Engine or Motor

I grew up thinking that it was a gasoline engine, and an electric motor. But I hear the NASCAR guys refer to their ‘engines’ as ‘motors’. Am I crazy, wrong or just obsessed with the unimportant?

I think you are obsessed with the unimportant. In a way, you are right.

Engine: a machine for converting thermal energy into mechanical energy or power to produce force and motion.*

An electric motor uses magnetic energy, not thermal energy.

Motor (1): a comparatively small and powerful engine, esp. an internal-combustion engine in an automobile, motorboat, or the like.*

Motor (3): a person or thing that imparts motion, esp. a contrivance, as a steam engine, that receives and modifies energy from some natural source in order to utilize it in driving machinery.*

Motor (4): Also called electric motor. Electricity. a machine that converts electrical energy into mechanical energy, as an induction motor.*


Use the search engine on your computer to search for motor. Maybe you will find the answer. However, I don’t think you can find a search motr to check for engine.

I heard that old line long ago.

If gasoline engines aren’t really motors, can I get that violation of the Department of Motor Vehicles thrown out of court? Are all MOtor Vehicle laws and regulations now obsolete?

Will General Motors have to change their name?
Ford Motor Company, won’t they be surprized?
Harley Davidson Motorcycles…will they too have to change their name?
Chrysler Motor Corporation…is thet now incorrect?
Motorboats…are they really?
Motorcycling in general…will it now be called enginecycling?

Indianapolis Motor Speedway…will it now be called Indianapolis Engine Speedway?

Motorized flight…now engineized flight?

You may be crazy for other reasons, but not this one.

Thanks for that, Mountainbike. Point taken. Motor/engine same diff. Trying to draw too fine a line. I’ll find something else to obsess about. Hmmmm.

For what it’s worth, British and Irish and others speaking English outside of North America generally use motor for what propels the car, truck or tractor. They also use motor for electic motors.

In other languages, such as Dutch and Spanish motor is also used.

The more complicated problem is that language is not guided by any objective standards or meaning. There are various “sources” that sort of try to be the “objective” repositories of meaning (e.g. the Oxford English Dictionary is often taken to be a kind of authority). But, in the end, language is a living thing, with meanings that are fluid and elastic. The link between language and meaning changes constantly as our use of language changes. Its always a moving target.

Add to that subcultural lingo & dialects and such. The same words can carry different meaning across both time and culture. So there very well may have been some kind of social or historical context in which “engine” and “motor” meant those things (apparently whatever one you grew up in). But even if it was the meaning at some point or place it isn’t any longer.

(A couple of silly contemporary cases in point: things like the fact that “text” and “google” are now verbs).

You’re welcome.

Happy motoring.

But I hear the NASCAR guys refer to their ‘engines’ as ‘motors’.

I think you just answered your own question…In the automotive arena, the word “motor” is often misused. It’s The Ford Motor Company after all…Motor vehicles just sounds better than Engine Vehicles.

My Dad used to cringe on that “misuse” of the word motor. It was drilled in to him by the same people who say “this is my rifle, this is my gun…” and he drilled it into us kids too. Over time, the definition and use of many words becomes diluted, smeared, whatever you want to call it. The terms motor and engine are now synonymous in general use IMO.

In my opinion, and English being a living language opinions will vary, engines are mechanical contrivances meant to accomplish a task, while motors convert energy into motion. Therefore, motors are a subset of engines. A hand crank adding machine is a type of engine, but not a motor. A steam engine is a type of motor, but really nobody calls it that.

It really just boils down to common usage. Gasoline engines in cars are motors and the terms are used interchangeably for that, but the blower motor under the dash, even though it is technically a type of engine is always called a motor.

Motor as a term for gasoline powered engine has also been established as proper by its application in state, federal, and local laws as well as corporate entity charters.

In short, the term is legally and commercially recognized as proper.

Perhaps it derived from “motive force”?

Agree with Mountainbike; correct English is what the generally accepted meaning is. The dictionary usually lags behind. Don’t forget during Colonial days, US English and British English was the same. As late as 1900 or so Teddy Roosevelt had a list of 50 words he wanted included in the US dictionaries. They all refused. By the end of WW I, most had been included and the rest is history.

On my last vacation to England I HIRED a 4 door SALOON motorcar which had a spacious BOOT to hold all my luggage. However, the BONNET was difficult to open because the latch was way below the FACIA, and on a wet day the DEMISTERS could not clear the WINDSCREEN! The mirrors were mounted on the WINGS, like in Japan and had good rear visibility. This car also a a good size BACKLIGHT, great for REVERSING in tight parkades. Performance was quite sufficient with the 1.8 liter MOTOR and 5 speed GEARBOX. Traction was good with the special rain TYRES.

On sunny days, I appreciated the tinted SIDELIGHTS as well as the shaded WINDSCREEN.

And PETROL is frightfully dear in the UK!

Anyway, you get the picture; English now has over one million words, and French still only 264,000 thanks to the ACDEMIE FRANCAISE, which has the power of life and death over what words are accepted. Spanish, because of its wide geographic range, has over 300,000 words, but nothing compares with English, the world’s most mobile and versatile language.

  1. Engine: A machine that converts energy into mechanical force or motion.
  2. Such a machine distinguished from an electric, spring-driven, or hydraulic motor by its use of a fuel.

Happy engineing?

I have always called a gas engine an engine and an electric motor a motor, BUT, so what, it makes no difference. If someone happens to get all weirded out about this I am sure there is something they say that would be considered wrong or maybe a double standard.

I think I’ve figured it out. I believe engine is a subcategory of motor.

Engines are always motors (see my earlier posts on it as a legally and commercially chosen term…for over a century I might add), but motors are not always engines.

Your post raises another question. The operator of a steam locomotive is called an engineer and the unit powering the train is a steam engine. The operator of a subway is called a motorman, which makes sense because the subway is propeelled by electric motors. However, diesel-electric locomotives are powered by electric traction motors that receive power from generators driven by the diesel engine. Should we give the credit to the diesel engine and call the operator of the locomotive an engineer, or should the credit be given to the traction motors and we call the operator a motorman?

Since a diesel engine is a subcategory of motor, I vote for motorman.

We had a girl in my high school class that talked all the time and received the nickname “Motormouth”. In view of the fact that an electric motor provides rotational engergy directly, while an engines have pistons that move up and down, her mouth movement would suggest the name “Enginemouth”.