# What do people mean when they say "Volts of charge"?

• rtareen
In summary: I hear fingernails on a chalkboard when they confuse power and energy, but this one is more just slightly sloppy wording than truly wrong science.I don't mind less than perfect scientific accuracy so long as it's accurate enough for the topic at hand. In this case, I think they meant that the potential was high enough to cause a shock.

#### rtareen

Quote 1: "[He] accumulated an estimated 30,000 volts of static charge simply by walking around his home town in inadvisably large quantities of non-natural tailoring."
Quote 2: "A man left a trail of scorched carpet and melted plastic after static on his clothes built up to a 40,000 volt charge."

This is confusing because charge is measured in Coulombs and volts measure electric potential. I'm pretty sure since voltage is proportional to 1/r then if there's any charge on him the voltage is infinite. And actually it would be infnitely negative. The farther away you move from him the higher the voltage. So from what distance are they measuring these volts? Or do they have no clue what they're talking about. What does it usually mean when a layman mentions volts? Do they mean the electric field which is Volts per meter?

Heres another one:

"The [fire authority] wisely impounded Clewer's jacket, which continues "to give off voltage.""

You see that sort of thing repeatedly in the popular press. Competent scientific editors died out shortly after the dinosaurs and even the incompetent ones have been laid off due to the internet eating printed media's lunch.

The internet, of course, has never even HAD competent scientific editors.

Bystander, rtareen and Astronuc
Isn't it obvious what they mean? "Enough charge to generate a potential of 20,000 volts".

And if you don't like less than perfect scientific accuracy in non-scientific news, you must really hate "Senator Blowhard has a lot of momentum going into this year's race."

russ_watters
Vanadium 50 said:
Isn't it obvious what they mean? "Enough charge to generate a potential of 20,000 volts".

And if you don't like less than perfect scientific accuracy in non-scientific news, you must really hate "Senator Blowhard has a lot of momentum going into this year's race."

Ok, if that's what they mean then where is that potential measured from? Because it varies with distance. Or is it some kind of potential difference between the clothes and the atmosphere? Its still not very clear what they mean even if you take it like that. I just want to know what regular people are actually talking about when they mention volts.

phinds said:
You see that sort of thing repeatedly in the popular press. Competent scientific editors died out shortly after the dinosaurs and even the incompetent ones have been laid off due to the internet eating printed media's lunch.

The internet, of course, has never even HAD competent scientific editors.
But what do you think they mean by it? Do you think they're talking about the electric potential set up by the charge or maybe the electric field? I want to know what they mean when they say things so I can maybe understand what theyre trying to say.

rtareen said:
But what do you think they mean by it? Do you think they're talking about the electric potential set up by the charge or maybe the electric field? I want to know what they mean when they say things so I can maybe understand what theyre trying to say.
OK, so you want some random guy on an internet forum (me) to make a guess at what some other random guy (the author) meant when he (the other guy) used incredibly sloppy language to describe something?

Good luck with that.

BillTre and Vanadium 50
Vanadium 50 said:
Isn't it obvious what they mean? "Enough charge to generate a potential of 20,000 volts".
Agreed. I hear fingernails on a chalkboard when they confuse power and energy, but this one is more just slightly sloppy wording than truly wrong science. Doesn't really bother me.

rtareen said:
Ok, if that's what they mean then where is that potential measured from? Because it varies with distance. Or is it some kind of potential difference between the clothes and the atmosphere? Its still not very clear what they mean even if you take it like that. I just want to know what regular people are actually talking about when they mention volts.
Well, what would you measure it from? I'd measure it from the ground it was generated from or the doorknob it discharged to.

Vanadium 50