Saturday, March 14, 2015

Steampunk Saturday - Attack by Airship!

If the commander of the air-ship desires to make his heaviest attack upon a steamship, he will turn the head of his ship earthward and glide just as does a volplaning aeroplane.

An image from the June, 1913 issue of Everybody's Magazine depicting an airship descending on a steamship for an attack in the style of Fritz Lang. Add a bit of Victoriana and you've got a steampunk scene worthy of H. G. Wells. A couple words in the caption stick out to me. Firstly "volplaning" and then the archaic spelling of "aeroplane".

At the time of this article, volplane would have drawn the derision of word-snobs in the same way their modern progeny shudder at trendy words of our era. It is an anglicized version of the French vol plané which translates to "gliding flight". A description of the movement of an airship in an era when airships were so new as not to have language to describe their behavior. Evidence of this comes from the fact that the first usage cited by Merriam-Webster was in 1909, just four years before this article ran.

Likewise, aeroplane is an archaic form of the modern English "airplane". It is an anglicized version of the French aéroplane. Its first cited usage was much earlier, in 1873. That makes perfect sense, you don't need words to describe the behavior of something that hasn't been invented yet!

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