Thursday, June 17, 2010

Simply Blimply

A blimp is a blimp is a blimp.  As well as a dirigible.  But not a zeppelin.  So what’s the difference?  Well, since you asked, a dirigible, which comes from the Latin dirigere (“to drive”) is a lighter-than-air ship that can be driven, or steered, by a rudder, propeller, or thruster.  “Lighter than air” means the ship is held aloft, like a hot-air balloon, by the presence of a lifting gas (such as hydrogen or helium or simply heated air) in an inflated cavity. 

A zeppelin, named for the German Count Zeppelin, who designed the first one, is such a ship with a rigid framework inside the balloon.  The most famous of these (other than Led Zeppelin) was the Hindenburg, which crashed and burned in 1937, while landing in Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36 people.

A blimp is a non-rigid ship, that is one with no solid structure inside the balloon.  The word blimp, which was used as early as 1916, is said to derive from the listing of the two types of dirigible: A-rigid and B-limp.  Other word sleuths, however, insist that it’s an onomatopoeic word from the sound the balloon makes when you thump it with your thumb.  (Why would you do that?)

In the 1930s the cartoonist David Low created a character he called “Colonel Blimp,” a pompous, irascible, highly opinionated British army officer, who spouted passionately held views that were both reactionary and absurd.  Presumably the name was given to him because he was full of hot air.

Quite a different colonel is the subject of this hot air by the Bard of Buffalo Bayou, who is up in the air most of the time:

            An amorous lieutenant colonel
            Took delight in his exploits noctolonel.
            Amor Vincit Omnia:
            Love cured his insomnia,
            As I read in today’s Wall Street Jolonel.           

1 comment:

  1. Noctolonel takes my breath away.