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How the word ‘drone’ moved from bees to unmanned aircraft

Language can be a funny thing. Not only do different languages have different words for things, the variation in the sound the word ‘dog’ makes alone is hilarious. Words can have different meanings depending on context, “post” being the most notorious case in the English language, one-word four meanings, there are words that change Meaning over time.

One of the most notorious examples of this is the descriptor ‘queer’. Once a perfectly respectable term meaning ‘strange’ or ‘out of the ordinary’ with no real equivalent to replace it, became an ugly slur that almost no one dared even try to use it in its original context. At least in North America.

In terms of technology, Google did not even exist until the search engine came, about but is now recognized as a verb in the Oxford English Dictionary and ‘troll’ used to mean a race of reclusive beings from Scandinavia. Most recent in the ‘total change of meaning’ club is the term ‘drone‘. Once meaning either a male bee or a descriptor for a certain type of low, unvarying tone, ‘drone’ these days is used almost exclusively in terms of technology.

First flight

Drone aircraft or Uavs for those prone to institutional jargon, are scarcely a new idea. Despite their sleek, futurist designs now, the notion of unmanned aerial attack vehicles goes back to 1849. The first of what would be used as an airplane for such a purpose was developed in 1917.

Developed by Elmer Sperry, an inventor and gyroscope builder and electrical-engineer Peter Cooper Hewitt, the design which intended to take down zeppelins, was known by many names, the “flying bomb” being among the most common. Despite being successfully flown it was not used during the war.


While still used widely by the military, UAVs are now also being used for civilian purposes such as search and rescue, as well as by police forces and fire departments. More than this and to a somewhat alarming degree, smaller, purpose built versions of UAVs are becoming popular among hobbyists.

Versions designed for the regular commercial market such as the PARROT DISCO have gotten so popular they are being featured in mass-market magazines such as Popular Science. A similar situation is if someone came out with a street legal version of a tank which was then featured in Car & Driver.

Not the first time

This is not the first time this has happened however. There is, in fact, long been a relationship between the military and private enterprise, the notion of a ‘military contract’ dating way back. It is then in this context, it is not too surprising that things that were initially and may still be used by the military would have civilian versions sold on the open market.

Something that has already happened, the case of the Jeep and the Humvee; certain designs of firearm such as the Colt Peacemaker also known as the Colt Single Action Army and AR-15 which is basically a domesticated version of an M16; night-vision goggles and, of course, the Internet.

This post first appeared on TechDigg, please read the originial post: here

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How the word ‘drone’ moved from bees to unmanned aircraft


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