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In cellulo: an eyesore and here's why...

scientific writing in vitro in vivo

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#1 Richard Poulin

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 02:16 PM

This is about the recently proposed use of "in cellulo" to refer to observations made in isolated live cells, rather than in vitro which was (and still is) currently used for that purpose. Of course, this distinction has emerged from repeated (and often appropriate) remarks that in vitro also applies to experiments made in acellular systems (e.g. enzymatic assay in a test tube vs. the same assay using intact cells). Since in vivo always refers to observations made in whole organisms, there is this intermediate situation with tissue culture which needed some semantic distinction to emphasize the fact that it is in vivo but in vitro, like Schrödinger's cat Posted Image

I know this has been discussed in a previous forum, but the final outcome should have been better... There was strong disagreement between members about the need for a distinction, but finally, the issue remained completely unresolved.

I don't intend to make a Solomon's judgement here. My position is that it is a relevant distinction to make and that it should be implemented slowly but surely from the base up, until usage in one way or another prevails.

However, I strongly object to the term "in cellulo" for a very simple reason: it's not even Latin! I have nothing against creating a new term as long as it follows the rules of nomenclature. And here, these rules are quite simple:all similar expressions in biology are derived from Latin, not from some idea of Latin that some dunce had one ominous day when that expression was first forged and inserted in a publication !

Of course, no true classical Latin name exists for a living cell, but the scientific acceptations of the term in Latin are cella, -ae (fem.).(orig. a small chamber) and cellula, -ae (fem.) (orig. a ... very small chamber!). Since the terms in vitro and in vivo use the ablative case, the properly derived term that parallels the two other accepted situations should be in cellaor in cellula (not "in cellulo"!!!).

In summary, the currently increasing use of "in cellulo" is incorrect since it does not respect the gender of the Latrin name for cell. One may argue that the Latin word "cellulum" ( which would be neutral) could be specially created to "force-fit" an ad hoc term for a phonetic equivalent to in vivo and in vitro, This could be justified by the fact that there is no true classical Latin word for a living cell, as mentioned above. However, there is a tradition in the scientific and medical literatures of the XVIIIth and XIXth centuries (in Latin) established for either cella or cellula. Cellulum simply never existed!

At this stage, editors could easily agree to recommend a change to in cellula in the immediate future before the mistake becomes too widespread to make a change in direction.

I wouldn't expect a large fraction of the biological community to care about this, since Latin isn't part of the curriculum for most younger biologists. But for old geezers who happened to spend several high school years studying Latin, I cannot tell how much it hurts every time I see "in cellulo" in print !

I think I will insert in cellula in my next manuscript and see what happens ...

So, who's with me? Or: "What? Me worry?" Posted Image

#2 pito

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Posted 04 March 2012 - 04:47 AM

I think that you are right with this: In summary, the currently increasing use of "in cellulo" is incorrect since it does not respect the gender of the Latrin name for cell. One may argue that the Latin word "cellulum" ( which would be neutral) could be specially created to "force-fit" an ad hoc term for a phonetic equivalent to in vivo and in vitro,

I guess they simply believed that putting an "o" at the back is the right thing to do.

You are making it more about langauge/latin and in these days.. I doubt many scientists had an education in latin or are familiar with latin.

I dont know a lot of latin, but if you are right then yeah, its wrong to say in cellulo, but then again, many words that are used are not "really" latin ...
Some authors came up with words that "sounded" latin or they used a latin word and changed it a bit.. I dunno..

Maybe you are right, maybe you should write in cellula in your next paper and why not add what you said here: add a little text box explaining why you used in cellula rather then in cellulo?

This makes me wonder: who not make an entire paper about the use of latin words in science? I wonder if there are such papers out there? It would sound trivial that some langauge experts are making studies about the use of latin in science and wrote papers about this.. Or not?
If I was an expert in latin, I would find it an intersting topic: the difference between latin as a common langauge in science in the old days (langauge known by all and used by all) vs latin used in modern science by scientist that do no know/use latin as a daily langauge.

If you don't know it, then ask it! Better to ask and look foolish to some than not ask and stay stupid.


#3 Richard Poulin

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Posted 04 March 2012 - 05:38 PM

Thanks for your interesting feedback. I'm afraid you're right: few scientists know Latin anymore. My only fear was that people don't care either. But on the other hand, writing a letter or a short paper on the topic might be a good way to draw the attention to this purely academic issue. I'm glad that my parents made the sacrfices to send me to a school that provided one of the last few examples of a truly "classical" education: 5 years of Latin and 3 years of ancient Greek. After this, learning new languages has become a piece of cake for me (I am a francophone by birth BTW). It certainly gave me tools to learn medical terms very easily, and even for learning German ! (Germanic and Slavic languages have "cases" like in Latin, which are suffixes that vary with the grammatical function of the word in a sentence.)

