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shameless pleading

Clone

An odd little word, or two.

Dear WD: With all this cloning business going on, I have a question. Where does the word “clone” come from? — Zoodc.

Before we start, I’d like to take a moment to encourage readers who write me via the Internet to sign their complete names to their questions, rather than their “screen names” or e-mail addresses. I like to conjure up a mental image of my readers as I write my answer, and it’s a bit difficult to picture a “zoodc.” Right now, I’m imagining someone writing to me from within the Washington, D.C., zoo, which is a bit disturbing, given the subject matter.

Well, with all this cloning business going on, I, too, have a lot of questions, some of which I probably shouldn’t ask. I understand that scientists, having cloned a sheep, have now moved on to cloning monkeys. I could ask why they skipped lawyers, but I won’t. I do, however, believe that I have discerned a pattern in these dubious endeavors, a method to the madness, which I will now share with you. Think for a moment. What do you get when you cross a sheep with a monkey? That’s right — a TV news anchorperson! They are breeding Rathers and Brokaws and Jenningses in those labs, and they must be stopped.

Meanwhile, back at your question, “clone” is an odd little word, but its origin is actually very straightforward and logical. It comes from the Greek word “klon,” meaning “twig,” and the first use of the word was in the field of botany in the early 20th century, to describe the process of growing one plant from a cutting or graft from another. Although “clone” soon came to be applied to microorganisms as well as plants, the first use of “clone” to mean an entire person or animal produced from a single parent was fairly recent, dating to 1970. One of the first figurative, non-scientific uses of “clone” was in 1979 to describe Elvis impersonators. Soon, I suppose, we’ll be reckoning with the real thing.

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