Light-years ahead

I was only half listening to the radio on the way home, so I don’t know what computer innovation the reporter was gushing about, or even whether he was talking about software or hardware. I didn’t really focus until he referred to it as ‘light-years faster.’

Wrong.

A light-year is a measure of distance, not speed, or time.

Light-seconds, light-minutes, and light-days are also measures of distance, but I never hear them misused on radio and TV, basically because I never hear them used at all. They have not really entered the public consciousness, but everyone who has watched Star Trek has heard of light-years, even if they are rather vague about just what light-years are. They just know that light-years sound sciencey, and are really, really big.

A light-year is the distance light travels in a year. (Light travels at approximately 186, 282 miles/second. Calculation of the number of miles in a light-year is left as an exercise for the student.) You can, indeed, be light-years ahead of the competition, just as you could be miles ahead of the competition, but it would not be due to being light-years faster.

I warn my students about using words they don’t understand because they want to impress people, and it is a warning reporters should also heed.

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2 thoughts on “Light-years ahead

  1. Perhaps, if this particular radio voice watches “Big Bang Therory” on CBS Monday evenings, he would get treated to the same information coming from one of the characters. Think there is hope the radio voice will understand?

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