I wonder how many of the fans entertained by the Foo Fighters at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday pondered on how the rock group acquired their name?
I asked a few concert-going teenagers. Two believed the identity came from a group of ninja warriors, presuming, rightly, the term Foo was of oriental origin.
In fact, the earliest reference to Foo in general use goes back to a newspaper comic strip produced in the 1930s called Smokey Stover drawn by the late Bill Holman, a popular cartoonist in American newspapers. The strip featured the antics of a group of firefighters, who drove around in Foo-mobiles rather than fire engines.
His work was loaded with puns and twisted metaphors, such as his occasional Foo-losophy advice - sort of corny Spike Milligan stuff, like "spend a dollar on your children's education and expect to get a quarter back". A foo situation often referred to a mysterious episode in the strip, such as an unexplained fire.
My teenage friends were vaguely right when they thought the name was "Chinese". Holman claims he originally found the term on the base of a Chinese figurine, picked up from a second-hand shop in New York.
In World War II, the term foo was borrowed from Holman's comic strip and pressed into military service speak to describe anything spurious on radar that couldn't be rationalised. This led to the term Foo Fighter, recorded originally by a radar operator with a US Night Fighter Squadron in 1944, flying on a mission over Germany. A strange ball of red fire suddenly appeared close to the aircraft's tail and followed them.
The flight operator, who happened to have a copy of Holman's comic on the flight, quoted the cartoonist's catchphrase, "Where's there's Foo, there's fire".
At first, the phenomenon was thought to be some new sort of enemy radio-controlled weapon, indicating the presence of aircraft, but this was quickly discredited.
Foo Fighters continued to be reported by aircrew on sorties over Europe and in the Pacific war theatre. Often described as bright balls of light, they sometimes followed or weaved between aircraft, like schools of fish, and often appeared to fly in formation suggesting they were under intelligent control, although impossible to shoot down. There are a number of films recording the phenomena in US military files.
New Zealand experienced a Foo Fighter incident in December 1978, when an Australian television crew on a cargo plane filmed a series of ball-like light clusters that appeared to surround and accompany their night-flight to Christchurch. The film was shown around the world and described as a UFO incident.
The most rational explanation for such unusual aerial sightings is that the clusters are some variation of St Elmo's Fire or electromagnetic disturbance creating fireballs of light, phenomena still not clearly understood, particularly in the way these clusters suddenly appear in a blaze of light and disappear without trace.
A bit reminiscent of some rock music, really.