Electric Cars and Electrical Engineers
What is the proper use of the words electric and electrical?
I am an engineer and do not know when to use one form or the other. We say “electric car” but also say “electrical wiring.” If I have
a new device: is it an electric device or an electrical device? Is the equipment in the electric room or the electrical room?
Is there a proper distinction or at least a rule of thumb?
Merriam-Webster lists electrical as a variant of electric, but the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) makes this useful distinction:
electric: containing, producing, arising from, actuated by or carrying electricity.
electrical: relating to, pertaining to, or associated with electricity but not having its properties.
With this distinction in mind we would speak of an electrical engineer, but an electric typewriter.
Essayist Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) was the first to use the word electric in English. A Latin version, electricus, was coined by English physicist William Gilbert (1540-1603). He took the word from Latin electrum, “amber.” The Greek word for amber was elektron. Electricity was first generated by rubbing amber.
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