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Ultimate technobabble

In 1944 a graduate student wrote a parody of technical writing that has entered engineering folklore: the turboencabulator.

Turboencabulator

Engineers at General Electric’s Instrument Department [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The original document, titled The Turbo-Encabulator in Industry, was written by J. H. Quick, a British electrical engineering student. It was purposefully replete with a staggering amount of technobabble:

The original machine had a base plate of prefabulated amulite, surmounted by a malleable logarithmic casing in such a way that the two main spurving bearings were in a direct line with the panametric fan. The latter consisted simply of six hydrocoptic marzlevanes, so fitted to the ambifacient lunar waneshaft that side fumbling was effectively prevented.

It was written in a way that feels almost, but not quite, intelligible. You might know what a logarithm is, but what exactly is a logarithmic casing? Side fumbling sounds like something an engineer would want to avoid, particularly in something as important as a waneshaft… whatever that is.

This wonderful symphony of empty jargon was reprinted in the United States, first in an industrial pamphlet and then in Time magazine (who were, naturally, in on the joke). One baffled reader wrote back “is this good?”

Since then, numerous versions have appeared in manuals and in fake instructional videos, from such engineering luminaries as General Electric, Chrysler, and Rockwell Automation. Their videos are a particular delight: the professional actors really know how to sell something despite that thing being complete nonsense.

Categories: Language Sciences Technology

The Generalist

I live in Auckland, New Zealand, and am curious about most things.

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