The War of the Words: Revamping Operational Terminology for UFOs

By Raimer, Mark A. | ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

The War of the Words: Revamping Operational Terminology for UFOs


Raimer, Mark A., ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

H. G. Wells, The Outline of History

We have tried to analyze the most baffling phenomena while disregarding structural peculiarities of languages ...

Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity

Do UFOs exist? Most people who read about UFOs want that question answered. Knowing this, writers on the subject of UFOs often spend an entire book, or series of books, trying to prove whatever answer they provide. So that those demanding an assertive answer from this author won't feel cheated, I shall give one here as precisely and concisely as I can. Fortunately for the attention-deficient reader, this should require only a few paragraphs.

First, to answer the question: Yes, UFOs exist. I say this with such certainty because I have seen them hundreds of times while driving to the store, taking a stroll, and just gazing up at the stars. In fact, I dare say that anyone who denies ever seeing a UFO has:

a. spent a lifetime under a rock, b. lied, or c. doesn't understand the definition of the term UFO.

In the early 1950s, Captain Edward Ruppelt, head of the U.S. Air Force Project Blue Book investigation, coined the term UFO (Unidentified Flying Object) and its necessary counterpart IFO (Identified Flying Object). (1) We can consider the primary purpose of ufology - a neologism denoting UFO investigation - as an attempt to accurately reclassify UFOs to IFOs.

Seeing a UFO

When you drive down the road at 50 mph and peripherally see a black blur, you have had a UFO experience by definition. If you take the time to look back and examine the object in question, you have graduated into a ufologist of sorts. In your investigation, you may recognize the black blur as a member of the bird species C. brachyrhynchos. Having thus identified a crow, you have turned a UFO into an IFO. People see UFOs (and UNFOs, unidentified non-flying objects) frequently, and accurately turn them into IFOs (or INFOs) perhaps most of the time.

At this point, I would wager that the majority of readers have picked up on a problem with the term UFO. This stems from the fact that UFO has become synonymous with otherworldly spacecraft. This erroneous generalization of the term has caused much unwarranted controversy and confusion over the subject. (We'll get back to this in a moment.)

Another, perhaps more critical, problem exists in ufology which derives from the widespread use of the term Unidentified Flying Object in the first place. Here I refer to the fact that flying object implies qualities which do not accurately describe the characteristics of many documented sightings. According to definitions provided by the Merriam-Webster and American Heritage dictionaries, "flying object" signifies a material entity which propels itself through the air via some mechanical means. It seems ludicrous to cram all the data on unidentified things in the air into such a limited, elementalistic definition.

UAP - Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon

To avoid ascribing inaccurate qualities across the board, I introduce the term UAP (unidentified aerial phenomenon) and its counterpart lAP (identified aerial phenomenon). I believe these terms generalize the bulk of reported sightings far better than the terms UFO and IFO. I say this, first, because the word aerial does not necessarily denote self-propulsion, mechanisms, or an operator. More importantly, the word phenomenon in both physics and philosophy signifies an occurrence perceptible by the senses. This usage does not make hasty ontological judgments of physicality from the get-go. For instance, Kantian philosophy defines the word phenomenon as the appearance of something to the mind as opposed to its objective existence, independent of the mind.

To illustrate the usefulness of the term Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAP) over UFO, I would direct the curious to the case of the enigmatic lights reported in the sky over Greifswald, East Germany in 1990. …

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