gallon, tempo

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Aug 5 07:22:36 UTC 2013

OED has for "gallon":

> 1. a. An English measure of capacity. The imperial gallon contains
> 277¼ cubic inches: the winegallon of 231 cubic inches is the standard
> in the United States.
> b. As a dry measure for corn, bread, etc.
> c. fig. A large amount.
> †2. A vessel for holding liquids (tr. Latin lagena).
> 3. attrib., as gallon-bottle, gallon-measure, gallon-pot.

Note, in particular, that 2. is obsolete (with citations only from
1382-1459) and 3. involves gallon as an attributive with a modified
noun, not by itself.

Admittedly, an expression such "pick up a gallon of milk at the store"
may sound ambiguous. But what if I contrast this with "pick up two
half-gallons of milk at the store"? Is each of "gallons" in this case
referring to the measure or to the respective container holding the
requisite amount? If a wife sends a husband to the store to pick up a
gallon of milk, she does not expect him to come back with two
half-gallon packages instead. But I digress.

Let me offer a more direct example.
> Sources said that a water supply agency near the Machchli Gaon used to
> supply water to the school. However, villagers noticed that tempos
> returning from the school after supplying water were carrying gallons
> full of a liquid.
> The villagers on Sunday stopped one such tempo and found that the
> gallons were full of liquor.

No ambiguity here--the word "gallon" refers to the container (and,
ambiguously, to a container of unknown capacity, as all measurements
otherwise seem to be metric!). AHD4 does have the appropriate definition:
> 2. A container with a capacity of one gallon.

However, the reality of it is that the capacity of a "gallon" is only
approximate--people commonly refer to any container of approximate shape
and size as a "gallon", where the actual capacity may range from as much
as three-quarters of a gallon to 1.5L. So you may actually hear a
reference to a "small gallon" and "large gallon". Nonetheless, the
origin does not appear to be OED's obsolete 2., but a shortening of 3.
"gallon container".

The other word that stands out in this article (and in the excerpt
above) is "tempo". While it's tempting to invent some sort of etymology
based on a vehicle that makes frequent runs (keeping up the tempo) or
one that is only used for local, "temporary" transport or "temporary
delivery vehicle", the reality is more prosaic. As is common in distant
parts of the world, it's an adoption of a famous trademark to a category
of similar items (e.g., Sanka for instant coffee, Hoover for all vacuum
cleaners)--in this case, small pickup trucks or cargo vans, originally
with three wheels, similar to the ones originally manufactures by the
German firm Vidal & Sohn Tempo-Werke GmbH (see Wiki for details, but not
for the contemporary reference It's the kind of a
cargo van that you see in movie scenes in various parts of Asia
transporting chickens. The actual Tempo--in any incarnation--has not
been in production since 1977, but a few are still on the road and all
similar vehicles are still referred to as "tempo". If anything, they've
been scaled down--I believe, a moped base with a cargo bed installed in
the back is also referred to as "tempo", but I could be mistaken. I
found no dictionary references to this lexical item.

In any case, although this seems to be an extreme example of Indian
English, the reality is that both words are used in English in other
parts of the world, certainly including the US for "gallon" and the UK
for "tempo".


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