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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) a manmade object or structure, worn down into a more aesthetically pleasing shape

Manmade objects aren’t always the most aesthetically pleasing things in the world, but when they begin to be reclaimed by nature and worn down by wind, water and rain, they can take on something of a life of their own. And when that happens, they become synthetikites.

Or at least they do according to RV Dietrich, Emeritus Professor of Geology at Central Michigan University, who introduced this term in a 2011 work, Mimetoliths. (A mimetolith, incidentally, is a rock formation that happens to resemble something else; it literally means ‘stone mimic’.)

A synthetikite is something different. Manmade rather than natural, it is then worn down so as not to resemble something else, but rather just take on a more pleasing or attractive shape overall. Sea glass, for instance, could be a synthetikite, as could eroded brick walls, dilapidated farm buildings, and conglomerate stones on the seashore rounded down to smooth pebbles.

Etymologically, synthetikite attaches the familiar –ite ending found in geological terms (a Greek root, technically used to form words bearing some sense of origin or derivation) to the word synthetic (which literally means ‘put together’, and hence ‘manmade’).

Professor Dietrich credited the word to fellow geological enthusiast John VonDerlin in his paper, explaining that:

This useful term, coined by John VonDerlin, was originally given to “manmade rocks [e.g., diverse bricks, ceramics, concretes and slags] eroded into attractive shapes.” With his blessing, I extend his term to include man-made materials that have been discarded and subsequently rounded in surf zones and stream beds, thus leading to their being mistaken for natural pebbles and cobbles.

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