where the writers are
Shaking the Spear(e)

Writing the Opus of Amateur Radio Knowledge and Lore has been a blast.   Through no fault of my own, several English radio amateurs got in on the act, offering not only some input pertinent to Amateur Radio on the "other side of the pond." but also offering gems of wisdom about the proper use of the King's English.  Because of this gentle prodding, the Opus has a certain subtle Monty Python feel to it in parts, for which I am delighted.  Because of this interaction, I was also compelled to include an English-American translation/glossary in the book's appendix. 

Now, I have a whole flock of English inlaws and outlaws, so the peculiarities of some English words in common usage were never much of a mystery.  But a highly technical book such as the Opus of Amateur Radio Knowledge and Lore brings out some of the rarer morsels.

The vacuum tube, which still plays a prominent part in Amateur Radio, is known as the valve in England.  This really brings up a poignant point about how we think about things a bit differently.  The word tube is descriptive of what the thing looks like...vaguely....but valve really makes more sense when describing its function.  Without drawing too profound a conclusion, might this suggest that the English are a little more concerned with what something does than what something looks like?  Is there a lesson here we Americans have forgotten?

Another entry in my glossary is the English phrase "right home."  I'd seen this phrase used in various English electronics and mechanical tomes, and, admittedly, for a while, it was a complete mystery.  After further investigation, I learned that "right home" means "in the normal position."  Ah!  Well, that makes perfect sense.  We often need to return high tech devices to their "right home" positions.  Right home is sort of the default setting for things mechanical or electrical. 

Shouldn't there be a "right home" key on computer keyboards?  Instead of the CTRL-ALT-DELETE "Three Finger Salute," it would be far more logical to have a single "Right Home" key.  I think I'll file a petition with whomever one files such petitions.  I think most Americans would pay extra for a keyboard with a proper RIGHT HOME key.  I have a HOME key on my keyboard, but I hardly ever use it...it only takes you halfway there.  I really have more of a need for a RIGHT HOME key.  Much more deliberate and definitive.

Condenser is another great English radio word.  Now, this has a particularly interesting history.  In fact, the term condenser was used here until a little after World War II, after which it became known as the capacitor.  Condenser was deemed to be more poetic than accurate, since one can't really condense electrons, as one might condense milk.  But the real problem with capacitor, is that there's no real verb form.  One doesn't capacitate...at least in electronic circuits.  Condenser may be a bit lacking in the precision department, but capacitor is even more lacking in the functionality department.

Aerial is the most noteworthy of English-American radio terminology.  Like condensor, aerial is a term that was in common usage on this side of the pond for many years.  Some time in recent history, we decided that antenna was a more functionally descriptive term than aerial.  Aerial told you where it was, but it didn't reveal much about what it does.   Unfortunately, neither does antenna.  We learn that from Latin, antenna means insect feeler or yardarm.  Actually, the only radio antenna that remotely resembles insects' feelers is the now-nearly-defunct "rabbit ears" TV antenna.  The yardarm interpretation probably has a little closer affinity to the physically descriptive aspect of this. 

Now, iIf a radio antenna were only used for reception , the analogy to insects' feelers wouldn't be too far off.   They both "detect" weak "signals" (though of radically different forms).  However, an amateur radio antenna is just as likely to be used for TRANSMITTING radio signals as receiving them, which makes the insects' feelers interpretation just plain wrong, for at least half of all amateur radio discussions.

I ended up resolving this situation in a unique manner in the Opus.  I simply resumed the term aerial throughout my tome.  This should make my English readers happy.  It certainly works for me.

It has been said that England and America are two nations divided by a common language.  This is probably less true now than in the past.  In fact, one of my English contributors  on this project quipped, "I think if your Revolutionary War was being fought today, most of us Brits would be on YOUR side."

 I think that says a lot.