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Yummy

Those of us who took Bio AP in high school will recall the transformation lab in which the goal was to initiate DNA transformation in E. Coli bacteria by inducing the uptake of the pGLO plasmid. You wanted your bacteria to uptake the plasmid so it would become ampicillin-resistant, glowing, transformed E. Coli.

To get your E. Coli to begin uptake of the pGLO plasmid, you’d surround the bacteria with plasmids and use a technique called “heat shock” to open the pores of the bacteria and stimulate uptake. After the plasmid is introduced, arabinose sugar and the antibiotic ampicillin are added to the dish- arabinose activates the Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) coded for by the pGLO plasmid, and ampicillin kills any untransformed E. Coli. You knew if your bacterial lawn had taken up the pGLO plasmid if it survived the ampicillin and glowed under a UV light. The glowing bacteria were the transformed E. Coli.

This experiment reminded me of the process of nicknaming. The parts aren’t really analogous, but the processes strike me as similar. Let’s arrange a roster.
E. Coli- A person
pGLO plasmid- A person’s nickname
Heat shock- The growing usage of a person’s nickname
Uptake- A person’s acceptance and self-incorporation of the nickname
Ampicillin resistance/UV light glowing- Characteristics/event to which a person’s nickname refers.
Transformed E. Coli- A person’s identity under the nickname

I was trying to think of a well-known example to illustrate the analogy, and I have a realization about nicknames. They grow organically and are to be observed on a personal level. Movies and TV shows have a very difficult time and do a rather terrible job of telling a story about the origin of a character’s nickname. To observe a nickname’s origin and be around for the “uptake” process is something that is much more exciting and engaging to be around for in real life.

I present a fictional scenario of pGLO uptake.

Greg McDonald is a gentle and nervous fifth grader who enjoys drawing smiley farm animals and watching movies where sharks help fish build underwater fun castles. Greg is of average popularity; not immutably cool, but his attempts at friendship are generally successful. At his friend John’s first overnight birthday party, the other boys have a solitary goal of watching John’s older brother’s “Saw” movie collection at midnight.
John’s parents are responsible, early sleepers, and trustful of their elder son. The boys have fun running around, playing Wii Sports, Guitar Hero (at which Greg is particularly good), and eating pizza and junk food all afternoon and through the evening when John’s parents go to sleep. “I want to play a game” becomes a very popular phrase throughout the remainder of the night.

Monday at school, none of the boys seem to know a Greg McDonald, but constantly referred to a boy named “McChicken”. During the pledge of allegiance, on the playground at recess, it was especially awful at lunch where they were serving poultry nuggets. Greg was not very happy to have this nickname just because he hid under a blanket until absconding into a back room while that ghastly movie was on. He asked the others not to cal him that, he didn’t like it, but was just told that he shouldn’t be such a McChicken. But the others boys kept pelting him with “McChicken” all day, and the rest of the week.

“McChicken” became as common a moniker as “Greg” over the months, but it hurt less over time and Greg didn’t mind so much. It happened to be a mildly funny joke, and he did think himself more and more silly for hiding under that blanket as middle school approached. Still, it wasn’t fun when playing dodgeball at recess and another boy would yell “Hey, McChicken” and expect Greg to curl up in terror. He’s give an obligatory flinch, but he was an above average dodgeball player and could get most of the other boys out.

McChicken would answer to the nickname largely without incident or a dip in self-esteem as more distance passed, and he came to know the wonders of the dollar menu McChicken Sandwich, a popular after-school snack just across the street from campus. He associated himself more with the crispy deliciousness of the sandwich that some birthday party months ago and was indeed McChicken. There was no resistance to the nickname, he thought of it positively, and when he got an AIM screenname, it read: McChicken99.

Okay, so does the story resemble at all the uptake of the pGLO plasmid by an E. Coli colony? I can see the similarities, but I won’t name ’em. Just finish up by hammering down one of the more important points.

People are complex, they have many different qualities, and their qualities are often contradictory and inconsistent. Nicknames have more focus, they laser beam one quality, and that behavior/skill/characteristic is fully expected to show through when the person is being addressed by the nickname. The nicnamed person becomes stereotyped and definite expectations are held for that person when the nickname is used. You can name a dog something that would only be suitable for a nickname for a human because that dogs behavior will be predictable and consistent. But nicknames for a person need to be recombinant with the person’s identity, not a replacement.

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Posted February 15, 2010 by Wada in Uncategorized

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