[Ads-l] "blimp" antedating

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 7 15:32:32 UTC 2019

My latest Wall Street Journal column is on the history of the word "blimp."


The OED and various other references give as their earliest citation of
"blimp" a letter written by Royal Naval Air Service pilot Harold Rosher
dated Feb. 11, 1916, collected posthumously in "With the Flying Squadron"
(also titled "In the Royal Naval Air Service"). By searching on the British
Newspaper Archive I was able to make a small but important antedating.

"This Morning's Gossip," Daily Mirror, Jan. 25, 1916, p. 12, col. 2
I was amused to hear what the Air Service call the lighter-than-air
machines, i.e., the airships and balloons. They call them "blimps,"
"submarine searchers" and "babies." But why "blimps," I wonder.

Even pushing back the earliest print date a few weeks is significant, since
the most widely accepted origin story for "blimp" is that it was coined on
Dec. 5, 1915 (by Lt. A.D. Cunningham, commanding officer at the
Capel-le-Ferne air base, where Rosher encountered the term).

You can see a page image of the Daily Mirror item here:


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

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