“UFOs?” What bizarre event spawned the phrase “flying saucer?”


There’s a fresh UFO hullabaloo, and that provides the perfect opportunity to encounter the origin of “flying saucer” and “UFO.” There are no alien autopsies, abductions or crop circles in these stories, but there is no shortage of weirdness.

First, here’s the latest extraterrestrial extravaganza. A group of retired Air Force members and UFO researchers held a press conference claiming that aliens not only monitor, but have interfered with nuclear weapons around the world. No video, audio or other documentation accompanies these claims.

In June, 1947, aviator Kenneth Arnold created a media sensation after reporting a remarkable experience over Mount Rainer in Washington State. Arnold said that he encountered flashes of light and nine objects flying in a formation, flipping over occasionally and waving from side to side. He followed them and found they were traveling at an incredible speed and consisted of various shapes. Eventually, he lost sight of them and landed, sharing his experience. Word spread, and his account, to use the jargon of the Web, went viral.

In interviews with the press, Arnold described the flying objects in multiple ways, including “oval in front and convex in the rear,” and like a “pie plate.” Some unknown editor is probably responsible for the historic coinage “flying saucer.” For awhile, “flying disk” competed with “saucer” in the arena of public discourse, but we all know the winner of that linguistic duel.

UFO, “unidentified flying object,” was actually coined by the Air Force, and partly in response to the Arnold incident. Air Force Captain Edward J. Ruppelt was in charge of an official U.S. investigation of flying saucer encounters, Project Blue Book, and receives credit for the classic term. Surprisingly, Ruppelt thought UFO should be pronounced “yoo-foh.” Why? Maybe that’s how the aliens prefer it.

Here is an official Air Force definition of UFO from 1953: “any airborne object which by performance, aerodynamic characteristics, or unusual features, does not conform to any presently known aircraft or missile type, or which cannot be positively identified as a familiar object.”

Do you have other questions regarding creatures or unexplained phenomena? Let us know, and we’ll be happy to write about whatever mysteries receive the most requests.

In closing, enjoy this brief alien quiz:

What optical illusion in the sky is often considered the source of UFO sightings? The answer.

What mythological being has been compared to contemporary reports of alien encounters? The answer.

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