Warning – Pedant Ahead

I’m afraid this news story brought out the pedant in me. It began with the headline – "New Aluminum Windows Stop .50-Caliber Bullet". And no, it’s not the fact that Americans use "aluminum" and "caliber" instead of the proper English words of "aluminium" and "calibre" – I’ve long given up on those sort of battles.
No, what irritated me was the suggestion that scientists have been able to make aluminium as transparent as glass. That would be astounding, if true, and, of course, it isn’t. It turns out that they have made a material – aluminium oxynitride – and this happens to be transparent. This is rather like saying that scientists have been able to make a food flavouring out of the highly reactive metal sodium and the extremely poisonous gas chlorine – when all that is being described is sodium chloride – common salt.
The story also contains another possible push to my pedantry. The head of the research team is quoted as saying: "The substance itself is light-years ahead of glass". Now, it may be that he genuinely meant this in terms of metaphorical distance (miles ahead), but I suspect that he meant it as an even more impressive-sounding version of the common phrase: "it’s years ahead of its time". In which case, he really should be rapped on the knuckles with a ruler. A light-year is a measure of distance, not of time.  

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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