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The turboencabulator or turbo-encabulator (and its later incarnation, the retroencabulator or retro-encabulator) is a fictional machine whose alleged existence became an in-joke and subject of professional humor among engineers. The explanation of the supposed product makes extensive use of technobabble.

The gag was popular for many years. The following quote is from the Time article. General Electric, Chrysler and Rockwell Automation use many of the same words.[1]

The original machine had a base-plate of prefabulated amulite, surmounted by a malleable logarithmic casing in such a way that the two spurving bearings were in a direct line with the pentametric fan. The main winding was of the normal lotus-o-delta type placed in panendermic semi-boloid slots in the stator, every seventh conductor being connected by a nonreversible trem'e pipe to the differential girdlespring on the 'up' end of the grammeters.


Page 1 of 1962 description of a turboencabulator "made" by GE
Page 2 of 1962 description of a turboencabulator "made" by GE

The original technical description of the "turbo-encabulator" was written by British graduate student John Hellins Quick (1923-1991). It was published in 1944 by the British Institution of Electrical Engineers Students’ Quarterly Journal in an article titled "The Turbo-Encabulator in Industry" by "J.H. Quick, Student" [2] as also noted by consulting firm Arthur D. Little in a 1995 reprint of Quick's description, and giving Quick's full name.[3]

The earliest written U.S. source may have been in 1946, in an Arthur D. Little Industrial Bulletin. An early popular American reference to the turbo-encabulator appeared in an article by New York lawyer Bernard Salwen in Time on April 15, 1946. Part of Salwen's job was to review technical manuscripts. He was amused by the jargon and passed on the description from the Arthur D. Little pamphlet.[1]

Time got with the gag, featuring the device in a May 6, 1946 issue, described as "An adjunct to the turbo-encabulator, employed whenever a barescent skor motion is required."[4] A month later a response to reader mail on the feature appeared in the June 3, 1946 issue:

If the sackful of mail we have received from you is any indication, the story of "The Turbo-Encabulator in Industry" struck many a responsive chord. Aside from those of you who wanted to be reassured that TIME hadn't been taken in, we received the customary complaints about using too much technical jargon for the layman, observations such as "My husband says it sounds like a new motor; I say it sounds like a dictionary that has been struck by lightning"; suggestions that it "might have come out of the mouth of Danny Kaye," and plaintive queries like: "Is this good?" Wrote one bemused U.S. Navyman: "It'sh poshible." To some the turbo-encabulator sounded as though it would be a "wonderful machine for changing baby's diapers." A reader from Hoboken assumed that it would be on sale soon in Manhattan department stores. Many of you wrote in to thank us for illuminating what you have long wanted to tell your scientist friends."[5]

In 1962 a turboencabulator data sheet was created by engineers at General Electric's Instrument Department, in West Lynn, Massachusetts. It quoted from the previous sources and was inserted into the General Electric Handbook.[6] The turboencabulator data sheet had the same format as the other pages in the G.E. Handbook. The engineers added "Shure Stat" in "Technical Features", which was peculiar only to the Instrument Department, and included the first known graphic representation of a "manufactured" Turboencabulator using parts made at the Instrument Department.

In c. 1977 Bud Haggart, an actor who appeared in many industrial training films in and around Detroit, performed in the first film realization of the description and operation of the "Turboencabulator", using a truncated script adapted from Quick's article. Bud convinced director Dave Rondot and the film crew to stay after the filming of an actual GMC Trucks project training film to realize the Turboencabulator spot.[7]

In c. 1988 the former Chrysler Corporation "manufactured" the Turboencabulator in a video spoof.[8] Rockwell Automation "manufactured" the renamed Retro-Encabulator in another video spoof in c. 1997.[9] On April Fools' Day 2013, Hank Green released a SciShow episode on YouTube entitled "The Retro-Proto-Turbo-Encabulator."[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Salwen, Bernard (15 April 1946). "For Nofer Trunnions". Time. 
  2. ^ http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/freeabs_all.jsp?arnumber=5328648
  3. ^ http://www.adl.com/uploads/tx_extprism/1995_q1_29.pdf
  4. ^ "Letters, May 6, 1946". Time. May 6, 1946. Retrieved March 8, 2011. 
  5. ^ "Letters, Jun. 3, 1946". Time. June 3, 1946. Retrieved March 8, 2011. 
  6. ^ Turboencabulator.
  7. ^ "Turbo Encabulator" the Original. Retrieved 2013-12-24. 
  8. ^ Chrysler Turbo Encabulator. Chrysler Corporation. Retrieved 2013-12-24. 
  9. ^ Rockwell Retro Encabulator. Rockwell Automation. Retrieved 2013-12-24. 
  10. ^ April Fools Episode - The Retro-Proto-Turbo-Encabulator. Hank Green. 2013-04-01. Retrieved 2013-12-24. 

External links[edit]