Foo Fighters and UFOs

By Maeve Maddox

Only recently have I come across the delicious term Foo Fighter.

foo fighter: Any of various unidentified lights encountered by airborne forces during the Second World War (1939-45), interpreted variously as enemy weapons, natural phenomena, or alien spacecraft. –OED

According to a lengthy and informative article at Answers.com, foo fighters were seen at sites all over the world during World War II:

1941: Indian ocean:
1942 Java Sea, Solomon Islands
1945 France

The etymology of foo fighter is uncertain:

The term is generally thought to have been borrowed from the often surrealist comic strip Smokey Stover. Smokey, a firefighter, was fond of saying, “Where there’s foo there’s fire.” (This “foo” may have come from feu, the French word for “fire”, or Feuer the German word for “fire”, or from Smokey’s pronunciation of the word “fuel”.) A Big Little Book titled Smokey Stover the Foo Fighter was published in 1938. Foo may alternatively have come from either of the French words “faux” meaning “fake”, or “fou,” “mad.” –Answers.com

The term “flying saucer” to describe an unidentified flying phenomenon dates from 1947.

The term Unidentified Flying Object dates from 1950; the first documentation of the abbreviation UFO is from 1953. The abbreviation led to the coining of the unlovely word Ufology: “the study of UFOs.”

Perhaps because UFO carries connotations of craziness, a new acronym has come into use: UAP, “Unidentified Aerial Phenomenona.” There‚Äôs a National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena dedicated to the study of UAP sightings.

Whatever you call them, these strange aerial phenomena have been around for a very long time.

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4 Responses to “Foo Fighters and UFOs”

  • Julie

    How could you not mention the band?!

  • SAM

    I’m a little late to the game, to be sure, with this comment.

    I’ve been receiving the daily e-mail for several months. Recently, you’ve been stacking entries in the daily e-mail, some worth printing, others not.

    I don’t have the Web site-savvy to know what’s entailed, but I do wish you could add a printer-friendly version to the entries posted on the Web site. That would help in gaining access to items in the archives as well.

    I realize that maybe a point to the Internet is avoidance of paper, but if the material is worthwhile, it’s often worth printing off.

  • Stephen Thorn

    Although it’s just opinion on my part, I suspect “foo” sprang from the Allies fighting the Axis in WWII. In wartime it is common for one side to craft insulting and debasing comments about “the enemy” as a means of maintaining morale both among the troops and those on the home front. Examples are legion and it isn’t necessary to go into them here, but I will mention one: “foo” as a comical connection to oriental persons also springs up in a WWII-era Warner Bros. Daffy Duck cartoon. In that ‘toon, Daffy is assisting an older duck — ostensibly a physician/surgeon — in an operation held in an old-style operating theatre. The surgeon cautions that he needs complete silence, so Daffy holds up a large sign reading “Hush yo’ mouf” to show the audience; he then flips the sign to show the back, which is lettered in oriental (don’t know if it’s Chinese, Japanese, or whatever) and thus incomprehensible to the audience. Daffy shakes the sign and the characters rearrange into letters spelling “Silence is foo.” This was obviously played for a gag, and I’d opine that part of the humor was the subtext that the Japanese (ie “the enemy”) would use the word “foo.”

    To get back to the point — American flyers were, understandably, afraid of Japanese and German fighter pilots. A strange light in the sky, one you couldn’t identify or positively determine was friend or foe, was a scary thing. One way to deal with the anxiety caused by such lights was to label them in a derogatory way, and so Japanese planes attained the epithet “meatballs” (referring to the emblem of the Japanese rising sun on the craft’s fusilage) or something similar — it made the threat seem less threatening, and so easier to deal with. The speeding, bright, unclassifiable lights pilots reported probably came to be known as “foo fighters” for that reason.

  • Janice

    How cool! I thought Foo Fighters was just a name Dave Grohl made up for his band.

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