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Plasmid is a biological word, so I guess most people don't know about the word, but I also heard ( I can be wrong ) native English speakers can presume a word's meaning by the roots.

As the roots of Plasmid are "plasma" and "id", where "plasma" can be blood plasma or physical-state plasma (as StoneyB and Andrew point out), while "id" means "shape, form, picture".

So to a native English speaker who see the word for first time, shall he take it "plasma form", "plasma shape" or something else? And does it sound like a cool word to you?

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    I think people would be far more likely to link that word to plasma, although whether that's blood plasma or physical-state plasma would be interesting. It appears plasmid isn't actually related to either thing. – Andrew Leach Feb 23 '17 at 9:37
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    I don't think an "ordinary" English speaker would have any idea what the word meant. An educated person with an interest in words might make a guess at the meaning of an unfamiliar word based on its roots. – Kate Bunting Feb 23 '17 at 9:45
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    An obscure technical or medical word isolated from context, might be recognizable as being scientific, but to guess at its meaning depends on the word itself. Plasmid, makes me think of the Italian biscuits for infants called Plasmon so my first reaction was to associate it with something to do with nutrition or health. Then refer to the nearest English word equivalent that I know, plasma, as Andrew suggested. – Mari-Lou A Feb 23 '17 at 9:48
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    Short answer to your question: no, not a clue. As for plasmoids, I think many people would guess blobbish things from outer space attacking earth. – ab2 Feb 23 '17 at 10:02
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    A lot of people are going to be familiar with the term as being associated with genetics from the video game Bioshock. So its coolness will be limited by the fact that it's been used previously. – richardb Feb 23 '17 at 13:17
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Plasmid does not have a long pedigree:

First Known Use: 1952

I used this readability tool, and it rated plasmid as follows:

TEST RESULTS: Your text has an average grade level of about 10. It should be easily understood by 15 to 16 year olds.

Despite this assertion, I did not recognize this word from its biological usage. I may of heard the word in a genetics class that I took in the 1980s and promptly forgotten it.

What about the root word, plasma? Plasma is an ambivalent word, with two biological meanings and two physics meanings (and quartz thrown in for good measure).

1 a green faintly translucent quartz 2 [New Latin, from Late Latin] a : the fluid part of blood, lymph, or milk as distinguished from suspended material; especially : blood plasma b : the juice that can be expressed from muscle 3 protoplasm 4 a collection of charged particles (as in the atmospheres of stars or in a metal) containing about equal numbers of positive ions and electrons and exhibiting some properties of a gas but differing from a gas in being a good conductor of electricity and in being affected by a magnetic field 5 a display (as a television screen) consisting of discrete cells of plasma sandwiched between two layers of glass and electrodes such that each cell emits light when it receives an electric current

(In contrast, the readability tool rated plasma with an average grade level of 7.)

In many schools, they still teach that there are three fundamental states of matter (solid, liquid, gas). But plasma is the fourth state.

Plasma, from Greek πλάσμα, meaning "anything formed", is one of the four fundamental states of matter, the others being solid, liquid, and gas. (citation)

It sounds like you are tending towards the physics meaning. Yes, the word plasmid sounds cool. Rather than plasmid, I think the alien should take plasma form or plasma-morph and sandwich himself between two sheets of glass and achieve phosphorescence through continuous bombardment of electrons. You could call him TV man.

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  • Where did you find your two frequency statements? Bottom 20% for plasmid and bottom 40% for plasma? – Mitch Feb 23 '17 at 13:06
  • @Mitch, click on the M-W link. It gives the popularity rankings. (These rankings may provide a handy guide to the OP's question about whether an English speaker would recognize the word.) – rajah9 Feb 23 '17 at 13:36
  • @rajah9, when you say it is a cool word, do you mean "plasmid" or "plasma"? – Edward Feb 23 '17 at 14:44
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    @rajah9 Just did a look around MW's web pages. For them 'popularity' means the frequency of lookups on their site, not frequency of use in texts in the real world. It really is a popularity contest, the words people are most curious about. So this is a poor metric for recognizability by native speakers. – Mitch Feb 23 '17 at 15:08
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    @rajah9 Cool, very nice answer, and funny with the TV man part, thank you! – Edward Feb 23 '17 at 17:25

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