Monday, February 27, 2017

Linguistic FOD

Loose objects on the ground near airplanes have been a source of damage for most of the history of the airplane: they puncture tires, nick propellers, plug air intakes, or are flipped up by the wheels or prop wash and damage other parts of the aircraft. With the advent of the jet engine, the problem became spectacular, because a very small object can utterly destroy a jet engine. When debris on the ground causes damage to an aircraft, it's called FOD. The antecedent of "it" is vague there, because both the debris itself and the damage are termed FOD. We say that a jet engine that has injected some hard object has been "fodded."

Today I was in a lecture on safety in a non-aviation context. The powerpoint ran through a number of types of workplace safety risks, such as those associated with cranes and hoists, and then defined FOD. I think it began, "foreign objects debris occurring near airplanes and helicopters," but I was grinding my teeth and didn't hear it all.

"It stands for Foreign Object Damage!" I lamented to myself. Initially referring to the damage, the term spread to denote the debris causing the damage. I didn't mind that. I thought it was kind of cool that the stuff that caused FOD was now called FOD. But reforming it as "Foreign Object Damage" just bugged me. I self-righteously looked it up, intending to demonstrate to anyone who would listen to me that "foreign object debris" was a weird back-formation. And then I found out that, in the way of most language change, once enough people share a usage, it's not wrong anymore. It's now the way the language works. In this case, the new usage has official certification, cancelling out the old one.

I haven't verified the references, but according to this FOD prevention vendor ...

The “Damage” term was prevalent in military circles, but has since been pre-empted by a definition of FOD that looks at the “debris”. This shift was made “official” in the latest FAA Advisory Circulars FAA A/C 150/5220-24 ‘Airport Foreign Object Debris (FOD) Detection Equipment’ (2009) and FAA A/C 150/5210-24 ‘Airport Foreign Object Debris (FOD) Management’.

Eurocontrol, ECAC, and the ICAO have all rallied behind this new definition. As Iain McCreary of Insight SRI put it in a presentation to NAPFI (August 2010), “You can have debris present without damage, but never damage without debris.” Likewise, FOD prevention systems work by sensing and detecting not the damage but the actual debris.

Thus FOD is now taken to mean the debris itself, and the resulting damage is referred to as “FOD damage”.

This isn't the first time I've been so sure about something that I've gone and done the research to


it, and discovered that the world has changed out from underneath me. Gotta keep moving. Also, I have at least a hundred things of higher priority than blogging about being wrong, but someone had to know that I USED to be right. Also the fact that what was originally FOD is now FOD damage kind of makes the evolution of the word cool again.


David Marshall said...

I'm totally nonplussed by this. :-)

sean said...

I was tooth-grating at the definition when I read it.
Looks like we've both learned something... :)