Social media is insidious…useful…but insidious. One minute, you're musing on ideas for your latest Materials Today blog comment, the next you are being sucked into a Twitter meme, tracing the evolution of an intriguingly scientific and yet puerile hash tag. The latest that caught my eye had a scientific, indeed a molecular flavor that MT readers might enjoy as well as a literary aspect. The twitter meme hash tag in question is #shakespearechemistry

I haven't yet traced its origins but it first appeared in my Twitter feed about an hour before I started writing this comment with a tweet from Harry Shirley (whose twitter handle is @HarryJSh) who tweeted: "Epoxide on both your houses" with the appropriate hash tag. Amused chemists retweeted Harry's tweet to express kudos and props. Stephen Davey (@stephengdavey) came up with "The course of synthesis never did run smooth" and Claire Hansell (@HansellThe) followed with the well-remembered and adapted: "Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous failed purification steps..."

Curious Wavefunction (@curiouswavefn) sent an open tweet as opposed to a direct message to @stephengdavey "Some are born stable, some achieve stability and some have stability thrust on them" and added "The racemates that people make live after them; the enantiomerically pure is oft interred with their bones" at which point I will have to run to a Shakespeare quote book to start double-checking the source of the original phrases. Similarly for "Perchance not I fear" added to an RT of @HarryJSh by @HansellThe in response to "Will all the blood in the ocean wash this permanganate from these hands?" Claire also followed up her response with "To thine own self-assembly be true". Next, @fluorogol tweeted "Out, damned TLC spot! Out, I say!" and Lars Öhrström (@Larsohrstrom) "Thou smell of hexanoic acid".

Now, I must confess I understand all the insider chemical jokes here from the chemistry perspective, but I must have missed a lesson or two when they read Shakespeare at high school, although I do vaguely remember something about a cabin, a gate and yellow suspenders…or was it carbon, agate and a yellow suspension? We may never know. Of course, at the time of posting, the meme is still active so you have the opportunity to jump in with your own #shakespearechemistry. It could be double, double, toil and trouble though...


Social media - web 2.0 stuff like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, SoundCloud, crowd sourcing, crowd funding etc.

Twitter - world-famous microblogging platform with very low character limit.

Meme - the information equivalent of a gene, a self-replicating idea, now commonly associated with ideas that spread quickly through social media on platforms such as Twitter.

Hash tag - a keyword used to flag a concept, meeting or other idea on social media, commonly Twitter and used to facilitate the tracking of memes.

Twitter feed  - the never-ending deluge of 140-character updates from the twitterati, celebrities and the great unwashed.

Tweet - an update on twitter.

Twitter handle - the username that is preceded by an @ sign on twitter and is usually associated with an individual or corporate entity, viz @sciencebase

Retweet - Commonly abbreviated as RT, a way of sharing someone else's tweet with one's own followers on twitter.

Direct message - or DM, a tweet sent to a fellow user so that only that user sees it, a DM will only be seen by the recipient, unless you forget to include DM or D before their @username at the start of the tweet, at which time the whole of twitter will see your "private" message.

David Bradley blogs at and tweets @sciencebase, he is author of the popular science book "Deceived Wisdom".