Oil And Water: Immiscible

Oil And Water: Immiscible

How long have we fallen back on the lazy old phrase, "like oil and water"?
I like to think I have a pretty big vocabulary, but I have been surprised recently to realize how many words I have just been skimming past, taking their meaning in context - and often getting it wrong. It turns out that all these decades I have been a reader, I haven't actually been looking up the words I kept telling myself I would look up.
 
How do I know this? Because I got a Kindle, and now when I encounter an unknown word, I can look it up with just a few clicks of the arrow button. I don't even have to sit up and fumble around for a pen!

This experience has been as enlightening as it is humbling. The book I'm reading now has a ton of "not really new to me but I didn't know what it meant" words. The most recent of these is "immiscible."
 
For some reason along the way I got the idea that "immiscible" meant "funny." (I think I might have confused it with "risible," which means "funny," but which I always thought meant "contemptible." This is getting complicated. I'll stop.) Lo and behold, when I clicked to read the definition this weekend, I found that it refers to two liquids which do not mix.
 
This is one of those remarkable cases where a single word can replace an entire phrase. In the case of "immiscible," the phrase is "like oil and water." A phrase which frankly always distracts me from the text. The first thing I think when I hear the phrase is, "you just have to shake it hard enough and it will pretty much mix." The second thing I think is, "if you're making salad dressing, you can add a dab of mustard. It does some chemical magic that makes the oil and water not mix exactly, but hang together a lot better after you shake it."
 
How long have we fallen back on the lazy old phrase, "like oil and water"? It turns out that "immiscible" was there all along. 
 
Immiscible is a sub-form of the parent word "miscibility," which is the quality of mixing. Many substances are miscible, like salt and water which can be mixed together to form a clear water. The clarity being the key, in what Wikipedia calls "determined optically." 
 
The term comes from the Latin "miscere," meaning "to mix." It dates from 1570, no doubt from the rise in alchemy and backyard science, Copernicus and the search for the truth of the universe. Beakers! Glass retorts! And of course, mixing things to see what happened.