PLAYERS down at our town's free tennis courts have a short attention span. They have stopped discussing taxes and are now talking about a planet someone discovered outside the solar system. Astronomers are on the verge of giving themselves a bad name. After a lot of this discovery ballyhoo, we learn that what they call a planet is made of gas. Hot gas, at that. Ten times hotter, they say, than Jupiter. That must mean Jupiter is all hot gas, too. Now to the average person this sounds like deception.
Anyone who watched the 1969 moon landing has a right to believe a planet is something you can walk on. Compared with those ``sellers'' of gas planets, old-time Florida real estate operators were church deacons. Maybe they sold lots in Florida that no one could walk on, but at least you could paddle around on them in a rubber raft. Anyway, they weren't gas.
Some of these gas-planet astronomers try to explain that this new mass-of-gas discovery has to be called a planet because it isn't hot enough to be called a star. Well, the profession simply needs another name for this round, gassy nothing. The word has to be between planet and star. Something like ``plar,'' which has a very honest sound to it.
Actually, we ought to take the double-talk out of a lot of professions. They do that just to make you say, ``Please put that in language we can understand.''
Maybe scientific conversations are not intended to be absolutely honest in the first place. Esoteric words, even pig Latin, can make one feel slightly superior.
Or maybe, in the case of astronomers, the science-fiction writers are making them feel obsolete. They are fighting back.