"drone" history

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri Aug 2 17:50:01 UTC 2013

In the past we've discussed "drone" (n. 'pilotless remote-controlled
plane' and v. 'target/kill in a drone strike'). I give some history of
the term in my Wall St. Journal column and Word Routes followup:


Of note: for the noun, OED2 gives a first cite of 1946, but it can be
antedated in US Navy records by a decade. Linwood S. Howeth's _History
of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy_ (1963) cites
a December 1936 report of the "Radio-Control Project" (presumably the
project led by Cmdr. Delmer Fahrney of the Naval Research Laboratory):


For the transitive verb, the earliest I've found so far is from March 2009:

2009 Mar. 12 Fatima Bhutto _The New Statesman_ “Droned” is a verb we
use now in Pakistan. It turns out, interestingly enough, that those US
predator drones that have been killing Pakistani citizens almost
weekly have been taking off from and landing within our own country.


Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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