– President Donald Trump, February 17, 2017
The image of a machine being “tuned” may have originated in the textile mills of 19th century Yorkshire. Workers there called it “tuning” when they did repairs on power looms, which looked somewhat like upright pianos and required tensioning of many strings. (Elsewhere this work was called “tackling,” according to the OED.)
By the 1930s, mechanics were “tuning” engines in cars, boats, and aircraft. There is nothing musical about internal combustion (unless you count the motor’s “hum”), but many sensitive adjustments are required to keep mechanical, electrical, and chemical systems performing in harmony – a challenge worthy of comparison to the exquisite tuning of a Steinway.
The term “fine tuning” took on a non-musical meaning in the early days of two-way radio and came into wider use after the 1950s, when TV sets had dials with an outer ring that you twisted back and forth in search of a better picture (like a piano tuner, in search of the right frequency).
Before long, any dynamic system with many small parts could be called “a fine-tuned machine”: the Army, the Dallas Cowboys, the human body, the economy, crop management… Niagara Farm and Garden News (1967) warned that using atrazine on corn crops at the wrong moment “would be analogous to throwing a monkey wrench into a fine-tuned machine.”
The Oldsmobile 98 Regency was a fine-tuned machine, according to magazine ads in 1978 – about the time Donald Trump launched his first big hotel project. Only three years later, General Motors demonstrated it was possible to run an Oldsmobile on coal dust. Here’s a three-minute video:
Photo: Dobby loom; becomingamerica.wikispaces.com (a teacher’s page)
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