For those who like and use language

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More Tesla

A little while ago, Matthew Inman at The Oatmeal wrote an excellent comic about Nikola Tesla, scientific genius who was ahead of his time. We mentioned it on the blog for Inman’s excellent list of douche-based insults.

Inman is continuing to champion Tesla and his work. He’s currently running an Indigogo campaign to raise USD850,000 so that a not-for-profit can buy Tesla’s original lab and the land it sits on (in only a week they’ve raised more than that, but every bit extra counts!). It’s such an awesome project that I really wanted to write a blog piece about it to spruik the great work they’re doing in the name of history and geekdom.

However, much like his contributions to science, Tesla is under-recognised when it comes to the linguistic mark he left. While in the Oxford Dictionary Edison is all over the origins and development of words like aerophone, florescence, blind-ink and even cameraphone, Tesla doesn’t do so well (it’s possibly because he didn’t write as much as Edison, and probably because he didn’t self-promote as much as Edison).

According to the internet Tesla coined the term automaton or teleautomaton. The second term was never really taken up, except in reference to Tesla’s work, but the word automaton is still used (although not as much as robot). Only problem is that there are attested uses of the term automaton from the 17th century, well before Tesla.

It would appear that he may have coined the term Radiant Energy, which has its earliest reference in the Oxford as 1901 - but it is not attributed to him through any formal citation I’ve seen.

Telsa has fared better in more recent history. In 1960 the tesla unit was named, which is “a unit of magnetic flux density in the meter-kilogram-second system equivalent to one weber per square meter” to quote Merriam-Webster (and save myself trying to understand).

Teslapunk is also a sub-genre of the steampunk movement, based on an alternative history where Tesla’s desire for free, clean energy was realised (so less steam, I suppose). Google it, it’s awesome.

There is, of course, the Tesla coil. Invented by Nikola Tesla around 1891 and still bearing his name. It’s those machines they use to make ‘lightening’ indoors. More recently it’s given rise to the singing Tesla coil, which is modified so that it makes musical notes with the sparks. Bjork used on during liver performances of Thunderbolt in 2011, there’s a camera-phone video here, which doesn’t have the best sound but gives you an idea of it in action.

Regardless of how many things he named, or were named after him, the Indigogo project is a great chance to preserve Nikola Tesla’s legacy. It’s nice to see what geeks can do when they combine their powers!

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