After a great deal of painstaking research[1], I have uncovered the true[2] origins of the “nucular” pronunciation of the word nuclear.

Nukular turns out to be an abbreviation of “Nuke-you-la’r,” a traditional Texan leave-taking[3]. The phrase is a contraction of “Nuke you later,” and refers to the intense heat of a Texas barbecue grill. Essentially, one is saying that the other person is always welcome at a barbecue.

The word appears to have become conflated with nuclear due to their similarity, much as many people confuse affect and effect, or use infer when they obviously mean imply[4].

Nukular in its original sense has fallen out of use except in some rural parts of Texas, and most speakers are no longer aware of the saying.

  1. In other words, 30 seconds of making stuff up.
  2. No, not really.
  3. Or greeting. It’s kind of like aloha in Hawaiian: it can be used for both hello and goodbye.
  4. This isn’t hand grenades, after all.

From the Astronomy Picture of the Day, it’s the remnants of a two-billion-year-old nuclear reactor discovered in 1972 in a mine in Oklo, Gabon.

Apparently in the old days there was enough uranium-235 in the Earth’s crust that, under the right conditions, nuclear fission could occur naturally. Over time the fuel was used up, and now uranium deposits are mostly 238U, so we don’t need to worry about any new nuclear reactors popping up without our help.

What’s really odd is that this reactor produced plutonium naturally. There’s still some there. Most periodic tables I’ve seen label plutonium as a synthetic element, so the idea of natural plutonium takes some getting used to.

Kind of like the idea of a natural nuclear reactor.