Terminators: Wordplays for Ideas & Insights
Oil and Olive Oil
Oil is a great word covering food, industry and religion.
Oil comes from the Latin 'oleum' meaning olive oil, from the Greek
'elaia' meaning 'olive'. The genus name for olive is "Olea."
Ironically, in this light 'olive oil' is redundant.
Only for the past few generations has the word "oil" implied
petroleum--literally 'rock oil.'
Olive oil is not only a food. It is a fuel, and a holy ointment.
It is the midnight oil burned by scholars. It is the fuel celebrated
in Hannuka. It is the unction used to annoint babies at baptisms,
kings at coronations, and the dying at last rites. And the olive
branch is the foremost symbol of an offer of peace.
Oleo lives in the language in oleomargarine ("oleo" for short), and in
linoleum (from 'Linum' the genus of linseed or flax), an example of a
vegetable oil (linseed oil) used to make an industrial product.
Petroleum is a fossil fuel. It is the product of once-living things
long extinct. But we get vegetable oils from plants living today, and
these crops can be changed by the tools of biotechnology. Soybeans
and canola are examples of North American crops that plant breeders
have bred for changed composition of oils, for use in food, in
lubricants, and in detergents.
Finally, the first US patent for a living thing was issued in 1980 for
a microbe specifically developed to clean up oil spills--petroleum,
that is. The power to claim patents for living organisms is a crucial
factor in the story of US biotechnology.