The difference between things

Ton & Tonne

There are three variations for the measurement of weight known as the ton:

1) The United States Customary Units measures a ‘standard’ ton as 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms). In the U.S. the letter t is used as the symbol for the Standard ton.

2) The UK ‘imperial’ ton, also called the British Imperial, is 2,240 pounds (1016 kilograms). The lowercase t symbol is also used, (T being the SI symbol for the Tesla unit).

3) The metric tonne based on the metric system of weights is equivalent to 2,205 pounds (1,000 kilograms). A metric tonne is therefore a megagram; one million grams. It is the international standard metric system unit (SI – Système international d’unités). The symbol for the metric tonne is t. The SI standard officially calls it a tonne but in countries that employ this system the it is usually referred to as a ton.

Standard US ton: 907.185 kilograms (2,000 lbs – The Short Ton )
Imperial UK ton: 1,016.05 kilograms (2,240 lbs – The Long Ton)
Metric tonne: 1,000 kilograms (2,204 lbs)

The differences can be very confusing. To differentiate between US and UK standards they can be referred to as the short ton and the long ton. The difference in pounds between the various weights is small but in the trading of precious commodities taking this into account becomes essential. In the business world it is important not to mix up the three systems.

For measuring precious metals the much older Troy system is used. One troy ounce is equivalent to approximately 1.09714 avoirdupois ounces. However, there are 16 ounces in the avoirdupois pound compared to 12 ounces for the Troy pound. The two systems therefore, vary widely.

The ancient French avoirdupois system was widely used for many hundreds of years, entering use in England circa 1300 until 1824 when weights were standardised to create a more easily convertible system. Britain’s new Imperial Measures were therefore based on the avoirdupois whereas the United States continued with the ‘Standard’ avoirdupois system.

From 1965 Britain began the process of moving to the metric system. As far as weights were concerned this culminated in the Weights and Measures Act 1985 at which time the terms ton and metric tonne were replaced by the single word ‘tonne’ representing 1,000 kilograms.

Photo credit: Illustration of sailors carrying a tun barrel in 1597
By Duane A. Cline, courtesy The Pilgrims & Plymouth Colony: 1620

The words ‘ton’ and ‘tonne’ most likely originated from the Latin ‘tunna’ which means cask.

A tun was used to store wine and was usually made in a standard size by the manufacturer. This size was considered to be the largest cask that could be made and remain easily transportable. ‘tun’ turned into a term to describe the weight of the liquid making up a full cask as opposed to the name of the cask itself. The reason was out of necessity.

Although wine has been shipped in casks since before Babylonian times, during the British Empire age, when the largest ever navy was across the seas, it became crucially important to know the exact unit weights of items so that cargo could be dealt with, as ships were measured by the amount of cargo they could carry. The ‘tun’ became the unit of measurement.

Today, D.W.T. (Dead Weight Tonnage) is a measure of how much weight a ship can safely carry. This measurement was traditionally given in long tons but nowadays metric tonnes are used internationally.

Sea & Ocean

There is a difference between a Sea and an Ocean. The planet surface is just over 70% water forming one global ocean which is 97% of the planet’s total water. It is sub-divided into five geographical bodies known as Oceans. In order of largest size first, these are named Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Arctic and Southern (sometimes known as the Antarctic Ocean).

Seas are further sub-divisions of bodies of water within oceans. There are 113 all together and they occur on the margins of oceans where land and ocean meet. They are partially enclosed by land, such as the Mediterranean Sea which is completely surrounded.

Map of the Mediterranean Sea

Old text books pre-dating the year 2000 are not wrong when they list only four world oceans, as the Southern Ocean was only given Ocean status in that year.

However, the music group Eurythmics were wrong about the number of seas in the song Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This, in which the lyrics go: I’ve travelled the world and the seven seas. Of course there are 113 seas but the song writer was presumably referring to medieval times when people had their own classifications of the seven largest bodies of water which were:

The Adriatic Sea
The Mediterranean Sea (including the Aegean)
The Black Sea
The Persian Gulf
The Caspian Sea
The Arabian Sea
and The Red Sea (including Dead Sea, Sea of Galilee)

In summary, we are sailing the Ocean to our destination by the Sea.

Whisky & Whiskey

The Scots spell it whisky and the Irish, Americans & others distillers say whiskey. That’s the only difference.

It is a spirit/liquor distilled from fermented grain which may include wheat, rye, barley, and corn. Variations in the taste and strength of drink come from the processes used and the skills in ageing and blending.

