1. What does "humbling" mean in this context?

  2. Does "the eye had to be educated to its rightness" means "the eye had to get accustomed to its right and wrong formats"?

  3. Does "odd sock drawer" mean a drawer of lots of untidy socks? Or does it specifically mean a drawer of socks that no single pair of them have similar colors (each sock in a pair having a different color)?


Duncan says: I spent hours in cytogenetics, and appreciated the scientists’ painstaking approach by doing some of the same exercises – basic chromosome and pairing recognition which their beginners do. There was something humbling about the work because it had to be right and the eye had to be educated to its rightness. Yet there seemed so much variation even with normal chromosomes, it seemed to me the issue of an aesthetic had to be applied to the equivalent of the odd sock drawer.


2 Answers 2

  1. The task is "humbling" because, while it at first looks easy, when you attempt to do it you realize that it's much harder than it looks and that you are very bad at it.

  2. Your interpretation is correct. You need experience to learn which pairings are right.

  3. An "odd sock drawer" is a drawer filled with "odd socks". These are socks whose mate cannot be found, so they don't belong to a pair.

From American Heritage Dictionary:

odd: 4a. Being one of an incomplete pair or set: an odd shoe.

  • 1
    Usually, a reference to the odd sock drawer means the place where you put the sock whose mate cannot be found within the current laundry load. Which is a relatively annoying thing you have to do after more or less every weekly wash. But I think OP's citation is more specifically referring to the annual attempt to actually find matching pairs within the odd sock drawer. Which in theory should result in 26 matched pairs, but in practice it never works out - I think I'm doing well if I get even a single pair out of that exercise. Commented Dec 13, 2015 at 13:51
  • I like this answer by @Peter Shor, but would add that: part of the confusion is just sloppy writing. I'm not trying to be rude, but that passage has so many elements in play and does not take on the responsibility of clarifying them. It's a nice image, "the odd sock drawer," especially as pertains to chromosomes, which are paired like socks, but your confusion is understandable. The writer does not clear it up and: I'm not sure what "issue of an aesthetic" can be "applied" to said drawer, nor to its "equivalent" in "even normal chromosomes."
    – Jack Roy
    Commented Dec 13, 2015 at 14:05
  • @Jack: I would assume that the "aesthetic" in terms of the "odd sock drawer" is the question of which unmatching socks make the best-looking pairs. If you're out of clean matching socks, you can always look in the odd sock drawer and try to find two socks which match well enough to wear. Commented Dec 13, 2015 at 14:10
  • @Peter Shor: Makes sense, thx!
    – Jack Roy
    Commented Dec 13, 2015 at 14:20

1) The task is humbling because it's menial, repetitive... [and indeed, I agree with Peter Shor, may seem easy because of this.]

2) Yet requires a high level of concentration and training, thus removing any creativity / sense of self from the process.

3) Odd is here used in the sense of "unpaired". The socks have been thrown into the drawer and, like the chromosomes, Duncan has to pair them again.

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