UFOs or UAP? Part of the Current Debate Involves What They Should be Called

With the renewed attention that UFOs have seen in recent years, a new series of questions—and challenges—have emerged.

According to the U.S. Navy’s UAP Task Force in its preliminary assessment sent to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) earlier this year, “UAP clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to U.S. national security. Safety concerns primarily center on aviators contending with an increasingly cluttered air domain.”

The report also adds that “UAP would also represent a national security challenge if they are foreign adversary collection platforms or provide evidence a potential adversary has developed either a breakthrough or disruptive technology.”

Of course, opinions held by longtime advocates for the study of unusual aerial phenomena may differ with the notion that such objects could simply belong to a “foreign adversary,” as the flight capabilities of these objects since recorded since at least the Second World War describes nothing comparable to even the best U.S. technologies at the time.

However, along with the many questions people have about these mysteries of the skies, many are also now confused about what they should be called.

With the renewed interest the subject has seen in recent years, largely following revelations in 2017 about a Pentagon program that looked at aerospace threats, the United States military has preferentially labeled these objects unidentified aerial phenomena, or more simply, UAP. While some have mistakenly viewed this as a recent creation, UAP has been used as a descriptor for the phenomena now for decades.

“Use of the abbreviation UAP has increased in recent years due to the term’s appearance in government and media reports,” reads an entry for the term “UAP” at dictionary.com. “The term unidentified aerial phenomenon/phenomena have been used in US government reports since at least the mid-1960s,” the entry reads, noting that the term mostly appears in “reports of military pilots’ accounts of witnessing objects that appear to be traveling at speeds or performing maneuvers not thought to be possible by known aircraft or with current technology.”

Similar references to unusual airborne objects as unidentified aerial phenomena may have occurred even earlier, although the more commonly accepted name for these objects in popular usage over the last several decades has been unidentified flying objects or UFOs. This name was coined by Edward Ruppelt, the first director of the U.S. Air Force’s Project Blue Book, as a more ambiguous alternative to the term “flying saucer,” which had seen frequent usage in the American media prior to 1952.

“For a while after the Arnold sighting the term ‘flying saucer’ was used to describe all disk-shaped objects that were seen flashing through the sky at fantastic speeds,” Ruppelt wrote in 1956 in his book The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects.

“Before long, reports were made of objects other than disks, and these were also called flying saucers. Today the words are popularly applied to anything seen in the sky that cannot be identified as a common, everyday object.”

Edward Ruppelt (Public Domain)

“Thus,” Ruppelt explained, “a flying saucer can be a formation of lights, a single light, a sphere, or any other shape; and it can be any color. Performance-wise, flying saucers can hover, go fast or slow, go high or low, turn 90- degree corners, or disappear almost instantaneously.”

Herein, of course, we see the problem, since even in the early days of the U.S. Air Force’s involvement with collecting data on these objects, only a small number actually appeared to resemble discs or saucers.

“Obviously the term ‘flying saucer’ is misleading when applied to objects of every conceivable shape and performance,” Ruppelt said. “For this reason the military prefers the more general, if less colorful, name: unidentified flying objects. UFO (pronounced Yoo-foe) for short.”

On an interesting side note, those who have argued about whether the term UFO is an acronym or an abbreviation (yes, there actually are people who concern themselves with such things) will note that Ruppelt gave us his own pronunciation key, identifying “UFO” as indeed being an acronym, although his recommended “Youfoe” pronunciation never seems to have really caught on.

The expression UFO does have its problems, as well as its own degree of baggage, and many commentators from over the years have taken issue with this label for the objects. One primary issue with the term involves the inclusion of the word “flying,” which may be difficult for an object possessing no wings or visible propulsion system to achieve in the same sense that flight is recognized in conventional aircraft. This, in addition to the fact that reports logged for decades appear to convey that these objects can enter the water as easily as they can pass through the air. In other words, these objects may more appropriately be described as craft capable of “moving” through air or water, rather than performing anything comparable to flight as we know it.

Despite the questions over whether unidentified “flying” objects are really flying or not, UFO remains the more popular expression used to describe these objects even today, although the shift toward replacing it with UAP has been notable. Obviously, for the time being, it really seems to remain a matter of preference, and in likelihood, people are going to keep calling these things whichever name appeals to them the most.

Perhaps the most important thing to recognize is that, no matter what one chooses to call them, it has become increasingly difficult to ignore their presence. Whatever they may ultimately represent, UAP/UFOs do appear to represent a tangible phenomenon, as they have now for decades already… and there’s no sign that interest in these aerial mysteries is going anywhere any time soon.

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