Monday, September 04, 2006


In his Sunday NYT "On Language" column, William Safire traces the history of a word used by lazy "wingnut" bloggers (including me) the world over--"moonbat":
There was enough of an e-maelstrom about the coinage of moonbat to lead to the origin. This included the entry in Wikipedia, a free online cooperative encyclopedia that was recently the subject of a New Yorker article and is giving the professionally edited Britannica fits. (Curiously, Eric Raymond, described in the magazine as “the open-source pioneer,” is quoted accusing Wikipedia of being “infested with moonbats.”)
Yes, it is. Also illiterates. Anyway, Perry de Havilland of the fine old libertarian blog Samizdata gets a mention for popularizing the word:

The online source reports that “the phrase was popularized in 2002 by Perry de Havilland of, a libertarian
blog . . . originally rendered as ‘Barking Moonbat,’ suggesting that certain issues seem to trigger a reflexive response from some people much like wolves howl at the moon . . . .”

Safire continues:
The e-maelstrom contained a tip that led to a talk with Lawrence Merritt, archivist for Boeing, whose specialty is the heritage of McDonnell aircraft. “The XP-67 bomber destroyer was an experimental fighter plane that had its first flights in February of 1944,” he informs me. “We wanted a nighttime fighter to attack German bombers if they were to attack New York or some other American target. By the time it was ready to go, it was obvious that the future of aviation was in jet planes, not propeller planes, so they never went into production.

“It was never officially named the Moonbat,” Merritt insists. “Airplane enthusiasts called me up all the time in the early 1970’s asking about the Moonbat, and I told them this is not the name of the plane. But in that community, it stuck. Some folks thought it looked like a bat and was supposed to fly at night, and that’s where they dreamed up moonbat.”

But it appears that first-use honors go to, appropriately enough, Robert Heinlein, the sci-fi pioneer beloved of libertarians, in his 1947 short story, "Space Jockey." In the story Heinlein "named the third stage of a rocket to the moon the Moonbat, and in another story a year later, “The Black Pits of Luna,” one Heinlein character was the scoutmaster of the Moonbat Patrol."

Scoutmaster of the Moonbat Patrol! I'm putting it on my résumé.

(via, naturally, Perry de Havilland at Samizdata.)

Update: The New Yorker piece on Wikipedia is fascinating, but a little snide. Drunkablog readers if any know this blog relies on Wikipedia for basic facts and background all the time. But, as the New Yorker notes, it's perhaps not so good at settling fine points of doctrine.

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