Words are important. In 1947, after pilot Kenneth Arnold claimed to have seen several crescent-shaped objects flying like saucers skipping on the surface of a pond, sensationalistic journalists coined the term “flying saucers.” (Notwithstanding the evidence that the term “flying saucers” was in use for years prior to that to describe clay pigeons used in skeet shooting) And a phenomenon was born. Reports of flying saucers soared, leading up to the 1952 “summer of the saucers”, in which thousands of reports hit the news.
Despite journalists having originated the phrase, most journalists back in the day seemed unable to utter it unironically, and usually added “so called” before it, as in “Mr. Jones saw a so-called flying saucer over his house.” The phrase rolls so easily off the tongue now, after sixty years of cultural programming, it’s easy to forget that it is actually conjuring an image of dishes soaring through the sky. That said, it is usually said in reference to 1950s sci fi movies, because it’s not a term that people use much anymore. It is, really, a silly term.
But the US government was compelled to investigate. Obviously they can’t investigate flying dishes, so they had to look at it from a more distanced and one could say distinguished perspective. Thus, Edward Ruppelt, director of the USAF’s Project Bluebook, coined the term “UFO”, for Unidentified Flying Object.
Ruppelt sought a new term that could be used to describe objects that were of any shape and size (not just saucer-shaped), as well as to describe objects which were completely mundane but just not readily identifiable. After all, a weather balloon is a UFO if you don’t know what it is. But if you hear someone use the term “UFO”, you know they are talking about a spacecraft that carries little green men. It will still be a UFO if it’s on the ground, and it will still be a UFO if it’s ethereal and not a solid object. Though the term UFO was intended to distance these sightings from the sensationalism and foregone conclusion that they were aliens from space, it now means exactly that.
To address this, the term UAP for Unexplained Aerial Phenomena has come into vogue. Even Hillary Clinton, on the Jimmy Kimmel show, corrected his usage of “UFO” by saying “You know there’s a new name….unexplained aerial phenomenon.”
So “flying saucers” was a joke, and “UFO” became saddled with cultural baggage. Will “UAP” be any different, or will it too become a perjorative?
“UFO” does not describe the craft the Contactees saw. UFO is (literally) a military term, a clinical way to describe some unknown other. In the book pictured above, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, Ruppelt begins with a story of an F-86 fighter that opened fire on a UFO because the pilot didn’t know what else to do. Consider how Ruppelt pronounced “UFO”, as well: “You Foe.” It means these things are to be feared, to looked at with suspicion.
In other words, precisely the opposite of the Contactees. They regarded these craft and the beings within them as objects of wonder, things to be in awe of, things to revere. They also knew that these things were not “unidentified” at all. Adamski knew that the scoutship he saw was Venusian. Menger’s similar, but slightly different scouts were Saturnian. Aura Rhanes came to earth on a ship from the planet Clarion.
“Flying saucers” evoke a simpler time, and while it isn’t the most precise of descriptions (as it can be attributed to disks, crescents, triangular, or cigar-shaped craft), it doesn’t leave room for mystery. These are vehicles that bring our alien visitors here.
Some UFOlogists could arguably be called saucerologists, as they’re more interested in proving that these phenomena are alien visitors, rather than coming up with other things they could be. Stanton Friedman, for example, frequently uses the term “flying saucer”, presumably for similar reasons to mine. I would argue that Friedman is the spiritual successor to Major Donald Keyhoe, the former head of NICAP, who used the term “saucers.” Both of these men would be horrified to be lumped in with the Contactees, and that’s not what I’m attempting to do; rather, I’m just saying that, basically, if you know what something is, and you know it’s a spaceship, why would you call it “unidentified”?
I, for one, think it is time we bring this back into the lexicon. When modern UFOlogists talk about “UFO disclosure”, aren’t they really talking about flying saucer disclosure? They’re not looking for the government to release the secret files of weather inversions or swamp gas…they want acknowledgement of the existence of alien visitations. The Secret of the Saucers, as Orfeo Angelucci put it.