The Chuck Yeager Pilot Voice

Airline pilots tend to talk the same because they’re all emulating Chuck Yeager.

In Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book The Right Stuff, he credits the calm … folksy … drawn out, matter-of-fact way that airline pilots tend to speak, to the world famous decorated American pilot Chuck Yeager.

Yeager grew up in West Virginia and entered the military in 1941. During WWII he went from being a mechanic to a decorated fighter pilot in just a few years. It was after the war however that he achieved the feat that made him a legend. On October 14, 1947 as a test pilot he flew the experimental plane Bell X-1 at Mach 1 and became the first human to break the sound barrier, the first to fly faster than the speed of sound. Also worth noting, he broke the sound barrier while flying with two broken ribs from a horse riding accident just a few days prior (which he “forgot” to report to his superiors).

It was because of his exploits as a pilot, and his generally cool demeanor, that led other pilots to want to be like him. His relatively neutral American accent and his vocal mannerisms soon became emulated by other military pilots. Then other pilots copied those pilots, military pilots become civilian commercial pilots, and so on.

Orange the Fruit, Orange the Color

Orange the color was named for orange the fruit, not the other way around.

The English word for the color orange has a trail back through a few European languages but has its origins in the Sanskrit “nāraṅga” which was the name for the orange tree. Oranges the fruit came to Europe through Spain with the Moors, who in Arabic called the fruit “nāranj”.

From the Arabic name for the fruit, “nāranj” became “narange” in English in the 14th century and by sometime in the early 16th century the spelling became “orange”, and was then used to describe things that were the color of the fruit.

Some confusion may apply

Without a name for a color, cultures use the words they do have to describe the things around them. Because English didn’t have a word for the color orange until the 16th century, some things that are orange (or orange-ish) were labeled as red because it was the closest color that English had a word for. “Red” hair and the robin “redbreast” for example are really more orange than red, but they were named before English had the word “orange”.

Describing colors before language has name for those colors had been a problem across cultures for a long time. The Ancient Greeks had a very limited palette of color names to choose from. For example, there seems to have been no word in Ancient Greek for the color “blue” so in Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey he describes both the sky and the sea as being a wine / bronze color. Even stranger, he also describes sheep as being wine colored.

A : turning the Ox upside down

The letter we know today as “A” has its roots in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics where it was originally the pictogram of an ox head.

From Oxen to Alpha

The letter A most of us use today is descendant from the Greek letter Alpha. The first letter of the Greek alphabet, Alpha actually is the result of an evolution of other letter forms from other alphabets most notably the Phoenician letter / word Aleph meaning “ox.” Aleph looks like a sideways A pointing to the left which not-so-accidentally resembles a sideways ox head. But the history of the letter A goes back even further. The Phoenicians created their first letter of the alphabet as a simpler form of the even older Egyptian letter / sign of an ox head. The Egyptian pictogram for an ox is essentially an upside down A.

Egyptian roots

History of the Alphabet by Art of the Problem is a great video that explores the history and changes of language & writing from more conceptual pictograms to sound signs like we use today. With the invention of papyrus the Egyptians found they created a quicker way to write things down than carving into stone. As papyrus became increasingly popular the Egyptians created what was essentially a hieroglyphics shorthand … hieroglyphics-lite if you will. This system eventually became the hieratic system of writing – it was a faster writing system to optimize this new writing technology they had created. Hieratic became easier to remember than hieroglyphics because it started to use less pictograms / word signs and instead used more sound signs, like our letters do today. With word signs you had to remember thousands of symbols to communicate. With sound signs you could combine characters to create words. Hieratics eventually gave way to demotic, an even faster way for Egyptians to write. Eventually the demotic sign for an ox became the basis for the Phoenecian aleph sign, which became alpha, which became our letter A.

So the letter A started as the image of an ox head in Egypt, as time past, it worked it’s way around the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean up into Greece where it got turned upside-down into the letter Alpha and eventually our letter A.