16 February 2012

Cockpits and Curiosity

 “I wonder why they call it a cockpit?”
That was the question put to me by a friend the other night. There were a few attempts at a jocular answer, but we didn’t take it very far as we were ourselves in the midst of battle; situated in our own virtual cockpits in Battlefield 3.
But the question stuck with me, and I had to find the answer. Luckily the Internet was there to serve as my guide into this words etymology, so I soon had an answer; and it seemed an answer worth sharing.
As with many English words, the history of ‘cockpit’ goes back further than you would think, and comes from an origin that is at the same time odd, but somewhat logical. After all what is the first thing you think of when you look at the word objectively? It’s made up of cock, and pit; and that’s precisely what the word described back when it was coined 1580, as a translation from Chinese; a pit that cocks fight in.
Now this might present some odd images when you consider the cockpits of today, but the world had a few slight twists in meaning before it arrived where we find it in the dictionary today.
Right between cockle and cockroach.
I have never seen a true cockfight, only dramatisations on shows like Seinfeld, Family Guy, Samurai Jack and others; and this is a fact I am quite glad of. I would be happy if I never saw one from this day on, and the rest of the planet shared in my moratorium, as I hear they are a dreadful thing to watch if you are a person with a scrap of humanity.
On the lighter side; I am surprised how many quality shows I am able to reference here 
But despite my inexperience with these spectacles in person, I know enough about the bouts to understand why by the 1700’s the term cockpit had evolved to describe not only the bloody arenas where fowl battled to the death, but also any scene of combat.
It originally found purchase in naval lingo as the name for the area below decks on a man-o-war where the wounded were evacuated during battle. Two hundred years later the word would again be appropriated by a group of military pioneers, this time as aviators in World War I used it to describe the cramped places these men conducted their portion of the war effort from. Since then the name has stuck, and thanks to the commercialisation of air travel and its place within the everyman’s sphere of knowledge, the word cockpit is now a part of the common vocabulary.
"That's the way to fight a war. Tasty tuck, soft beds and a uniform so smart it's got a PhD from Cambridge" -  Lord Flashheart
Just goes to show you that even the most mundane of things can lead to some pretty interesting revelations now that we live in the age of instant information.
Hope this tickled your trivia bone just a tad. If it did, rest assured there will be scads more to come on this blog in the future.
Hmmmm, I wonder where the word scads came from.........

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the informative post Mat! I'm glad our late night BF3 sessions give you some inpiration