Cover image for Buzzwords : a scientist muses on sex, bugs, and rock 'n' roll
Buzzwords : a scientist muses on sex, bugs, and rock 'n' roll
Berenbaum, M. (May)
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Joseph Henry Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xviii, 298 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QL463 .B47 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
QL463 .B47 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



What sort of person devotes their life to the study of bugs? How do you picture your average, every-day entomologist? "I've been photographed on several occasions," writes author May Berenbaum, "and it seems that every time, photographers ask me to pose in one of three ways: seated in front of a microscope, with an insect (usually a cockroach) on my face, or with an insect net clutched in my hand."

In Buzzwords , Berenbaum expertly blows away these stereotypes with short takes on all things entomological--from the story of a pet ant kept for 14 years to major motion pictures featuring cockroaches.

Buzzwords showcases the Best of Berenbaum, a selection from her humor column in the American Entomologist professional journal, accompanied by a number of original pieces written for this book. "I know people are reading these columns," she notes, "because they write me letters that point out all the mistakes I've made "

The book comes in four parts:

How entomologists see insects, including their view of a U.S. government plan to eradicate illicit coca fields by dropping caterpillars from airplanes.
How the rest of the world sees insects, with Berenbaum's proposed classificatory scheme for placing Spider Man, Firefly, and other cartoon superheroes into well-defined taxa.
How entomologists view themselves--featuring Bambi Berenbaum, a gorgeous entomologist created for an episode of TV's popular "The X-Files," whose character was inspired when the scriptwriter consulted Berenbaum's books.
How entomologists see their colleagues, with various views on scholarly citation, motion sickness, and more.

Along the way are some thought-provoking observations--for example, about the impact of television on public knowledge of science. In one poll, Berenbaum writes, 35% of adults said they believed that prehistoric humans coexisted with dinosaurs, a la the Flintstones.

Berenbaum even takes on the controversy over alternative medicine, fearlessly purchasing Chinese medicinal insects during a professional trip to Vancouver, which also happened to be her honeymoon. "Okay, so maybe giving two talks at an International Congress of Entomology is not everybody's idea of a romantic honeymoon venue, but it seemed like a good idea at the time."

Berenbaum is a noted scientist in a field that doesn't always gets the respect it deserves, but she shows us that there's a fun and even freaky side of life with insects. While working on the University of Illinois' annual Insect Fear Film Festival she received a letter from a "crush freak" who waxed lyrical about a young, sexy babe with a size 9 or 10 shoe. Berenbaum writes, "On the one hand, it's almost gratifying to think that insect pest management can arouse people's interest to such an extreme extent. On the other hand, it has convinced me not to list my shoe size in the biographical sketch of my next book."

Readers will appreciate learning how the word "shloop" was introduced to the medical literature when physicians used a metal suction tip to remove a cockroach from a patient's ear canal, and how one investigator named a series of subspecies bobana, cocana, dodana, and so forth, "anticipating by 60 years the song, 'The Name Game, ' by Shirley Ellis."

Although you'll chuckle all the way, Berenbaum has the last laugh, giving powerful lessons in the spectacular diversity of the insect world and the nature of scientific discovery, cleverly packaged as witty observations on subjects far and wide.

If you're a scientist or you like reading about science--better yet, if you've ever found a fly in your soup (or worried that you might have unknowingly just slurped one down with your tomato bisque--this book is for you.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Who would have thought insects could be so entertaining? Berenbaum, the Illinois entomologist who wrote the "Buzzwords" column for American Entomologist magazine for nearly a decade, here collects 42 of those short essays and tells us more about bugs than we ever thought we'd want to know. Did you know, for instance, that if all the offspring of a single pair of fruit flies were to survive and reproduce, there would be, in the space of about five months, enough fruit flies to cover Germany in a layer 47 feet deep? Like Stephen Jay Gould, Berenbaum spotlights the unusual side of the natural world, though his approach is a bit lighter than Gould's. ("Buzzwords" was in many ways a humor column that just happened to be about science.) Not for all tastes, to be sure (those who really hate insects should stay away), but a definite must-read for fans of user-friendly popular science. --David Pitt

