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Eureka: The Word Just Burst Out!

A look at an English expression that is losing its place in the language. Transcript of radio broadcast:

Now, the VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.


Our word today is eureka. It is a kind of word called an expletive. Expletives are quick, short outcries of pain, surprise, anger or joy. We hear them all the time.

Ow! Wow! Holy smoke! Yikes! Some are considered not nice. They cannot be repeated here!

An expletive, or exclamation, bursts from your throat without thought. It is an expression of pure emotion. It helps ease your pain, or gives wing to a joyous surprise.

One expletive -- eureka! -- is slowly going out of style. Let us examine it before it disappears altogether.

Perhaps you have heard how this word came into existence. The story has been told many times.

Archimedes, the great scientist of ancient Greece, lived in Syracuse at the time of King Hiero the Second. The king had ordered a crown of gold. He suspected that his goldsmith had mixed some silver with it. The king called on Archimedes. He asked him to examine the crown to see if it was pure gold.

Archimedes was puzzled. How could he learn if the crown was pure gold? One day, he stepped into the water of a public bath. He observed the water flowing over the top of the bathtub. He carefully studied the overflow. Suddenly, he realized how he could test the gold in the king's crown.

He knew that gold was heavier than silver. So, a piece of gold would be smaller than a piece of silver of the same weight.

He could get a piece of pure gold that weighed the same as the king's crown. He could put it in a full container of water and measure how much water it displaced. Then, he could put the crown in the same container of water. If more water flowed out, the crown was not pure gold.

Archimedes was so excited by this discovery that he jumped out of the public bath and ran naked through the city streets toward home. As he ran, he shouted: "Eureka! Eureka! I have found it! I have found it!"

True or not, it is a delightful story. And it is an established fact that Archimedes did discover that when two objects weigh the same. . . but are of different density. . . the less dense object displaces more water than the denser one.



This VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES, was written by Marilyn Rice Christiano. Maurice Joyce was the narrator. I'm Sarah Long.