Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In A Land Called Honalee


We were heading back from lovely New Jersey (lovely in the sense that it could be seen in the rear-view mirror). We had received a very nice gift basket from my in-laws which contained, among other things, a large bar of Mandarin Orange and Bergamot Scented Soap. Given the length and scenic-ness of this drive, we will often discuss things, any things, just to pass the time.

Spouse: So what is soap, anyway? It's just lye and fat, right?
Me: Hmmm... do you know the chemical rule about "like dissolving like"?
Spouse: No.
Me: Well, certain compounds, like water which has two positive hydrogens on one side of the molecule and a negative oxygen on the other side are called "polar", and those compounds will only dissolve other polar compounds like salt, which has a positive sodium on one side of its molecule and a negative chlorine on the other side. Other compounds, like petroleum compounds, have their entire molecules surrounded by positive hydrogens and are called "non-polar". Those compounds can only dissolve or be dissolved by other non-polar compounds. When you boil a strong alkali like lye with fat, it forms chains of hugely long molecules that are in fact so long that they can be slightly polar on one end and slightly non-polar on the other, which is how soap can work by dissolving both.

Fascinating, no? Speaking as someone who once majored in chemistry, I can only tell you that any aspiring young chemist would have been riveted by this explanation. We're wild that way. Remind me to tell you about how Teflon was invented and how the Quaker Oats company made more money for several years from oat hulls than it made from the oats themselves.

At this point, you could literally hear her eyes roll up in her head. I had to grab the steering wheel and splash the remainder of my soft drink in her face to wake her up.

Spouse: When I ask you a question like that, I expect the answer to at least be entertaining.
Me: Oh.
Spouse: Even if you have to make something up.
Me: Oh. Um. Well.... Soap is actually dragon poop.
Spouse: There you go!
Me: The size of the bar of soap depends on the size of the dragon.
Spouse: I see.
Me: And the various scents come from what the dragon eats. Our new soap came from a breed of dragon whose diet consists largely of mandarin oranges and bergamot.
Spouse: Now that makes sense. Thanks for the explanation.

And thus our drive from New Jersey was made more pleasant. It was only later that I thought about adding some information on where liquid soap comes from, but I thought it best to leave that part out lest neither of us ever bathe again.

14 comments:

Malnurtured Snay said...

I was rolling my eyes through your explanation, too :)

LiLu said...

See, it even makes sense that the poop is all nice smelling, because it's MAGICAL!!!

Gilahi said...

Snay - As I say to my wife: That's not a particularly flattering look. The lesson there is never to ask a scientist a question that you don't want the answer to.

LiLu - Actually we discussed that. I started to explain how they get rid of the smell and spouse said that maybe it just came out smelling that way.

Cyndy said...

I thought your explanation was quite interesting and I vaguely remember all of that from chemistry class. Very vaguely.

Puff the Magic Dragon was a song that traumatized me as a small child. I heard it one day on the radio at the pool and immediately bought a copy with my paper route money. When I got it home I could hear the words more clearly and I took the whole thing completely literally and before I knew it, I was sobbing away. I kept trying to listen to it without crying but I just couldn't - it was so sad! So I put it away for a few years and after that I finally "got" it.

Mike said...

I majored in chemical engineering at Missouri University at Rolla. It's not an easy school. It takes most slackers 5 years to get out of there. It only took me a year and a half.

Gilahi said...

Cyndy - "Puff" was probably the first 45 I ever owned as a child. I remember begging my mom to shell out the 35 cents or whatever it was, and I played it until it was so thin you could actually hear the song on the other side of the record. The only tears I associate with it came from a friend of mine several years later when I finally convinced him that his favorite childhood song was actually about drugs (although Paul Stookey vehemently denies this).

Mike - I might or might not have once owned a T-Shirt that said "Chemists have solutions", and a bumper sticker that said "Heisenberg may have slept here". We chemists are a witty lot.

Bilbo said...

I started my college career as a chemical engineering major, before my rather modest grades in chemistry and calculus threatened to attract the attention of the Army. I switched to Linguistics, and the rest is history. Did you know that the German word for soap is "Seife?" And the word for dragon is "Drache?" And that the word "Drache" also means "kite?" And your wife thought she could roll HER eyes...

Gilahi said...

Bilbo - I'm surprised at how many former chemistry and chemical engineering majors there are out there. So I guess my real question is, what's the German word for "poop"? And would the Germans combine all three words to make "dragon poop soap"?

Bilbo said...

Gilahi, there are numerous German words for 'poop', but the one best for this situation is 'Kot,' which generally refers to animal poop. Thus, your the German compound word for 'dragon poop soap' would be 'Drachenkotseife.' I can't believe I spent four years getting a degree in Linguistics to do that translation...

Gilahi said...

Bilbo - Bet you thought that degree wouldn't ever come in handy, didn't you? Thanks!

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

You two are my favoritest couple. Seriously! Classic.

Gilahi said...

J.M - Even more than John & Kate? Sonny & Cher? Fred & Wilma?

Thanks.

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

Well, you're definitely classier than John & Kate, more musically inclined than Sonny & Cher, and have better decorating taste than Fred & Wilma. So yes, I like you both even more than them. Although, it's a tough call between you two and Lucy & Desi and Mulder & Scully. The jury's still out. I'll get back to you on that.

Gilahi said...

J.M. - If we're more musically inclined that Sonny & Cher, where is all my money? FWIW, I wouldn't even try to keep up with Lucy & Desi.

 
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