Another example where I noticed some confusion due to ignorance of Latin is the difference between "i.e." (which stands for id est = that is) and "e.g." (which stands for exempli gratia = by favor of an example). People tend to use one for another and it's something I have to correct often as an editor.

If I decide to wrap up something into a paper, I'll let you know, man!

#4 pito

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 12:02 AM

Thanks for your interesting feedback. I'm afraid you're right: few scientists know Latin anymore. My only fear was that people don't care either. But on the other hand, writing a letter or a short paper on the topic might be a good way to draw the attention to this purely academic issue. I'm glad that my parents made the sacrfices to send me to a school that provided one of the last few examples of a truly "classical" education: 5 years of Latin and 3 years of ancient Greek. After this, learning new languages has become a piece of cake for me (I am a francophone by birth BTW). It certainly gave me tools to learn medical terms very easily, and even for learning German ! (Germanic and Slavic languages have "cases" like in Latin, which are suffixes that vary with the grammatical function of the word in a sentence.)

Another example where I noticed some confusion due to ignorance of Latin is the difference between "i.e." (which stands for id est = that is) and "e.g." (which stands for exempli gratia = by favor of an example). People tend to use one for another and it's something I have to correct often as an editor.

If I decide to wrap up something into a paper, I'll let you know, man!


I have noticed this i.e. before, and I always wondered why! lol, I had no clue it was what you just explained.
Also: e.g. isnt it commenly know as: example given? (this is even how I learned it at school, so it seems that the latin behind it .. is quickly forgotten).
And you are right, latin is indeed good as a general "tool" for development, like learning skills...
But I am pretty sure its not regarded like that anymore,only few people take latin at school.
Most dont see the point of it.
I think its a new(er) generation now, no interest in latin or general education anymore.

If you decide to write a paper about it or just a little sidenote when using in cellula rather then in cellulo, then yes, I would be intersted to see what kind of reactions you get.

If you don't know it, then ask it! Better to ask and look foolish to some than not ask and stay stupid.


#5 casandra

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 08:53 PM

This is about the recently proposed use of "in cellulo" to refer to observations made in isolated live cells, rather than in vitro which was (and still is) currently used for that purpose. Of course, this distinction has emerged from repeated (and often appropriate) remarks that in vitro also applies to experiments made in acellular systems (e.g. enzymatic assay in a test tube vs. the same assay using intact cells). Since in vivo always refers to observations made in whole organisms, there is this intermediate situation with tissue culture which needed some semantic distinction to emphasize the fact that it is in vivo but in vitro, like Schrödinger's cat Posted Image

I know this has been discussed in a previous forum, but the final outcome should have been better... There was strong disagreement between members about the need for a distinction, but finally, the issue remained completely unresolved.

I don't intend to make a Solomon's judgement here. My position is that it is a relevant distinction to make and that it should be implemented slowly but surely from the base up, until usage in one way or another prevails.

However, I strongly object to the term "in cellulo" for a very simple reason: it's not even Latin! I have nothing against creating a new term as long as it follows the rules of nomenclature. And here, these rules are quite simple:all similar expressions in biology are derived from Latin, not from some idea of Latin that some dunce had one ominous day when that expression was first forged and inserted in a publication !

Of course, no true classical Latin name exists for a living cell, but the scientific acceptations of the term in Latin are cella, -ae (fem.).(orig. a small chamber) and cellula, -ae (fem.) (orig. a ... very small chamber!). Since the terms in vitro and in vivo use the ablative case, the properly derived term that parallels the two other accepted situations should be in cellaor in cellula (not "in cellulo"!!!).

In summary, the currently increasing use of "in cellulo" is incorrect since it does not respect the gender of the Latrin name for cell. One may argue that the Latin word "cellulum" ( which would be neutral) could be specially created to "force-fit" an ad hoc term for a phonetic equivalent to in vivo and in vitro, This could be justified by the fact that there is no true classical Latin word for a living cell, as mentioned above. However, there is a tradition in the scientific and medical literatures of the XVIIIth and XIXth centuries (in Latin) established for either cella or cellula. Cellulum simply never existed!

At this stage, editors could easily agree to recommend a change to in cellula in the immediate future before the mistake becomes too widespread to make a change in direction.

I wouldn't expect a large fraction of the biological community to care about this, since Latin isn't part of the curriculum for most younger biologists. But for old geezers who happened to spend several high school years studying Latin, I cannot tell how much it hurts every time I see "in cellulo" in print !

I think I will insert in cellula in my next manuscript and see what happens ...

