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English word of the week V


A non-rigid airship with no supporting internal framework or keel that relies on the pressure of the gas (usually helium) it is filled with to maintain its shape.

The only thing that is certain regarding the origins of this word is that it first appeared in Britain. The theories involving the origins are many and very colourful. Here is one:

The term most likely originated with Lieutenant (later Air Commodore) A. D. Cunningham of the Royal Naval Air Service, commanding officer of the British airship station at Capel in December 1915. During a weekly inspection, Lt. Cunningham visited an aircraft hangar to examine a ‘Submarine Scout’ pressure airship, His Majesty’s Airship SS-12. Cunningham broke the solemnity of the occasion by playfully flipping his thumb at the gasbag and was rewarded with an odd noise that echoed off the taut fabric. Cunningham imitated this sound by uttering: ‘Blimp!’ A young midshipman, who later became known as Air Marshal Sir Victor Goddard, repeated the tale of this humorous inspection to his fellow officers in the mess hall before lunch the same day.

The above is a direct quote from Oxford Dictionaries Blog. To read the blog entry with this and other theories, click here.

Most other languages have either created a compound word to refer to blimps as a specific subgroup of airships or have adopted the English word.

The word can also be used to refer to a person with considerable overweight.

Colonel Blimp

A satirical cartoon character created by David Low in 1934. The character pokes fun at the British officer class, which consisted of public school educated men, who had reached their position not on merit but due to their connections and whose most “glorious” achievements consisted mainly of fighting poorly armed rebels in the colonies of the British Empire. The character is usually depicted in a Turkish bath fuming red-faced about a political matter or another. His rants begin with the sentiment of strong agreement with a British politician or some other member of the establishment, and end with inadvertently proving the original opinion to be ridiculous and contradictory.

(Dear moderator. I am aware that although the following image is criticising racist buffoons, it still includes a racist buffoon. Should you feel that the image violates the guidelines, please make a comment that asks me to remove the image rather than deleting the whole post. Thank you.)

Colonel Blimp also appeared on the silver screen in 1943, when Powell & Pressburger made a feature film titled The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. The film’s satirical edge is much duller that the one found in the cartoons. The British exploits and exploitation in the Empire are more or less ignored and the main character’s inability to change with the times is portrayed sympathetically. The film still depicts the buffoonery and rigidity of the British establishment in an unfavourable light and rather remarkably has a German character, whose worldview is more humane than that of the British main character. This angered the British prime minister Winston Churchill who tried to get the film banned on the grounds of it being unpatriotic. He failed. Here is a very short introduction to the film crafted by the British Film Institute.

Colonel Blimp is still sometimes used in Britain to refer to a person who vents old-fashioned and conservative opinions in a puff of polite outrage. The word blimp also appears from time to time in various contexts often with hilarious consequences.

Happy Duolingoing, everyone!


December 2, 2017

1 Comment


That's amazing. Language is so weird.

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