Glossary of Common Electrical Terms
Discover the meaning of some of the most common electrical terms used in our industry
Adapter – A cord or block style device with different ends that allows different devices to connect.
AC – Alternating Current. Electric current in which the flow of electric charge periodically reverses direction, whereas in direct current (DC, also dc), the flow of electric charge is only in one direction. The abbreviations AC and DC are often used to mean simply alternating and direct, as when they modify current or voltage. AC is the form in which electric power is delivered to businesses and residences.
Amperage – Amps/Amperes/Ampacity/Rated Amperage -measurement of the flow rate of electricity. If you think in terms of water through a hose, amperage would be a measure of water volume flowing through the hose.
AWG – American Wire Gauge; standard measuring gauge for non-ferrous conductors (i.e., non-iron and non-steal). Lower gauge numbers indicate larger conductor size.
Cable – A cable is a set of wires, usually encased in an outer protective jacket. A “cord” would be a cable by this definition so far, but a cable is part of a permanent installation; a cord is more flexible and often has a plug end for a portable appliance or lamp.
Cable Harness – A string of cables and/or wires which transmit informational signals or operating currents (energy). The cables are bound together by clamps, cable ties, cable lacing, sleeves, electrical tape, conduit, a weave of extruded string, or a combination thereof.
CE – Conformite Europeene. A European standard of safety. The CE marking on end products indicates compliance with all applicable directives. Further Reading
Sample CE Compliance Mark
Conductor – The internal material of a cord that conducts electricity. Copper is the most common material used for electrical wiring. Silver is the best conductor, but is expensive. Because it does not corrode, gold is used for high-quality surface-to-surface contacts.
Connector – A female cord mounted wiring device with the conducting elements recessed behind the mating surface. This type of device is normally wired to be live when nothing is plugged in to it. Therefore, connectors are wired to the source of power.
CSA – Canadian Standards Association, a Canadian product safety and certification organization. Their registered mark shows that a product has been independently tested and certified to meet recognized standards for safety or performance. Further Reading
Sample CSA Compliance Mark
Current – The rate of flow of electrical energy through a conductor or wire, comparable to the amount of water flowing in a pipe. Electric current is measured in amperes or “amps”
Dielectric – Any insulating medium, which intervenes between two conductors and permits electrostatic attraction and repulsion to take place across it.
Dielectric Test – Tests which consist of the application of a voltage higher than that of the rated voltage for a specified time for the purpose of determining the adequacy against breakdown of insulating materials and spacing under normal conditions.
DC – Direct Current. Current which moves in a single direction in a steady flow. Normal household electricity is alternating current (AC) which repeatedly reverses its direction. However, many electronics devices require DC, and therefore must convert the current into DC before using it.
Ferrite – Ferrimagnetic ceramic non-conductive compound material used to prevent high frequency electrical noise from entering or exiting the equipment.
Fuse – A safety device consisting of a strip of wire that melts and breaks an electric circuit if the current exceeds a safe level.
GFCI – Ground-Fault Circuit-Interrupter. An electrical wiring device that disconnects a circuit whenever it detects that the electric current is not balanced between the energized conductor and the return neutral conductor. Such an imbalance is sometimes caused by current leakage through the body of a person who is grounded and accidentally touching the energized part of the circuit.
Ground – A connection between an electrical device and the Earth or at the voltage defined as zero (in the U.S., called ground; in the UK, called earth).
Harmonized Code – An international coding system for specifying the attributes of cord voltages, jackets, diameters, etc.
Hertz – Measurement of frequency, equaling one cycle per second, U.S. devices are typically 60 Hertz and international devices are typically 50 hertz.
ICC – International Color Code. Standard for wire jacket colors; Hot=Brown, Neutral=Blue, Ground=Green/Yellow.
IEC – International Electrotechnical Commission, an international organization that sets standards for electrical products
IEC320 – IEC standard of thirteen 2 or 3 wire plugs, connectors, inlets or outlets usually used in the computer industry.
Inlet – A male flange mounted wiring device with the conducting pins protruding and exposed. This type device should never be wired to make the exposed pins live while the mating device is unplugged.
Insulation – The material that encases a conductor preventing leakage of current from a conductor.
IP Rating – Ingress Protection Rating, a two digit code, and an optional letter, specifying the level of protection from foreign objects with the first digit referring to protection from solids and the second digit referring to protection from liquids. The optional letter can be appended to classify only the level of protection against access to hazardous parts by persons or to provide additional information related to the protection of the device.
IP Rating Referance Chart
Jacket – Outer material layer of a cord.
Midget – Referring to an inlet or outlet with a shallow depth. Commonly mounted in areas where space is limited.
NACC – North American Color Code; Hot=Black, Neutral=White, Ground=Green.
NEMA – National Electrical Manufacturers Association, an organization based in the U.S. that sets many common standards used in electrical products.
OD – Outer Diameter, the outer diameter of a cord.
OEM – Original Equipment Manufacturer.
Pigtail – A very short patch cable or wiring adapter. Primarily used in the automotive industries where a longer cable assembly is not needed.
Pin and Sleeve – Common term in reference to an IEC60309 device Outbound Link.
Plug – A male cord mounted wiring device with the conducting pins protruding and exposed. This type device should never be wired to make the exposed pins live while unplugged. Therefore, plugs are always dead until they are plugged into a power source such as a wall outlet or generator outlet.
Polarized – A plug and connector formed in a way that only allows proper connection.
Receptacle – A female flange mounted wiring device with the conducting elements recessed behind the mating surface. Often referred to as an outlet. This type of device is normally wired to be live when nothing is plugged in to it. Therefore, receptacles are wired to the source of power.
RoHS – Restriction of Hazardous Substances, a European directive dictating materials that may not be used in the manufacture of certain products. Materials restricted include: Lead, Mercury, Cadmium, Hexavalent Chromium, Polybrominated Byphenyls, and Plybrominated Diphenyl Ether.
ROJ – The designation to Remove Outer Jacket.
Slitting – The designation to separate insulated parallel wires.
Straight Blade – Refers to a NEMA device with straight prongs.
Stripping – The designation of the removal of the insulation or jacket from a conductor/wire.
Temperature Rating – The maximum temperature at which insulation will maintain its integrity.
Terminal – A terminal is the point at which a conductor from an electrical component, device or network comes to an end and provides a point of connection to external circuits. A terminal may simply be the end of a wire or it may be fitted with a connector or fastener. The connection may be temporary, as for portable equipment, or may require a tool for assembly and removal, or may be a permanent electrical joint between two wires or devices.
Twist-Locking – Refers to a NEMA device with circular prongs that locks the connection in place. Locking connectors use curved blades. Once pushed into the receptacle, the plug is twisted and its now-rotated blades latch into the receptacle. To unlatch the plug, the rotation is reversed. The locking coupling makes for a more reliable connection in commercial and industrial settings, where vibration or incidental impact could disconnect a non-locking connector.
UL – Underwriters Laboratories, an independent non-profit product safety and certification organization.
Voltage – The force or “push” driving electrical energy through a conductor or wire that can be compared to the pressure of water in a pipe.
Watt – A unit of power, defined as one joule per second. Wattage is calculated as Voltage x Amperage.
Wire Harness – See: cable harness. Also known as Wiring Assembly and Wiring Loom.
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