorged, galactic K: Kirk (the captain) kinetic, kill, Korolev(Soviet rocket engineer), Kava (Polynesian alternative to alcohol) M: matter, mega-something, miscellaneous, moronic, missile L: Light-cone, Lithium, laser, lazy, lurking, lensing (gravity), Leonov (cosmonaut, first space walk) T: tera-something, twisting, tunnelling (quantum), twitter, T-1000 (the terminator), tedious, target

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 05 Jul 2010 #permalink

Adding in the Wolf-Rayet stars at the beginning, here's my effort...

Wizards only buy artifacts from genuinely knowledgeable merchants like T...

Replace T... by some name of your preference (starting with T obviously).

I believe Danny Dunn used that line on Irene once, but I have long since forgotten whether she slapped him for it.

Hi all;
A fatal flaw was that they failed to have any representative posts ready to go up when the blog went live.

Had they done so, and had the content been surprisingly acceptable, the reception might have been better.

Instead we get this "Hi! Welcome to ShillBlog!" (crickets) and everyone, quite reasonably, expects the worst.

Hi evden, are you talking about the PepsiCo blog? The controversy reaches even here!

According to the Wikipedia entry on Annie Jump Cannon: "Not long after the work on the Draper Catalog began, a disagreement developed as to how to classify the stars. Antonia Maury, who was also Henry Draper's niece, insisted on a complex classification system while Williamina Fleming, who was overseeing the project for Pickering, wanted a much more simple, straightforward approach. Annie Jump Cannon negotiated a compromise. She started by examining the bright southern hemisphere stars. To these stars she applied a third system, a division of stars into the spectral classes O, B, A, F, G, K, M. SHE gave HER system a mnemonic of "Oh Be a Fine GIRL and Kiss Me." (my emphasis). Now just what's so dated about Lesbian mnemonics?

Oak bark and fine grass know many leafy tricks

my first thought was
--oral beats anal for girls kindling my lascivious tendencies-

A factually accurate statement ( at least where my lascivious tendencies are concerned) but it doesn't pass the sexism test. To make it more gender neutral, I modified it to
--oral beats anal for generating kinky masturbatory lustful thoughts--
but that just replaces the male female dichotomy with an oral anal dichotomy thus replacing sexism with kinkism ( a word I just coined to mean discrimination towards those with a differing set of turn ons and turn offs)

so then I came up with

-- only by actually freely gaining knowledge, may lesbians triumph --

Ok, ok--it is late and I still have the whole girls kissing thing in my mind---but I persevere and come up with

--only by anyone freely gathering knowledge, may learning triumph--