1.21 Gigawatts?

By | June 23, 2008

If you saw the movie “Back to the future” you may have thought there really is a jiggawatt. If you are into science, you probably thought that was a nonsense word. Well, there is a jiggawatt, but it is spelled gigawatt.

At first I thought, like many fellow scientists, “Surely, Christopher Lloyd is just having fun with us! That’s not how you pronounce gigawatt!”

Shortly thereafter, I got a nice laminated sheet from IUPAC with units and prefixes on it. They took special care to point out that giga- (the correct spelling!) was pronounced with the first g as a hard g, and the second, as a soft one! According to my Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (1993) the first (preferred) pronunciation is ” ‘ji – ge ” (as in jiggle) and the alternative pronunciation is ” ‘gi – ge ” (as in giggle).

OK, so you don’t believe me!
But what about this pronouncing dictionary?

— The phrase “flux capacitor” has appeared in more serious contexts. U.S. Patent 6,084,285 describes a “lateral flux capacitor having fractal-shaped perimeters.” The idea being to make a capacitor in an integrated circuit, some of whose capacitance exists between two conductors on a single layer (hence, “lateral”). The device is not a lateral flux-capacitor but a lateral-flux capacitor; that is, lateral modifies flux, and lateral flux is attributive, rather than flux capacitor compound and lateral modifying capacitor.

The power required is pronounced “one point twenty-one jiggawatts” (or “jigowatt”). This pronunciation of “gigawatt” is correct (as derived from its SI unit prefix giga); in fact many amateur radio operators from that timeframe correctly pronounced “giga” as “jiga”, although it is more commonly pronounced with two hard “g” sounds as in “golf.”

But while “jiggawatt” is a correct pronunciation, it is an incorrect spelling. Nevertheless, the pronunciation is considered humorous by many people.

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