The Scots and the Irish have different Gaelic tongues and so with the immigration of the Irish to America, along went the word whiskey with an ‘e’. Scotch, Irish and American whiskies are the most popular across the world.

American made bourbon is a type of whiskey. There are strict rules for a liquor to be labelled as a bourbon. It’s production is subject to the Bottle in Bond Act of 1897 which ensures the ageing and bottling process is under the supervision of the US government for a minimum of four years. This effectively makes the US government the guarantor of the quality of bourbon per se. It must be produced in America and made from 51 percent corn.

Scotch uses malted barley in most whisky that is produced. For the Irish, barley has tended to be historically expensive and so a tradition has evolved of mixing other less expensive grains with the barley. The American whiskey is also a mix of grains depending on which are geographically available and due to the wide variety and cheaper blends, today American whiskey is distinctly different from Scotch or Irish.

Bushmills are the oldest registered whiskey producers in Ireland (1608).

Glenturret are the oldest registered whisky producers in Scotland (1775).

Rabbits & Hares

They appear similar because they share the same family, Leporidae which includes around 60 species. Rabbits and hares are however, separate species.

Hares are bigger with longer ears. In captivity hares are rather skittish, a likely explanation for the term ‘hare-brained’, whereas rabbits become more domesticated and social creatures.

The hare pregnancy is for 42 days, compared with the rabbit of 30 days. However when a leveret is born it is fully developed with fur and its eyes wide open ready for life. Rabbit kittens are underdeveloped with no fur and closed eyes.

A hare lives completely above ground, whereas rabbits live in a burrow or warren.

Sweet Potato & Yam

Sweet potatoes and yams are two distinct and different vegetables of the tuber family. Sweet potatoes are not a type of yam, and yams are not a type of sweet potato. They are both tuberous root vegetables.

Yams are native to Africa and Asia, and are starchier and drier then sweet potatoes and used widely in African and Latin cuisines. Sweet potato is used in cuisines worldwide and originates from Central and South America.

Fir, Pine & Spruce

Fir, Pine and Spruce are all conifers, they are all Christmas trees. Look at the number of needles that come out of the same cluster. Groupings of two, three, or five, identify a Pine. Single needles identify either Fir or Spruce.

To identify between Fir and Spruce check the needle, if it’s flat then it’s a fir, if it has four sides it’s a spruce. Additionally spruce needles are sharply pointed. Colour and length of needles are not reliable means of identification.

All conifers produce cones, which are known as pinecones. Now that you know not all conifers are Pine, the term ‘pinecone’ is not the correct terminology. In between the scales of a cone that contain the seeds, the scales themselves can identify the various species. Pinecone scales are woody and rigid, spruce cones are thinner than pinecones and flexible. As with needles, colour and length of a cone is not a reliable of identification.

Wood & Timber

Wood is the hard, fibrous substance, that trees are made out of. Although the same could be said for timber, firewood, logs and lumber. The term ‘wood’ specifically refers to the substance the tree is made of, therefore being that there are multiple types of this in various tree types a generalisation is made in categorising ‘hardwood’ or ‘softwood’; for example Mahogany is a type of hardwood. Hard wood; any leaf bearing tree, and soft wood; any cone bearing tree. Some hardwood is soft e.g. balsa and sometimes a tree classified as softwood may be hard.

Some hardwood you may have heard of: Alder Red, Ash White, Ash European, Beech, Chestnut, Dutch Elm, Hickory, Mahogany, Maple, Oak, Rosewood, Sycamore, Teak, Walnut.

Some softwood you may have heard of: Cedar, Fir, Silver Larch, Pine, Redwood, European Yew

Because wood is a natural composite of cellulose fibres embedded in a matrix of lignin, the fibres are strong in tension and allows the wood to resist compression; the most crucial factor as the primary function is to provide support to the tree. Wood also mediates the transfer of water and nutrients to the leaves and other growing tissues in order for the tree to survive.

In addition, the term ‘wood’ is also used to refer to engineered uses of the material such as wood chips, wooden furniture, wooden houses, wood toys, etc.

Timber, logs, and lumber, on the other hand, is used to refer to any stage of the wood after the tree has been cut down. This may include the felled tree, the wood processed for construction, wood pulp for paper production, etc. Although these terms are generally interchangeable, logs and lumber have come to be associated with the raw material after the tree has been cut down and before it has been prepared or processed for use. Logs and lumber usually are round whereas timber can be in planks, slats, lengths or other sawn products.

So we could chop down a tree for some wood and to use the timber to process some timber planks to build a wooden house.

