Are you are pronouncing “UFO” wrong?

Abhinav Chandra
3 min readJan 22, 2019


A lthough of what you think about UFOs, it’s secure to say we can all agree on at least one thing: how to pronounce them. Psyche! If you take it from the guy who popularized the term, we have all been speaking UFO wrong.

If you have ever heard someone pronounce UFO in any way other than the initialism “U-F-O” then we are willing to bet you just misheard it. That, or you were buddies with a man named “Edward J. Ruppelt”. (Seeing as he died in 1960, the latter is definitely less likely, but who is to say.) Ruppelt was a U.S. Air Force officer well known for his involvement in Project “Blue Book”, a formal government action that investigated unidentified flying objects. But before Ruppelt, these otherworldly sky sightings were mostly just called “flying saucers” and “flying disks.” Possibly, “flying flapjack” was even occasionally used.

Ruppelt is usually considered to be the one who coined (or at least popularized) the expression “unidentified flying objects,” and, consequently, “UFO.” In his 1956 book “The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects,” he put out what led to the development of the phrase, and how the new acronym should be pronounced: “Obviously the term ‘flying saucer’ is misleading when applied to objects of every conceivable shape and performance. For this logic, the military prefers the more general, if less colorful, name: unidentified flying objects. UFO (pronounced Yoo-foe) for tiny.” There ya have it, folks. Yoo-foe.

According to Ruppelt’s original thinking, UFO is an acronym rather than an initialism. For source, an initialism is meant to have each letter pronounced separately (FBI, NFL, USA, etc.), and an acronym is shortening of a phrase that is pronounced phonetically as one (NASA, laser, scuba, GIF, NATO, etc.). It’s possible you are a tiny annoyed at the idea that the most accepted pronunciation of a word is technically wrong. But can U-F-O be wrong if the “right” version was never really accepted?
Language is fluid, always adapting to keep up with the way people speak, and not the other way around. According to the Oxford Dictionaries blog, English is “a living thing. Meanings extend and mutate, loanwords are constantly adopted, so-called rules are stretched and twisted. All of which makes the role of a lexicographer very exciting than that of a starchy pedagogue who does blank but lay down strict unbending rules.” With this in mind, U-F-O is no wronger than yoo-foe. It is not how Ruppelt meant, but the people have spoken literally.

Originally published at on January 22, 2019.