A brief etymology of particle physics

How did the proton, photon and other particles get their names?

Over the years, physicists have given names to the smallest constituents of our universe.

This pantheon of particles has grown alongside progress in physics. Anointing a particle with a name is not just convenient; it marks a leap forward in our understanding of the world around us.

The etymology of particle physics contains a story that connects these sometimes outlandish names to a lineage of scientific thought and experiment.

So, without further ado, Symmetry presents a detailed guide to the etymology of particles—some we’ve found and others we have yet to discover.

Editor’s note: PIE, referenced throughout, refers to proto-Indo-European, one of the earliest known languages.

Discovered particles

Hypothetical particles

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