“Baroclinity” Is Not a Word

I’m going to delve into what, for most normal and sane citizens of this great land, is scientific geekdom of the most obscure variety, picking semantic nits about which only a small cadre of weather dweebs ever gives a flying flip. So please feel free to skip right past this post if the title provoked no particular passion.

This constitutes the beginning of a campaign to eradicate at least one and perhaps two non-words from atmospheric science before the misuse spreads too far in both formal literature and informal meteorological lexicon: “baroclinity” and “barotropy.”

First, I assert that there is no such thing as “baroclinity.” It’s supposed to be “baroclinicity,” the state of being baroclinic.

[The definition of “baroclinic” actually isn’t relevant to the discussion, since the contention is linguistic only; but for the curious, here it is.]

When attaching a suffix to a state of existence, our language applies the letters “ity” in similar instances. Fully acknowledging that the English language is profusely littered with inconsistencies and inexplicable exceptions to the rule, and as such, is a damn stinking mess, will one of my fellow scientists please kindly justify why should the state of being baroclinic should be an exception to the general rule?

Some common language analogs to the recently manufactured misspelling “baroclinity” would be:
* “simplity” instead of “simplicity,”
* “elastity” instead of “elasticity” or
* “specifity” instead of “specificity.”

All three would be treated as misspelled in any usage.

Now, for you meteorologists, start saying
* “helity” instead of “helicity”

Get my drift?

Wikipedia already has fallen prey to the misspelling, as has the Glossary of the American Meteorological Society (even as each parenthetically acknowledges the true version). So have several formal papers of which I’m aware. How far will it go?

While we’re at it, let’s tackle “barotropy,” a spelling that, right or wrong, is entrenched in scientific use and has been since long before we all were young pups learning this stuff in basic atmospheric thermodynamics class.

It should be “barotropicity” instead. But if “baroclinity” is allowed, then for the sake of consistent usage, the opposite state then must become “barotropity.” Either that, or we need to use “barocliny” instead of either of the two terms for the baroclinic state that are now accepted.

What seems to be happening, instead, is a random mish-mash of suffix placement that makes no sense at all. Rubbish!

Which way are we going to have it? To get it right, our choices are the following married pairs of antonyms:
* Barocliny and barotropy
* Baroclinity and barotropity
* Baroclinicity and barotropicity

I’ve got solid reasons for favoring the latter. What are yours for the others?


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