So, who's with me? Or: "What? Me worry?" Posted Image

Hi Richard...and welcome to bioforum....

Actually, if we want to be more precise, we shouldn’t forget to add a stroke or circumflex accent on the [a] in cellula (being first declension and all) to denote the ablative case ...Posted Image

As you had already mentioned, there was no official latin term for cell in the early 1600s and Robert Hooke coined the word cell from cellula but I guess, once anglicised, it already lost its original gender and likewise, why shld it follow the rules of declension? With modern day scientific writing, perhaps by chance, many latin terms/phrases used have the o endings (esp the ablative form) eg in vitro, de novo, in toto, in utero. So it’s not surprising why the latinised ‘in the cell’ would follow the same rule to fit in with the others or by virtue of parallel association. Besides, if we really wish to be more pedantic: in cellulā would mean ‘ in the small room’ and not ‘in the cell’…so theoretically, it's also not the perfect phrase that fits.....

Personally, a more interesting question is must we continue churning out new terms (even if pig, I mean, corrupted Latin) for something which is pretty much covered by an already existing one?

Here is a nice primer on commonly used latin terms in scientific writing:
http://online.physic...inTerms_cme.pdf

Edited by casandra, 06 March 2012 - 08:54 PM.

"Oh what a beauteousness!"
- hobglobin, personal comment about my beauteous photo......

#6 hobglobin

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 08:44 AM

and to be more pedantic you should write:

IN CELLVLA
Posted Image

But to be more serious: Latin was also a "living" language, i.e. the classic Latin (as written by Romans) differs from Latin that was later written in early and late mediaeval times and by church (as Latin became scientific language at that time and first by them). I'm not sure which of these varieties is and was the reference for scientific Latin, as many of the scientific terms did not exist in classical Latin but was added later, or changed due to the always occurring alterations in language.
Examples are difficult, but perhaps "mouth" might work: Both "os (oris)" (classical Latin) as in "body orifice" and "bucca" (later Latin) as in "buccal nerve" exist in scientific terms.
Therefore for me scientific latin terms have not that much to do with the classicl latin and I won't be so pedantic and accept new inventions or even terms that might be grammatically wrong in real Latin (as it's not real Latin anyway). But there is no accounting for tastes and everybody has different limits what's acceptable.

Edited by hobglobin, 07 March 2012 - 09:06 AM.

One must presume that long and short arguments contribute to the same end. - Epicurus
...except casandra's that belong to the funniest, most interesting and imaginative (or over-imaginative?) ones, I suppose.

That is....if she posts at all.


#7 toejam

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 08:51 AM

I can't say I'm an expert in latin or anything similar. I had a brief course of latin and greek during high school and that has been a while ago. If I remember right, the "a" was used for plural, but then for feminine too I guess...

However, I agree with you Richard, once a term is adopted, but it is incorrect, it becomes irrelevant, such as in spanish to say "medio ambiente" is the rule, when it really is a pleonasm, but now scientists and politicians use it indistinctively.

It'd be interesting to see the reaction of the community when they are corrected....
"When there's no more room in hell the dead will walk the Earth"

#8 casandra

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 10:54 AM

and to be more pedantic you should write:

IN CELLVLA
Posted Image

but you forgot the stroke on the [a], dr H......and this is my most favourite latin analogue: in papȳ:P
"Oh what a beauteousness!"
- hobglobin, personal comment about my beauteous photo......

#9 hobglobin

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 11:01 AM


and to be more pedantic you should write:

IN CELLVLA
Posted Image

but you forgot the stroke on the [a], dr H......and this is my most favourite latin analogue: in papȳPosted Image

please show me an originally latin stone plate or papyrus roll where it is written this way...IMO it's just for learners to denote the long "a". Posted Image
(and my keyboard anyway don't has this letter).Posted Image

One must presume that long and short arguments contribute to the same end. - Epicurus
...except casandra's that belong to the funniest, most interesting and imaginative (or over-imaginative?) ones, I suppose.

That is....if she posts at all.


#10 casandra

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 11:32 AM



and to be more pedantic you should write:

IN CELLVLA
Posted Image

but you forgot the stroke on the [a], dr H......and this is my most favourite latin analogue: in papȳPosted Image

please show me an originally latin stone plate or papyrus roll where it is written this way...IMO it's just for learners to denote the long "a". Posted Image
(and my keyboard anyway don't has this letter).Posted Image

beginners eh? ppfftt...how else can you differentiate the ablative from the nominative and vocative singular? and I will find one example...the Vulgate shld have one at least...:lol:...
"Oh what a beauteousness!"
- hobglobin, personal comment about my beauteous photo......





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