Electrical vs Electronic (UNCLASSIFIED)

Mullins, Bill AMRDEC Bill.Mullins at US.ARMY.MIL
Mon Apr 26 22:19:52 UTC 2010

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
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> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On
> Behalf Of Guy Letourneau
> Sent: Sunday, April 25, 2010 12:30 AM
> Subject: Electrical vs Electronic

> >>>>>>
> >>>>>> - 'Electronic' for 'electrical,'
> >>>>>
> >>>>> Maybe, but these terms are usually used with distinct meanings.
> >>>>> you observing speakers who use them interchangeably, as in
> >>>>> to "electronic outlets" or utterances like "We've just had an
> >>>>> electronic outage"?
> >>>>>
> >>>>> LH
> I have never heard anyone call the 115V socket into which one might
> a vacuum cleaner or a blender as an 'electronic' socket - it's always
> been 'electric' or 'electrical.'
> The differentiating factor to me is whether or not the device relies
> semiconductors versus pre-1950s vacuum tubes and simple Ohm's Law
> a motor with its wound coils is an electrical device; so are light
> bulbs, oven heater elements, motorized power tools, toasters,** and
> topics involving transmission lines; hydroelectric dams, etc.

The electrical engineering texts I have from the pre-semiconductor era
use "electronics" often.  I have a 1943 McGraw Hill _Radio Engineers'
Handbook_ which uses the term as I expected it would -- in reference to
circuits in which non-linear devices are used to modulate voltages and
the flow of current (at this time, vacuum tubes, but that definition
would apply equally to transistors and other semiconductors).  The OED's
1938 cite from _Life_ is the first they have using the word that seems
to be in that sense (they have cites going back to 1908).

I also have a 1951 book (_Fundamentals of Electronics_ by F.H. Mitchell)
that says:
"One of these new subjects, electronics, so overlaps other branches of
the science that it is difficult to state a brief yet comprehensive
definition of what is included in the term <i> electronics </i>.
According to the definition endorsed by the American Institute of
Electrical Engineers in 1941, it is "that branch of science and
technology which relates to the conduction of electricity through gases
or in vacuo."  This definition is so broad that it includes the whole
subject of electrical conduction in gases, usually treated as a separate
course in physics.  A simpler definition may prove more useful . . .
"Electronics is the study of the motion of electrons in free fields of
force." "

Semiconductor electronics would be included in the latter definition
above, and in the spirit of the former, since the electrons are moving
in response to the same electric fields in semiconductors as they are in
vacuum and gaseous tubes -- it's just a different medium carrying them
(a doped semiconductor).

So, I'd move your "pre-1950s vacuum tubes" into the semiconductors
category and from the "simple Ohm's Law stuff".

> Once you enter the realm of semiconductor field effects, you move into
> 'electronic' devices, such as the 'solid state' radios of the late
> and 1970s, and integrated circuits, MOSFETs, etc.
> If you rely on a seiconductor junction to provide the function or
> desired effect, it's 'electronic;' but if the device operates on
> classical wires-and-fields stuff, it's merely 'electrical.'
> ...to me...
> - GLL
> ** except the timers: in the 1990s I remember fixing a toaset I owned
> be
> replacig the 555 IC chip which acted as a timer; this would definitely
> be electronic, whereas the nichrome wire heating elements would be
> merely electrical...
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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