Musings of a Dinosaur

A Family Doctor in solo private practice; I may be going the way of the dinosaur, but I'm not dead yet.

Friday, October 19, 2007

When Did This Happen?

When I was a college sophomore I took Organic Chemistry, then as now a rite of passage for pre-meds and other science majors. I don't remember it being much more difficult than inorganic, or first-year chemistry, but for some reason it was considered the course that, more than any other, separated the pre-med wheat from the chaff that didn't have what it took.

Over the last thirty years I don't believe introductory college chemistry has changed all that much, but of late I have become aware of a definite change in terminology (or, keeping in mind the subject, of nomenclature.) Back in my day (pause for deep sigh of "OMG I'm old") first and second year chemistry courses were known, respectively, as Inorganic Chemistry and Organic Chemistry. For short, we called them simply "Chemistry" and "Organic."

Nowadays, though, the courses are the same but the names are different. First year is now called General Chemistry (often short for something like "Principles of General Chemistry" or such) and referred to in certain circles as "Gen Chem." Short. Cute. Almost rhymes. No problem.

But instead of good old "Organic," they now have: Orgo.

Orgo. Sounds like a Star Trek villain, doesn't it? ("Captain Kirk! Orgo is threatening to blow up the ship!")

Here's my question: When did this happen? I've heard twenty-something med students use the term, so I know it's not just the Nestling. (Brag alert: The Nestling, who wants to complete his BS/MS in Biochemistry in his four years at college, placed out of the first year of chemistry with his AP of 5, so he's taking Orgo as a freshman (and doing well, I hear. WTG!) /brag)

I'd love to find out just when this semantic shift occurred. I figure by using the comments and comparing age to preferred term for "second year, carbon-based, pre-med humbling college chemistry" we can pin this down. Any takers?

25 Comments:

At Fri Oct 19, 07:33:00 AM, Blogger MedStudentGod (MSG) said...

29 years old and I still called it Organic. But I did know the term Gen Chem quite well.

 
At Fri Oct 19, 08:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back in the 70's, we called it "orgasmic" although it was anything but!

 
At Fri Oct 19, 09:02:00 AM, Anonymous Dr. Val said...

I think this is like soda/pop. As far as I know, both terms are still used (I've heard "organic" and "orgo") and I suspect there may be regional colloquial preferences. People in Texas say "coke" for any soda, folks in the north/midwest say "pop," and I think the majority of other Americans say "soda." Trick is now to tease out which word is preferred in which areas... :)

 
At Fri Oct 19, 09:09:00 AM, Blogger Nurse K said...

I called it Organic in approx 2000, and General Chemistry was just chemistry or chem.

 
At Fri Oct 19, 09:40:00 AM, Blogger Rob said...

I had a friend who went to Hamilton college and he called it Orgo about 25 years ago. We didn't call it that, we called it Organic. I think Val is right. It depends on the school you go to.

Many pre-meds called it quits.

I was a chemistry major, so I thought that was great.

 
At Fri Oct 19, 09:58:00 AM, Blogger Voter Mom said...

I don't recall seeing pre-meds in our organic chem classes. I guess they had their own block, since they did seem to wander into the chem building once in a while.

 
At Fri Oct 19, 10:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was Chem and Organic for me in the early 90s but then I realized I'm old for your 'study' here. I initially thought graduation was only yesterday... but with thought, realized it was 12 years go... uh oh :)

-Angi

oh, and while Chem was a bit of a struggle for me, I loved it. Organic was much easier. I like to brag on being 1 of 2 As in my class but then I never went on to use it so does it matter...

and since region is now being considered, I'll answer there. Ohio. And I never heard it called Orgo.

 
At Fri Oct 19, 10:34:00 AM, Blogger Ladyk73 said...

Reminds me of BOGO, the shopping term. I took Med Chem, as I went on to be a pharmacy student (who failed!!!). Anyways, I feel as if my science skills have faded.

