Posted by: Chris | July 11, 2010

Misused Metaphors, Ctd.

There is a minor furor over the United States Council of Catholic Bishops new subtly anti-gay marriage video for all the predictable reasons.  More interesting to me is the chemistry/water motif the video has going on.  Happily-married dude makes it explicit at around 3:45: “It’s like two completely different things, like hydrogen and oxygen, and combining them to make water; something entirely new and unique.”  Ah, science

Of course, primary school reminds us that water has a ratio of hydrogen to oxygen that is not exactly monogomous.  I wonder if the Lure braintrust devise a well-known diatomic molecule for the bishops to use?  It probably can’t be ionic (taking the partner’s possessions and then splitting when things get wet doesn’t seem like an ideal arrangement) or homonuclear (because that’s just gay).  The best I can come up with is carbon monoxide.  Its reasonably well-known, covalent (but with sufficient polarity that we can keep the “opposites attract” motif going), and that triple bond is made to last.  I suspect, though, that a CO analogy would result in a fairly tasteless video.  Any better suggestions?



  1. (a) How could it be tasteless when it smells so dangerous? (b) Something non-covalent (a Van der Waals molecule, if you want to know what they call it in science) might be kosher – to celebrate a new distinction.

  2. I suppose cyanide would also be a poor choice. Nitric oxide has some excellent biological background and significance to draw on, but is extremely fragile if exposed to more oxygen, can be harmful if inhaled, depletes the ozone layer, has limited popular recognition, and is abbreviated “NO.” Although I think it was “molecule of the year” at one point.

    Probably the best choice would be to think smaller, and just use a hydrogen molecule – one electron, one proton. Plus then you could use photos of the Hindenburg in your video.

  3. MM – I initially was going to do CN as my example, but then I thought of the CO pun. I only know NO (NOOOOOOOOO!) as a neurotransmitter and thought it too esoteric for the analogy.

    I really like your hydrogen idea. Its got positives and negatives attracting and two simple elements (assuming we are not going with any more complicated H isotopes). I say it wins our little contest.

    CF: Van der Waals molecules do not have any atomic bonding (through shared electrons) and are held together by weak intermolecular forces like hydrogen bonding. An ice lattice, for example, might count as a Van der Waals force. Hardly a good metaphor for marriage (plus, as these bonds usually occur between molecules and not between atoms, not what we were looking for either). It was a good try, though. Maybe you can ask one of your professors (Larry?) to help you out next time.

  4. CF here. Not sure you fully got what I was driving at. Too busy trying to signal your preeminence in the field. Nobody here doubts your command of lower undergraduate science. Remember to thank those profs of yours!

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