All Those Engines…

While writ­ing The Man in a Box, for the scenes with the gear race I’ve con­stant­ly been using the word engine to refer to my pow­er-con­vert­ing device in ques­tion, sim­ply because I like this word bet­ter than ‘a motor’. I didn’t spec­i­fy the design of the vehi­cle there, save for the men­tion that it has a pow­er­cell (a bat­tery) instead of a pow­er Core and doesn’t run on fuel — noth­ing in that world does — thus it’s prob­a­bly either elec­tric type or some­thing else native to that civ­i­liza­tion (it was irrel­e­vant to the sto­ry). So for a cou­ple of days I’ve been think­ing about this one — an alien world, an alien plan­et, I sure­ly can use any word I like, right?

So I began dig­ging into the ques­tion of seman­tics and engi­neer­ing, and as you guessed it, the opin­ions on the use are var­ied. But would the use of one over the oth­er word be tech­ni­cal­ly incor­rect in my case?

From the — Dif­fer­ence Between Engine and Motor

A motor con­verts elec­tri­cal ener­gy into mechan­i­cal ener­gy while an engine con­verts var­i­ous oth­er forms of ener­gy to mechan­i­cal ener­gy.

An engine is a mechan­i­cal device that uses a fuel source to cre­ate an out­put.

The word ‘engine’ is gen­er­al­ly used to refer to a rec­i­p­ro­cat­ing engine (steam or inter­nal com­bus­tion) while ‘motor’ is gen­er­al­ly used to refer to a rotat­ing device such as an elec­tric motor.

An engine is made up of pis­tons and cylin­ders while a motor is made up of rotors and sta­tors.

Ok… I need to think about that design after all. (I’m writ­ing adult/erotic SF here, mind you. All those rotors and pis­tons… Mmm!)

Mean­while, I’m try­ing oth­er sources, like Eng­lish Lan­guage & Usage Stack Exchange. This is a ques­tion and answer site for lin­guists, ety­mol­o­gists, and seri­ous Eng­lish lan­guage enthu­si­asts. Ok, sounds great, right? And some­one there even asks the same ques­tion I did! Lucky! 

Not. The same thing, all over.

But what about motor speed­way, Gen­er­al Motors, NASA’s rock­et motor? Elec­tric my ass. Argh!

Some­one well-versed in ther­mo­dy­nam­ics prob­a­bly would say some­thing like, an engine uses an inter­nal pow­er source to achieve work; a motor uses an exter­nal pow­er source to achieve work. An engine may be referred to as a motor, since it does pro­vide motive pow­er. All motors are not engines, how­ev­er. The term engine is usu­al­ly applied to some­thing that itself burns fuel to pro­duce pow­er.

Well? Well.

It may be a good idea to look for the answers at MIT School of Engi­neer­ing ‘Ask an Engi­neer’ web­space: as with almost any word, it all depends how far you go back in time for your def­i­n­i­tion…

Jeno Marz
JENO MARZ is a science fiction writer from Latvia, Northern Europe, with background in electronics engineering and computer science. She is the author of two serial novels, Falaha’s Journey: A Spacegirl’s Account in Three Movements and Falaha’s Journey into Pleasure. Marz is current at work on a new SF trilogy. All her fiction is aimed at an adult audience.

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