Monday, May 29, 2006

 

Energy Humor and Not

(Three letters to "A Word A Day" about "erg," a unit of energy: two humorous and one raising an interesting point for Americans, who insist on clinging to the English system units whenever possible.)
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Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--erg
Refer: http://wordsmith.org/words/erg.html

This word spawned a great one-line joke that I heard often while in school at MIT: the lesser known "arg" which is "the unit of work done incorrectly."

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Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--erg

An erg is a very small amount. My physicist husband says it's the amount of work done when a fly does a pushup, and was named for the tiny grunt he makes as he does it!

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Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--erg

Erg is not a SI unit, i.e.. it doesn't correspond to international measurement standards. That simply means it shouldn't be used any more. Instead people should use Joule as it is the official SI unit for Energy. In many counties (including the EU) the use of erg as a unit of energy (as well as other units from the CGS system) is no longerofficially allowed. In Germany it hasn't been allowed since 1978 to use erg as a unit of energy.

Scientists and engineers, but also anyone else should settle on a common 'language of units'. If everyone uses her/his own private units for measurements this will lead to global chaos and misunderstanding. That was already known by ancient cultures like the Greek and Roman, both of which implemented universal standards for mass, length etc.

In our times of global exchange of people, ideas, and products, it is no longer sufficient to agree on a system of units in an area like the Mediterranean: we should adhere to global standards.

Richness of language --as exemplified in many mails from this list-- is a marvelous thing. In the case of units this 'richness' is rather a poorness, since it tells the same thing (how much energy) in a manner incomprehensible to others (who use Joule), without adding any meaning that couldn't also be expressed by correctly using Joule.


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