Some perfectly ordinary banter, c. 1917:
First "Hun": "Did you see old Cole's zoom on a quirk this morning?"
Second "Hun": "No, what happened?"
First "Hun": "Oh, nothing to write home about ... stalled his 'bus and pancaked thirty feet ... crashed completely ... put a vertical gust up me ... just as I was starting my solo flip in a rumpty!"
This is the start of an article by W. A. B. entitled 'Airmen in the making', from the Daily Mail, 19 July 1917, p. 4. It's about some of the new words and phrases used by trainee RFC pilots: 'no one can claim so many strikingly original terms as the air services'. Most of the examples given weren't actually new; some of them don't seem to have survived the war; others are still familiar enough in an aviation context; and yet others are now so widely used that their aeronautical context comes as a surprise.
Hun does not here refer to one of Biggles' foes but to the trainee pilots themselves. The OED's earliest cite for this sense is 1916; a later cite from 1925 suggests that the derivation was that flight cadets tended to be highly destructive of training aircraft. Zoom (a 'soul-satisfying word') is what an aeroplane does when it is 'hauled up apruptly and made to climb for a few moments at a dangerously sharp angle'. But it seems that zooming was already something that moving objects did, especially if they made some sort of humming or other sound as they did so: an OED cite from 1904 has bees zooming against a window plane. All sorts of vehicles can zoom these days, though aircraft may have been first. But we probably use it more often to refer to cameras or image editing software. A quirk is a training aeroplane (though according to the OED it can also mean a trainee pilot), or just any which is slow and ungainly. But it's a very old word, in the sense of something odd or unusual, which seems directly related to this usage. A rumpty is a specific type of training aeroplane, namely a Maurice Farman Shorthorn. According to the RAAF Museum, it (or rather Rumpety) is an onomatopoeic word, from the sound it makes while travelling over the ground.
To stall in the aeronautical sense is of course quite familiar, but stalling in the sense of coming to a standstill is quite old (OED's first cite is c. 1460). 'Bus is short for omnibus, presumably -- a later generation of pilots might have said kite or ship. To pancake I had previously understood just to mean to land, but it can evidently also mean a sudden vertical drop (i.e. from a stall) or a crash. A solo flip is a solo flight -- does anyone take a flip anymore? And finally, a vertical gust sounds like a straightforward meteorological term, but in this context it's a 'breezy way' for the Hun to confess that seeing the crash before his own solo had, well, put the wind up him.
The other words in the article are still standard aviation terms, though to gamers of a certain age a joystick doesn't necessarily have anything to do with even simulated flight. W. A. B. ends by claiming gadget for the airmen:
But the most priceless word of all is "gadget." If the name of anything escapes you call it a "gadget" and you will be understood!
And it is indeed an excellent word. But sadly for the RFC's legacy, the OED shows that sailors were using it three decades earlier: 'if the exact name of anything they want happens to slip from their memory, they call it a chicken~fixing, or a gadjet, or a gill-guy, or a timmey-noggy, or a wim-wom'. Though perhaps we can thank the airmen for choosing to bring gadget into common use instead of chicken~fixing! (And just how do you pronounce ~ anyway?)
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