Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Ig Nobels: Making people laugh and then think

Today’s ‘Positive and Optimistic Sunday’. My mother language’s English. I feel profound sympathy for everyone trying to learn English as a second (or subsequent) language. For them, English’s grammatical and constructional idiosyncrasies must be hugely frustrating. An example? The opposite of ‘noble’. It’s ‘ignoble’. I can’t find any other word which converts to its antonym via the prefix ‘ig’. If you want to parody the Nobel Prizes, what would you name the parody prizes? The Ig Nobel Prizes, of course [1]. Ig Nobels are awarded in early October each year by the humorous journal Annals of Improbable Research [2]. The Ig Nobels were inaugurated in 1991 – at that time for discoveries ‘that cannot, or should not, be reproduced’. Ten prizes are awarded each year, in the five Nobel categories (i.e. physics, chemistry, physiology/ medicine, literature and peace) plus others. The Ig Nobels are for genuine achievements ‘that first make people laugh, and then make them think’. The 2010 Ig Nobels were announced last week [3]. The range of its Prize topics is astounding. And wondrous. Every Ig Nobel winner from 1991 to 2010 is here [4]. And I must congratulate Andre Geim [5] who won an Ig Nobel in 2000 and a Nobel in 2010 [6]. Finally I love it that the Ig Nobel ceremony, held at Harvard each year, ends with the admonition: ‘If you didn’t win a prize – and especially if you did – better luck next year!’

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