It’s a phrase I heard way too often as a child, then again in the 1990’s when rotating blackouts affected much of the Philippine archipelago. If news reports are to be believed, it’s a phrase that will be heard regularly in the years to come. But it always bothered me why many Filipinos said “brownout” rather than “blackout”… and as a teen, I used to pose the question, “what’s the difference between a brownout and a blackout?” — and inevitably got all sorts of answers, the best one I recall was that a “brownout is a blackout during the day” and even that plausible sounding definition had me rolling my eyes at the tender age of 10. While on a trip to the U.S. one summer, I was in New York for a massive “blackout” in 1976, and again the discussion about brownouts and blackouts led to inconclusive definitions, and many quizzical looks from Americans who rarely, if ever heard the term “brownouts”. I stopped using the term “brownout” then but didn’t really know why that was right or wrong…
Fast forward to today, and the ease of googling things, and wikipedia has a perfectly credible explanation of the terms brownout and blackout. And I quote:
BROWNOUT — “A brownout is an intentional or unintentional DROP in voltage in an electrical power supply system.”
BLACKOUT — “An intentional or unintentional LOSS in electrical power.”
So now I know. While we most certainly experience both occurrences, it is only technically correct to say “Ay, brownout” when there is a noticeable drop in electrical power (that happens in Nasugbu often and the lights dim and the refrigerators strain to cool their contents), while it is accurate to say “Ay, blackout” when the lights go out along with all the other electrical appliances around you.
Think I am being a bit looney to bring the distinction up in a post? Why not read these links to recent articles in major news sources that obviously don’t know what the definition of a “brownout” really is…
“3-hour brownouts hit part of Metro Manila” Inquirer News
“Brownouts to Continue – VECO” Inquirer News
“Coloma : Rotating brownouts to continue in Mindanao” Manila Bulletin
“Power crisis perils polls; Brownouts hit South…” Cebu Daily News
“Gov’t vows brownout-free summer” Edmonton Filipino Youth Association
You think the editors of those newspapers know what the definition of a “brownout” is?
I try to learn something new every day. :)