Raise a glass-half-empty to Fuckup Nights, which just celebrated its fifth anniversary. The “global movement and event series that shares stories of professional failure” was founded in Mexico City in 2012 and has spread to 252 cities in 80 countries, including Myanmar, Serbia, Colombia, Turkey, and Ukraine. The local languages may vary, but the name of the event, even in its native Mexico, remains proudly and swearily English: Fuckup.
That seems only fair: When it comes to describing failure, bungling, or omnishambles attributable to human incompetence or idiocy, nothing’s as succinct or as damning as fuckup. Or, surprisingly, as venerable. Continue reading →
In the 1950s the aerospace corporation Lockheed developed a single-seat, high-altitude plane under great secrecy, built by a small team of engineers in the company’s Skunk Works facility. The craft was not designated B or F, being neither bomber nor fighter: this was a spy plane. But an R for reconnaissance would not be discreet, so it was given a low-key U, for utility, and a 2 for its place in the development chain.
That’s the official story behind the U-2’s name, and there’s no real reason to doubt it. But there’s an apocryphal – and sweary – alternative, described by Phil Patton in his book Travels in Dreamland: The Secret History of Area 51 (Orion, 1997). Patton’s anecdote features top test pilot Tony LeVier and pioneering aircraft designer Clarence Johnson, who ran Skunk Works and was nicknamed Kelly for his pugnacious streak.
On the U-2’s maiden trip in 1955, LeVier was in control and Johnson flew behind in support. It was a tough aircraft to fly, nicknamed the Dragon Lady for good reason, apparently:
Ever since the publication of Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff, people the world over have thought that “screw the pooch” is a phrase commonly used by American military aviators when something goes wrong. I’m here today to tell you it ain’t so. Someone screwed the pooch on that one. Sorry, I mean they fucked the dog.
As Ben Zimmer wrote in Slate, references to “screw the pooch” prior to the publication of The Right Stuff are “surprisingly difficult to find.” This doesn’t surprise me. Euphemism isn’t the order of the day for flyboys. My husband flew giant transports in and out of Vietnam for the U.S. military until Ho Chi Minh blew up the airport in Saigon. He learned some very colorful turns of phrase from that massive shit show, and I learned them from him. I used to use them as a criminal lawyer in Austin, but now I’m in Arizona I’ll face penalty if I do. So here’s my gift for you: A little glossary of coarseness from a Vietnam pilot. Continue reading →