Airplane & Aeroplane
Airplane, Aeroplane, Aircraft, or simply Plane

Airplane and aeroplane mean the same but are different spellings of the same word. Airplane is preferred in American and Canadian English, while aeroplane is traditionally preferred elsewhere. Airplane has been steadily gaining ground in British publications, and is probably interchangeable these days. Meanwhile aeroplane remains almost completely absent from American and Canadian publications.

It seems that America in the 1950s taught pupils to spell Aeroplane, probably to be British English correct and in line with the austere frowning upon needless Americanisms at the time. Searches on, for example Google Images and Pixabay, bring up the same images using both spellings. Plane is common to all as it is the shortened term for both spellings, and Aircraft again is common to all but generally used nowadays to refer to larger craft or as the preferred plural term for dedicated units such as a fleet of Boeing aircraft, or a complement of Apache Attack helicopter aircraft. Albeit, grammatically, Aircraft refers to any plane, helicopter, or other machine capable of flight. Aircraft seems to be the preferred reference in technical flight manuals.

Could it be that both terms will become outmoded in time and we will simply stick with Plane for uniformity, much in the same way we do not use Omnibus anymore. I hope not, as the reason it seems for putting the words ‘air’ and ‘aero’ before ‘plane’ (which means to soar without moving the wings; i.e. to glide or be propelled,) is to conjure the image of a craft traversing any two points through the skies, as opposed to the obvious, i.e. on land. Vehicles of flight should justifiably use ‘air’ as their precursor, just like ‘hydro’ denotes water and ‘thermo’ heat.

The word ‘precursor’ springs from the Latin praecursum, the ‘prae’ meaning – before. The similar word of Greek origin ‘aero’ meaning the dynamics of things relating in space above land, seems to be the evolvement from the Latin and more relevant in that aerodynamics is the the study of the properties of moving air and the interaction between the air and solid bodies moving through it. Aeronautics, the study of flight. Aerodrome, the smallest airports. Aerospace concerned with aviation and space flight. Even a colloidal suspension of particles enclosed under pressure dispersed as a fine spray in air is called an aerosol.

Many aviation companies prefix their trading names with ‘aero’, e.g. Aeroflot, so it would seem that aero has established it’s ground and therefore the proper term for vehicles of flight you would think should be aero-craft. Let us not invent a new term for it, any of the existing terms will suffice.

en dash & em dash

When using the hyphen, the en dash, or the em dash, you should put no space either before or after. Many people were not aware of the distinction between the en dash and the em dash until the advent of word processors, when software programs enabled us to use marks of punctuation that once had been available only to professional printers.

The hyphen is the shortest of the three and is used most commonly to combine words, such as well-being for example; and to separate numbers that are not inclusive (phone numbers).

The en dash is slightly longer, (It is in fact the width of a typesetter’s letter “N,” whereas the em dash is the width of the letter “M” thus their names.) The en dash means, quite simply, ‘through.’ We use it most commonly to indicate inclusive dates and numbers: July 9–18; pages 37–59.

The em dash is significantly longer than the hyphen. We use the em dash to create a strong break in the structure of a sentence. Dashes can be used in pairs like parentheses—that is, to enclose a word, or a phrase, or a clause—or they can be used alone to detach one end of a sentence from the main body. Em Dashes are particularly useful in a sentence that is long and complex or in one that has a number of commas within it.

Grey & Gray

The difference in spellings apply to the colour only. Grey or Gray as a name (e.g. Earl Grey) is not applicable similarly words like ‘greyhound’ are spelt as they are spelt.

When it comes to the colour, then ‘Grey’ is the British English way and ‘Gray’ the American way. It’s that simple. For a British person there is a very and extremely slight intonation in the way ‘grey’ is said as opposed to ‘gray’ and therefore the word is just not the same spelt with an ‘a’ if you are British.

Conversely, look at the words fibre and fiber. ‘Fibre’ is the British English way and ‘Fiber’ the American English. The American way sounds the right way phonetically, but the British spelling changes the ending subtly from Berr to Burr.

When you tell a little lie, it’s a ‘fib’ pronounced f-yy-b not f-eye-b, so ‘fibre’ wants to be pronounce f-yy-ba like you would say the word ‘fibrillate’. It seems odd to force the pronunciation to f-eye-ba. The American ‘fiber’ is f-eye-ba and if you want to put an extra ‘b’ it becomes ‘f-yy-ber’ (i.e. fibber) as in describing someone that exaggerates the truth.

As we move into the future I think British and American dictionaries will merge an define more common definition of words.