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Sterile, Unsterile, Non-sterile - terminology confusion (May/09/2007 )

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thanks nabin for your great effort on this.
since we are both in japan, i assumed you will understand my fun.

-T. reesei-

QUOTE (Nabin @ May 11 2007, 05:42 AM)
I cannot list all the papers where I have come across the term 'unsterile' but I googled it and got this paper. I am sure WHO doesn't over see such mistakes - the term is in the 'title' it self not just somewhere in the body.

All of you are right; had I found the terms in dictionaries I would have never put the question. Just to be sure, I googled and found this. Please find the word 'unsterile' in the list. I tried to highlight the term but couldn't.;x=0&y=0

I looked up 'Theasurus' Roget's New Millenniumâ„¢ Thesaurus, First Edition (v 1.3.1)' and as antonym of 'sterile' they have 'unsterile' and they have no where mentioned 'non-sterile'. I looked up online Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary and didn't find both the terms there.

Well, perhaps I sit corrected! laugh.gif I did see that Merriam-Webster entry, but as it was just a fat list for the "un-" prefix I wasn't really convinced it wasn't added at random. Suffice it to say, I personally don't use the term "unsterile." As arvinsign suggested, a native speaker is hardly an expert . . . but "unsterile" just sounds off to me. I'd question it if I read it in a paper I was editing.


QUOTE (Nabin @ May 10 2007, 04:19 AM)
I see the word 'non-sterile' used every where - in our lab and many papers too.

But, is the correct term 'non-sterile' or 'unsterile'? What is the difference between these two?

in Webster´s Third New International Dictionary I have found no entry for "unsterile" but "unsterilized";

in an often-used English-German online dictionary I found "unsterile" as a regular entry:

I would prefer "non-sterilized" although there is an inflation of "non-" terms in biology since the last 10-15 years

-The Bearer-

in my opinion both are correct..and the real problem is the "english language itself" which is so diverse and have already branched out to various versions (and abuses)..for questions like this, i will only trust an english language expert as a good source not necessarily a scientist or native english speaker

me too, but what makes them different, i mean why we have to use un or non, is there any rule ?! unsure.gif both are negations with similar meaning !!


I vaguely remember a short article about "non-" terms in science (might be in "Nature", years ago); the quintessence was that some "non-" terms are useful such as "non-receptor tyrosine kinase". (In this case you cannot say "un-receptor tyrosine kinase".)

In the mentioned article the author complains about new and superfluous creations of "non-" terms which are not useful, but I do nt remember his/her examples. Maybe, "non-sterile" is such a term, as you simply can say"unsterile".

I fear if you are used to use "non" in many or most cases, you think it is quite normal. However, it may be better to use "non-" only if "un-" is not to use or unusual.

-The Bearer-

Thanks for clarifying that Nabin. I sincerely appologise for the terse tone of my post- I overreacted!!
Also thanks for the in depth analysis of the use of the terms unsterile and non-sterile, isn't it funny how something as silly as a word can be the trigger for such a debate smile.gif


QUOTE (Nabin @ May 9 2007, 08:19 PM)
I see the word 'non-sterile' used every where - in our lab and many papers too.

But, is the correct term 'non-sterile' or 'unsterile'? What is the difference between these two?

The difference is:
non-sterile never claims to be sterile.
unsterile was sterile and now is not.


Thank You RealWorldLabRat,

I also got similar explanation from my brother but didn't find evidence to support it here in the thread; so was looking for one before I could post it.

He gave a simple example that we see in clinics everyday.

Non-sterile Gloves - Gloves that were never supposed to be sterile but used casually in non-sterile procedures like checking the oral cavity, digital rectal examination, etc.

Unsterile Gloves - A surgeon has scrubbed and worn a sterile glove but he accidentally touches some non sterile object. His gloves are now 'unsterile'.

Your definition perfectly fits in here. If you google 'unsterile' and 'non-sterile', you will be shown many statements or advertisements and in most of the cases these difference in definition fits in (except a few - may be by mistake).

So, does everyone agree to this difference between 'non-sterile' and 'unsterile' or should we have further discussion on this?

Similarly, other terms using prefix 'non' and 'un' also roughly agree to this definition but not exclusively. And, it is sometimes misleading to use 'non' word instead of 'un' word and viceversa. Like - If a surgeon does an unsterile procedure then that may be considered his negligence (supposed to be sterile but he messes up) but some one performing non-sterile procedure is not making any mistake. PBS may be sterile or non-sterile or even unsterile but Culture Medium has to be sterile but if some one does something stupid then it becomes 'unsterile' but not non-sterile.

Please make comments.


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