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More Tinkering by Curt Gabrielson

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Chapter 2 Remixing Air

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Light a candle in a bottle to change the composition of air.

Sometimes linguistics can shed light on science. In Tetun, there is no equivalent for the English word “air.” There is a word meaning wind—anin—but it’s clear that this word does not describe the contents of an empty bottle; anin has to be moving. The words meaning smoke (ahi-suar; that’s wood-suar) and steam (bee-suar; that’s water-suar) don’t mean air, because everyone agrees that if you can’t see it, it’s not suar.

Tetun has taken a lot of words from Portuguese over the last 500 years, and so most educated people know both vapór and ár, the Portuguese ...

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