Today, I learn English. The University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make our civilization
run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.
I get this fine monthly magazine: Engine: Englisch
Für Ingenieure. The title and some editorial material are in German,
but it's mostly in English. This high-end, glossy publication is for German
engineers who want to improve their English. It includes one of my transcripts
in each issue, with a glossary of less familiar words. That's helpful for me.
Exaltation is Hochgefühl; salad days is Jugendtage.
(Did I use those words? I guess I must've.)
Then there's the content. This issue offers a tantalizing review of new technology.
I want to run out and buy one of the new SkYachts -- a two-seat, 24-horsepower,
personal hot-air blimp that I can haul around on a truck. Unlike a balloon, the
SkYacht is powered and steerable. We can go places in it -- well, we can
when it goes on the market. The advertising quotes Leonardo,
For once you have tasted flight
you will walk the earth
with your eyes turned skywards,
for there you have been
and there you will long to return.
And I know what Leonardo means.
A more down-to-Earth item is a new computer keyboard, split in two -- half for my left
hand, half for my right. And the right-hand piece also doubles as the mouse. No more
carpal tunnel syndrome from typing with my hands too close together. It's very slick,
but I'll have to wait for it, while I'm waiting for my Skyacht. It's another
technology in search of an investor.
I can buy one of the new C-Questers -- the first consumer sport submarine.
It's good for only a fifty foot depth, but it'll let me zip around under sailboats out
in Galveston Bay -- at least until it and my SkYacht are properly regulated. Well,
these things are always far more fun when you still just want them.
The magazine deals in greater detail with tests of the new Airbus 380. They
call it The Biggest Bird in the Sky. The 380 is larger than Hughes'
Spruce Goose, although its wingspan is a bit less. The maiden flight of the
380 took place in 2005 and, at this writing, it's scheduled for delivery thirty
months later. Those months are being spent in extensive and aggressive testing and
retrofitting, much of which is described here. In the sidebar for this one, we learn
that fuselage means Rumpf.
In the sidebar about food for astronauts, we learn that our slang word chow means
Futter and spicy means würzig. Interspersed are short grammar
lessons. One, on the English use of tenses, is woven around Grand Prix racing cars. It
explains four of the past tenses: Simple past: I watched the race. Past progressive:
I was watching. Past perfect: I had watched. And Past perfect progressive:
I had been watching. Another article on Colourful Idioms in English explains
golden handshake, in the black, red tape ...
So I may never get to ride in my SkYacht, or become fluent in German. But I come
away with a far richer understanding of my own mother tongue, once I've spent time in this
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
Engine: Englisch Für Ingenieure, Nr. 2, Juni 2007. This is the brain-child of
editor in Chief Matthias Meier. All images are from this issue.
For more on the SkYacht and the Aribus A380, see:
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-2006 by John H.