One of the more interesting prefixes in the English language has to be “ig”. I looked it up and it turns out “ig” comes from the Latin “ignis” which mean “fire” but we non-Latins use it to mean “something that’s lacking”. For the Latinians an example might be the word “ignite” which they translated to “not lighted” although we use it to mean “the action of lighting something”. Confused? I know I am.
It seems the most true to the definition of ‘lacking something’ is the word “ignoble” which means not really noble at all. Whereas a common word like ‘ignorant’ doesn’t actually mean ‘less than norant’, and ‘igloo’ doesn’t really translate as ‘lacking loo’. Also, my friends Fudd and Donna have a little Pomeranian named Iggy, and I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean the pup is ‘less than ‘gy’.
But all of this is to say that I would be an ignoramus if I didn’t recognize – nay, celebrate – the fact that it’s that time of year again when the Ig Noble Prizes are awarded! My favorite award show has taken place at Harvard University every year since 1991. It’s a pun and a parody on the famous Nobel Prizes but the Ignobles are presented, tongue firmly in cheek, to seemingly ridiculous but actual legitimate scientific discoveries “that cannot, or should not, be reproduced”.
This year’s winners do not disappoint. The Mechanical Engineering Prize when to Rice University researchers who found out they could make dead spiders lift stuff. They call it ‘necrobotics’ and they hang a deceased spider on a string and use a puff of air into its little deceased head to flex and contract its little legs to grab things and lift them. They say this might lead to developments in improving mechanical gripping tools. Sure.
The 2023 Communication Prize went to scientists who have been studying the “mental activities of people who are expert at speaking backward.” You might think it would be difficult to find people who are expert at speaking backward and you would be wrong. Who knew – but there are a whole bunch of folks living in a village on the Canary Islands just off of Spain who speak backwards all the time. They learn it as children and they use it to chat among friends. It’s sort of a tradition, and yes, they also still do speak forwards a lot the time. Think of the juicy stuff they could tell each other among regular people!
The Nutrition Prize was scarfed up by Japanese researchers for their experiments seeing if electrified chopsticks and drinking straws affect the taste of food. Thankfully, no fatalities were reported during the taste tests.
Have you ever licked a rock? A major Ig Nobel Prize was awarded to Polish scientist Jan Zalasiewicz for “explaining why many scientists like to lick rocks”. Apparently geologists in the field might lick a rock for two reasons: 1. Rock detail is easier to observe if it’s a little wet; and 2. You can learn a lot about what kind of a rock it is by tasting it. Yum!
And this might be my favorite this year: the Literature Prize was for studying how people feel when they repeat a single word “many many many many many many times”. I don’t know about you, but I have certainly experienced this bizarre rather unsettling phenomenon when a repeated word loses its meaning and your brain goes sideways momentarily. Everybody knows the déjà vu feeling – literally “already seen”, well this phenomenon is “jamais vu” or “never seen” and it’s a quick visit to Planet Weird.
So in the interests of scientific research and intracranial space travel repeat after me, 1000 times: ignoble ignoble ignoble ignoble…
Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. Reach out to Harley with any thoughts or ideas at email@example.com.