Aliens

Apparently, We've All Been Pronouncing "UFO" Wrong

Regardless of what you think about UFOs, it's safe to say we can all agree on at least one thing: how to pronounce them. Psyche! If you take it from the guy who popularized the term, we've all been saying UFO wrong.

Who-F-O?

If you've ever heard someone pronounce UFO in any way other than the initialism "U-F-O" then we're willing to bet you just misheard it. That, or you were friends with a man named Edward J. Ruppelt. (Seeing as he died in 1960, the latter is definitely less likely, but who's to say.) Ruppelt was a U.S. Air Force officer well known for his involvement in Project Blue Book, a formal government initiative that investigated unidentified flying objects. But before Ruppelt, these otherworldly sky sightings were mostly just called "flying saucers" and "flying disks." Apparently, "flying flapjack" was even occasionally used.

Ruppelt is generally considered to be the one who coined (or at least popularized) the phrase "unidentified flying objects," and, consequently, "UFO." In his 1956 book "The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects," he laid out what led to the development of the phrase, and how the new acronym should be pronounced: "Obviously the term 'flying saucer' is misleading when applied to objects of every conceivable shape and performance. For this reason the military prefers the more general, if less colorful, name: unidentified flying objects. UFO (pronounced Yoo-foe) for short." There ya have it, folks. Yoo-foe.

So Wrong It's Right

According to Ruppelt's original thought, UFO is an acronym rather than an initialism. For reference, an initialism is meant to have each letter pronounced separately (FBI, NFL, USA, etc.), and an acronym is shortening of a phrase that is pronounced phonetically as one (NASA, laser, scuba, GIF, NATO, etc.). It's possible you're a little annoyed at the idea that the most prevalent pronunciation of a word is technically wrong. But can U-F-O be wrong if the "right" version was never really used?

Language is fluid, always changing to keep up with the way people speak, and not the other way around. According to the Oxford Dictionaries blog, English is "a living thing. Meanings expand and mutate, loanwords are constantly adopted, so-called rules are stretched and twisted. All of which makes the role of a lexicographer far more exciting than that of a starchy pedagogue who does nothing but lay down strict unbending rules." With this in mind, U-F-O is no wronger than yoo-foe. It's not how Ruppelt intended, but the people have spoken ... literally.

Check out Edward J. Ruppelt's "The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects: The Original 1956 Edition" here. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Project Blue Book

Written by Joanie Faletto January 22, 2018