Publisher's Weekly Review

This fourth collection of essays from University of Illinois professor Berenbaum (Bugs in the System, etc.) offers 42 informal, informative and often amusing pieces about insects and the people who study them. (Most of the essays originated as columns in American Entomologist.) Berenbaum treats the bugs, ants and beetles themselves; their images in society; the folkways of entomologists; and the place of science in American culture. One piece considers whether the methane in cockroach farts contributes to global warming. The next jumps from high school sex-ed films to dragonfly species whose females eat males as they mate, and thence to the (human) fetishists called "crush freaks," who find bug squashing erotically exciting. A column on comic books explains that "arthropod-based superheroes are easily placed in well-defined taxa.... Running a close second to the arachnids [like Spiderman] are hymenopterans: Ant Boy, Ant Man, the Green Hornet.... " And then there is the mysterious frequency with which cockroaches appear in supermarket tabloids; the best way to get a roach out of a child's ear; the insects in the songs of Weird Al Yankovic; correct usage for the technical term "humbug"; and the "infield flies" (swarms of mosquitoes) who disrupted a 1982 White Sox game. Berenbaum's digressive, whimsical musings are rarely laugh-out-loud hilarious; they are, however, consistent, low-key fun. Nonspecialists may not realize till they've finished the book how much they've learned about the lives of bugsÄnot to mention bug experts. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This collection of essays, containing some new material, comes from a long-running humor column in the American Entomologist written by Berenbaum (entomology, Univ. of Illinois; Bugs in the System; Herbivores.) The author has become a keen observer of how insects, those who study them, and the rest of the world all interact in the arena of popular culture. Though the writing is cleverDthere's at least one chuckle per essayDthe material is not enough for an entire book, so Berenbaum is forced to reword and repeat herself. The repetition becomes annoying, though perhaps it would be less apparent if the reader were to dip into the collection, rather like a bee going from flower to flower. Part rumination on the depiction of insects and entomologists in TV, movies, and music and part autobiography, Berenbaum's fluffy essay collection is a marginal purchase for most libraries.DAnn Forister, Roseville P.L., CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This is a fun-to-read and funny book! Berenbaum (Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) delightfully and playfully examines insects and how scientists and the public perceive them. The book is composed of a series of short essays, most of which were originally published in her regular column for the American Entomologist. The book is divided into four sections: "How Entomologists See Insects," "How the World Sees Insects," "How Entomologists See Themselves," and "How An Entomologist Sees Science." Topics range from a governmental drug-control plan for eradication of coca crops with caterpillars, to insect superheroes in comic books, to university politics, to the depiction of insects in B movies. Her essays humanize science by providing glimpses into the life of scientists and the fascinating world of insects, while at the same time they present solid science in a highly palatable way. Anyone interested in entomology and science or just a good laugh should read this book. Highly recommended for high school, college, and public libraries. All levels. R. E. Lee Jr. Miami University

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xv
How Entomologists See Insects
On elderly antsp. 3
Putting on airsp. 8
Fatal attractionsp. 15
Just say "Notodontid?"p. 21
Pick a number from 1 to 10[superscript 41]p. 26
Ain't no bugs in me!p. 31
Getting up to speedp. 38
Sea monkey see, sea monkey dop. 45
A prayer before diningp. 50
Grotto glowp. 57
How the World Sees Insects
Super systematicsp. 65
Inquiring minds want to knowp. 71
"Let me tell you 'bout the birds and the bees..."p. 76
Bizzy, bizzy entomologistsp. 82
P.C. insectsp. 88
Over-the-counter insectsp. 93
Roach clips and other short subjectsp. 99
Got my mojo workin' (badly)p. 105
Weird Al-eyrodidae? Weird Al-eocharinae?p. 111
"This is your brain on bugs..."p. 119
Is Paris buzzing?p. 125
Infield flies and other sporting typesp. 132
Sounding offp. 138
How Entomologists See Themselves
Entomological legworkp. 147
"What's in a name? That which you call Eltringham's gland..."p. 152
Apis, Apis, Bobapisp. 157
Department of Ant-omology?p. 165
Ah! Humbug!p. 173
Grumpy old entomologistsp. 180
Images of entomologists--moving and otherwisep. 186
(Water) penny for your thoughts?p. 195
Rated GP ("generally patronizing")p. 201
How an Entomologist Sees Science
Author! Author! et al.p. 207
I'm okay--are you O.K.?p. 212
"Quite without redeeming quality?"p. 218
Flintstones 101p. 224
A word to freshmenp. 230
Holding the bagp. 238
Kids Pour Coffee on Fat Girl Scoutsp. 243
An o-pun and shut casep. 248
Hand-me-down genesp. 255
Subpoenas envyp. 260
Referencesp. 267
Indexp. 281