IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - January/February 2020 - 76

history

Harold Kirkham

75 years of drift
the changing meaning of phasor

A

ACCORDING TO THE OXFORD ENGlish Dictionary (OED), the word phasor
was deliberately introduced to engineering to replace the word vector, so that
vector could be retained for applications
in electromagnetic fields. (Bear in mind
that dictionaries do not prescribe what
words people ought to use; they describe
what words people are using.) One of
the added pleasures of using the OED is
that it also gives quotations of the early
uses of words.
Such changes in the meanings of
words are not usually deliberate, as this
was. The modification was suggested in
"A Note on Frequency Modulation Terminology" by Harry Stockman of Crufts
Laboratory and Gunnar Hok of the Radio
Research Laboratory, both of Harvard
University. [The year was 1944, and frequency modulation (FM) was the big new
thing.] The note was printed in Correspondence in the Institute News and Radio Notes of the 1944 Proceedings of IRE.
Stockman and Hok's main concern was
that the terms frequency modulation and
phase modulation were not being used accurately (due to the frequency-dependent
preemphasis used in FM transmitters). In
their discussion, they wrote, "The instantaneous angular velocity of the voltage
phasor may, in a special case of particular
interest..." with a footnote that said
The term "phasor" is preferred
for vector, which thus could be
reserved for exclusive use in the
vector analysis. The term "phasor"
Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/MPE.2019.2945102
Date of current version: 7 January 2020

76

ieee power & energy magazine

In this issue's "History" colmun, we explore the changing meaning of phasor
with a view on 75 years of drift. The concept of phasor has modern implications,
given the proliferation of phasor measurement units in today's power systems
for a wide variety of monitoring and control applications. We welcome Harold Kirkham for the first time to these "History" pages of IEEE Power & Energy
Magazine. He is an IEEE Life Fellow and presently works for Pacific Northwest
National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington, where he researches
smart grid and phasor measurement systems. His professional history includes
time at the Edison Electric Institute, where he was involved with high-voltage
dc, and American Electric Power, where he focused on ultrahigh-voltage line
design. Before moving to PNNL, he worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
There, he worked on distribution automation (a forerunner of the smart grid),
researching distribution communication, control, and measurements. He managed the NEPTUNE power project to bring power to subsea science locations.
In addition, he worked on high-voltage systems and measurements.
John Paserba
Associate Editor, "History"

is used by the American Institute
of Electrical Engineers. It may
be of interest to mention that the
European engineers have been using for many years a term, which
in translation would be called
"pointer" (referring to the pointer
or hand of a meter or a clock).
(Although Stockman and Hok indicated that the word was already in use
by 1944, IEEE Xplore does not return
any hits for the word until 1951.) The
authors conclude with the following:
The thoughts here presented are
intended to provide a common
foundation for discussion. Much
controversy and confusion is
caused when a new rapidly de1540-7977/20©2020IEEE

veloping field borrows words
from common language without
defining explicitly the new concepts they shall cover. The basic
definitions must fulfill a number
of severe requirements; they must
be fundamental, logical, clear,
and must satisfy practical needs,
in school as well as in the field.
We express the hope that these
lines may stimulate other workers
to clarify the definitions and improve the terminology.
The 1944 date of this short paper
roughly bisects the timeline of our discussion about the concept of the phasor
or vector. Vector was the word used in
electrical engineering for approximately
january/february 2020



IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - January/February 2020

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