Not only computers make our lives easier nowadays, it’s even harder to imagine our lives without electricity. Our ancestors still used candlelight instead of light bulbs and had to do without electrical outlets. Most people today rely on electricity like they do on food and water. What would life be like without electricity to power our favourite video games, TV shows, telephones and even the lights you read by at night? It allows us to enjoy life in so many ways and without it our daily lives would be much less convenient. We get so used to flipping the light switch and seeing the lights come on that we forget how much we rely on electricity until the power goes out. From lights to alarm clocks to refrigerators to washing machines, electricity plays a critical role throughout the day. But let’s see how our electrician Jack Wire explains his special subject to Lucy.
Jack: So, Lucy, today is the big day. I’ll show you my workshop where I will hopefully teach you something about my job. Come on in, my dear, this is my kingdom.
Lucy: Oh, what a surprise, Uncle Jack, I didn’t think it would be so tidy in here.
Jack: Well, every good tradesman needs tidiness and structure in his kingdom.
Lucy: I understand. That means as long as the office and other parts of the house aren’t included in the kingdom. (Chuckles) Jack: Why don’t you have a seat and listen to what I want to tell you?
Lucy: Great idea, and I bet you will start with the invention of electricity. (rolls her eyes)
Jack: That’s a brilliant thought. But I have to tell you that electricity was not invented. Electricity is a natural force that exists in our world. It didn’t have to be invented, only discovered and understood. Most people think that Benjamin Franklin was the one who discovered electricity. He was one of the greatest scientists of his time and discovered and invented many things, including bifocal glasses for example. He came up with the idea that electricity had positive and negative elements and that electricity flowed between these elements. He also believed that lightning was a form of this flowing electricity.
Lucy: How could he prove this?
Jack: His famous kite experiment showed that lightning was electricity. He proved this by tying a metal key to a kite string to conduct the electricity. And just as he thought, electricity from the storm clouds transferred to the kite and the electricity flowed down the string and gave him a shock. Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt, but he didn’t mind the shock as it was the proof of his idea. Building upon this, many other scientists studied electricity. Thomas Edison e.g. invented the electric light bulb and contributed a lot to making our world brighter in this way. But many more discoveries and inventions had to be made to allow us to make use of all the benefits that electricity brings today.
Lucy: I see, but what exactly does an electrician do?
Jack: We are tradesmen who design, install, maintain and troubleshoot electrical wiring systems. These systems can be located in homes, commercial or industrial buildings, and even machines and large pieces of equipment. We work either inside or outside to make possible the use of lights, televisions, industrial equipment, appliances and many other items essential to life. The local electrician must be able to and qualified to run lines through the walls, attic or under the house during the construction. It is also quite important for him or her to be able to understand the different kinds of wires that may be used because different appliances and equipment require different wire sizes for them to function properly. If the wrong wires are used on that device, it could result in malfunctions, overloaded circuits or even in some cases, cause fires.
Lucy: And what about old houses?
Jack: Well, another frequent job of electricians is upgrading wires and breaker boxes in older homes. Homes that were built before computers, dryers, dishwashers and televisions were common are not always wired to handle such a large amount of electricity being used at once. Box upgrades are often required for this reason, so a higher wattage of power can be used without overloading the breaker. Another thing that occurs with older homes is that the wires themselves will become worn and must be replaced to prevent malfunctions or in some bad cases, house fires.
Lucy: But what exactly does your working day look like?
Jack: One of the most common types of service homeowners need electricians is for assistance in installing light fixtures and appliances or also repairing them. Calling an electrician for these kinds of jobs ensures that the appliances and fixtures are done correctly and safely. And this is my daily work. Therefore I´m mostly out on the road between 8am and 5pm and I usually just eat lunch on the go. I love that I get to do so many different jobs in a day. It keeps my brain sharp and stops me from getting bored – I’d go crazy if I was trapped in an office all the time. There’s a huge sense of accomplishment that comes with solving a difficult, technically challenging electrical problem, and it’s great when the client is happy. I get a bit sick of the relentless traffic when driving around, but other than that there’s nothing I don’t like about my job.
Lucy: Do you really need all these tools that you have in your workshop here?
Jack: As I told you before, I’m a sort of a jack-of-all-trades and therefore I have much more tools and equipment than a normal electrician might have. Let´s have a look at my big tool bag, first of all. Let’s see what we’ve got inside. These are my basics: tape measure, claw hammer, insulated pliers, screwdrivers, spirit level, multimeter, electrical test screw driver, adjustable spanners ...
Lucy: Sorry to interrupt you, Uncle Jack, but this is all Greek to me. Could you slow down a little bit and also explain to me what these tools are used for? Moreover, I desperately need a break now after so much information. Jack looks a little frustrated being stopped like this but then he smiles to himself and thinks: tit for tat.
Tool phrases There are some phrases in English which include the word »tool« or even a special kind of tool. Here are some:
- »He’s not the sharpest tool in the box.«
»Er ist nicht der Hellste.« (also: not the brightest crayon in the box, not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree) is used to say that someone is not very intelligent or is not able to learn things quickly or easily – used humorously.
- »If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.«
»Wer nur den Hammer kennt, für den ist jedes Problem ein Nagel.«
It means that different problems require different solutions (or tools).
- »A good craftsman doesn’t blame his tools.«
»Wenn der Reiter nichts taugt, hat das Pferd Schuld.«
If you made something, you are responsible for how it came out. Blaming the tools you had to work with means you avoid the responsibility for the result.
- »To throw/put a spanner in the works.«
»Jemandem Knüppel zwischen die Beine werfen.«
To do something so that a plan or activity cannot be successful. If someone or something throws/puts a spanner in the works, they cause problems which prevent something from happening in the way that it was planned. »If they suddenly change the arrangement, it will throw a spanner in the works.« Note: You can also just talk about a spanner in the works, meaning »a problem that prevents something from happening the way that it was planned.« »Another possible spanner in the works is the weather, which may prevent us from travelling on the 25th.«
That’s it for today. Next time we’ll have a look at the function of the various tools. I’m sure Jack has much more to say about all the things in his kingdom. So, stay tuned!