I loved electron orbitals, that sounds Orgo.

 
At Fri Oct 19, 10:47:00 AM, Blogger William the Coroner said...

We called it "Orgasmic Chemistry" too. In the late '80's. It was a real pity about that ether fire I caused...darn.

 
At Fri Oct 19, 11:40:00 AM, Blogger The MSILF said...

It was not orgo as late as early 2000 in California.

 
At Fri Oct 19, 02:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here at my school, people call General Chemistry "Chem" and Organic is "O Chem". Different strokes for different folks I guess.

 
At Fri Oct 19, 04:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was in college in late 80's - early 90's. First year chem was general chem and we did not really abbreviate. Second year was organic and we called it orgo or organic or O-Chem. I honestly liked it better because we did carbs and DNA and Krebs and stuff in that class and I hated acid base and orbitals and that was first year chem. I was in NYC if that helps.

 
At Fri Oct 19, 04:25:00 PM, Blogger Candace said...

I took organic in 1992. It was "chemistry" and "organic", as you described.

Graduated med school in 97.

 
At Fri Oct 19, 04:26:00 PM, Blogger Candace said...

Oh, I went to school (all) in Texas.

And, I hated organic--unlike most of these geeks. :)

 
At Fri Oct 19, 04:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm currently completing my pre-meds (already a working EE, wanted a bigger challenge) and for the most part, here in SE Texas, the references are "Chemistry" or "Gen Chem" and "Organic" or "OChem"...just to add my two cents.

 
At Fri Oct 19, 04:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

before 2001....

 
At Fri Oct 19, 05:00:00 PM, Anonymous RJS said...

I believe the debate is now between "orgo" and "ochem." Both seem equally popular. I called it "orgo" but I think "ochem" sounds better.

In terms of subject matter, I always found organic more beautiful and consequently easier than general chemistry. (I refuse to call general chemistry "inorganic chemistry" because inorganic chemistry refers to a class beyond freshman level -- generally a 400 or 500 level class.)

And then there's medicinal chemistry (med chem) which is better than ochem in the way that ochem is better than gen chem. :P

 
At Fri Oct 19, 09:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

gen chem (general / inorganic)
o chem (organic)
anal chem (analytical)
p chem (physical)

small central PA college, ~1998

 
At Fri Oct 19, 11:14:00 PM, Blogger Adria said...

At the University of Arizona in 2001-ish, it was O-Chem. My sister took the class at Tulane approximately 5 years later, and she calls it orgo.

I think orgo sounds d-u-m.

 
At Sat Oct 20, 01:25:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1989-90 They were officially General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry but we called them Chemistry and Organic like you did--this must be somewhere in between your time and now.

 
At Sat Oct 20, 06:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I graduated from U. of Pittsburgh in 1981. We called the courses 'freshman chemistry' and 'organic chemistry'. The official name of the 1st year course was 'General Chemistry'. I remember the physical chemistry course being referred to as 'p chem'.

What is truly embarrassing is that on my college transcript is a course called 'Organismic', which was the first semester of freshman biology. It is accompanied by 'Organismic Lab' as well, both of which I got an A in.

 
At Sat Oct 20, 08:59:00 PM, Blogger Valerie said...

It was Orgo at Northwestern U, north of Chicago, way back in the late 70's! But we always were trend-setters...

 
At Sat Oct 20, 09:29:00 PM, Blogger matt said...

At Samford (a small private college in Alabama) we called it inorganic and organic. I graduated in 2001. I first heard "Orgo" on the internet about 2 years ago. I've never heard it said out loud

 
At Wed Oct 24, 08:23:00 PM, Blogger Andy said...

28 year old medical student. Took "inorganic" 10 years ago and "organic" one year later. That's what we called it, so the change must have been since then.

 
At Sun Oct 28, 05:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I took Organic Chemistry in 2002 and we called it "Orgo".

 

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