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Old 05-01-2000, 03:07 PM
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Anybody know where the term "little green men" came from?

I recently heard that it originated in some newspaper stories published in Evansville, IN, in Aug./Sep. 1955. This doesn't seem very plausible to me, although the timing on that is pretty good, since I have a slang dictionary that cites the OED as saying that the phrase (meaning space aliens) *does* originate from around 1955 (alhtough I can't find it in the OED!).

But in the Evansville articles, the term "little green men" is used by an Air Force "flying saucer specialist" who is clearly referring to phenomenon and reports he's already familiar with. "Of course," he says, "we've had all sorts of descriptions, but the majority vote is for small, green, luminous, smelly types. [I like this guy! -- m.] I don't doubt that the folks in Kentucky ... are sincere. But I still don't believe, after four years of investigation, that any space men have landed here. Still, people keep insisting they've seen little green men."

So it sounds to me like the Air Force itself came up with the phrase, after getting a number of diverse accounts. But it would be interesting to find some other, earlier published accounts. Anybody know of any? Or the use of the phrase in sci-fi before 1955?
Old 05-01-2000, 03:13 PM
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From this site:
Planet Mars in Popular Culture
Note on the origin of "little green men": This phrase is frequently used in 20th century English to refer to Martians or aliens. But where does it come from? In Edgar Rice Burroughs first book about Mars, A Princess on Mars, he describes the "green men of Mars" who reappear frequently in his other Martian novels. This is probably related to the origin of "little green men" although he never uses that exact phrase. The Oxford English Dictionary's first reference for "little green man" is actually from Kipling's 'Puck of Pook's Hill' (dated 1906). Its use here refers to an actual person who has been tattooed green, and so although it actually uses the phrase "little green man", it appears to be more descriptive than a reference to aliens. The next OED reference to "little green men" is not until 1961.
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Old 05-01-2000, 03:26 PM
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Just like to point out, folks, that Maralinn's multi-post of her topic (4 times) isn't necessarily her fault. About 5 or 10 minutes ago MY computer went through some kind of convulsion, too. A thread I had just posted to, while I was waiting to be taken back to the forum, disappeared totally, the "Page Not Found" window coming up and Refresh not working at all--brought me back to some blank "Pick your forum" page. Also, for the last 10 minutes or so, the board has been EXTREMELY slow, and I've timed out twice trying to load threads from GQ.

For future reference, Maralinn, always wait at least 15 minutes before you re-post. Even with the old software, and especially with the new-and-improved software, sometimes posts got stuck in the pipeline and took a while to show up.

BTW, they're called "little green men" because that's what they told us they wanted to be called.
Old 05-01-2000, 03:31 PM
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Ah, I misunderstood my slang dictionary. So it's not the OED that says 1950s, but the slang dictionary itself (though they don't give examples).

For the record, it's the Cassell Dictionary of Slang, ed. by Jonathan Green, 1998.

Okay, to reiterate, can anybody find the phrase "little green men" used before August 25, 1955 (which is the date of the Evansville, IN, newspaper quoting the Air Force guy)? A sci-fi usage would be fine.
Old 05-01-2000, 05:15 PM
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Anyone have a copy of C. S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet (1938) lying around? I think the martians are green in that one as well, but I can't remember if the phrase is used. I might be thinking about Perelandra, which came out in 1943.

Invasion of the Saucermen (1956) showcased the classic "Little Green Men" that were eventually recycled in Tim Burton's Mars Attacks. That film was based on a story called The Cosmic Frame, by Paul W. Fairman, published in 1953. I never read it. Anyone else?

By 1967 the term was so thouroughly in use that when radioastronomers discovered the first unusually regular signature of a pulsar, they named it LGM, short for--you guessed it.
Old 05-01-2000, 06:19 PM
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In Edgar Rice Burroughs first book about Mars, A Princess on Mars, he describes the "green men of Mars" who reappear frequently in his other Martian novels.
They may have been green, but they were by no means little, if memory serves me. I recall Burroughs's Martians being exceedingly tall, and with four arms to boot.

I do know that there was a bout of flying saucer hysteria in the U.S. circa 1953-55. People were spotting flying saucers all over the place (nobody outside the military called them UFOs in those days). A number of Hollywood films capitalized on the hysteria, and the image of saucer-shaped spacecraft entered the popular imagination, reinforced by these films (as well as Warner Brothers cartoons and the hugely popular science fiction comic books of the era).

It certainly makes sense that the "little green men" phrase would have its beginnings in that time period, though I do not know the specific origin.
Old 05-01-2000, 09:41 PM
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Nobody knows...

Actually, I know a guy who wrote a long article about this very question. His answer is, "We don't know." In every case where he found it, it was always used in such a way that it was obvious the people at the time already knew what it was. He could not find the "original" use of it. But he's still trying. (Unfortunately, his article is not published as of yet. Which reminds me, I should go dig it up and see about getting it onto a website for him...)
Old 05-01-2000, 11:10 PM
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Invasion of the Saucermen (1956) showcased the classic "Little Green Men" that were eventually recycled in Tim Burton's Mars Attacks. That film was based on a story called The Cosmic Frame, by Paul W. Fairman, published in 1953. I never read it. Anyone else?
I used to have a book of short stories made into classic SF movies. One of the stories was "The Cosmic Frame." A good enough story of the pulp magazine variety.

"Mars Attacks!" was not based on "Invasion of the Saucermen" or "The Cosmic Frame." It was based on a series of trading cards from Topps released in 1962. There were 55 cards in the series, and by any standards they were bloody. Flesh burning off human bodies leaving smoldering skeletons, brains bashed in, planets exploding. Ooh, they were gruesome! They were re-issued when the movie was released, and the set was expanded to 72.
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Old 05-02-2000, 11:09 AM
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Oh, okay...I was assuming your 1955 cut-off date to be a reference to the classic 1955 Fred Brown novel MARTIANS, GO HOME, which featured actual little green men from Mars who teleported to earth in droves and took great and malicious joy in mocking Earth People, whom they interchangably called "Mac" or "Toots" (depending on gender).

REALLY funny book. Too bad it's out of print.
Old 05-02-2000, 02:40 PM
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At this point, we're not really asking for the first use (although it would be nice to know); we just want to find uses of it before 1955. As it stands now, nobody seems to know of a use of the whole phrase, to mean space aliens, before the Evansville, IN, newspaper quoted the Air Force guy.

(So sorry about the multiple posting, and thanks to the nice person in this thread who gently corrected me! It won't happen again!)
Old 05-02-2000, 04:33 PM
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As somewhat of an expert on the category, notthemama is closest. I believe Fred and Barney referred to me as a little green man on a couple of occasions. Afterall, we ARE little, green, and man-like. How the term was lost from the time when cars ran by foot-power until the mid-twentieth century is beyond me. Those Bedrock dum-dums must not have written it down!
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Old 05-02-2000, 10:29 PM
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I wonder if his reference to LGM has anything to do with the parachute dummies looking rather like large GI Joes that the Air Force dropped around Roswell? Didn't the Allies use something like that to fake out the Germans on D-Day, parachuting a bunch of army dolls to fool them about the location of the real invasion?
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Old 05-02-2000, 10:36 PM
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Astronomer Jocelyn Bell, when she firt discovered pulsars, thought they might be beacons of an intelligent civilization and named them LGMs for Little Green Men.
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Old 05-03-2000, 08:11 AM
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Little Green Men

Actually, it was Percival Lowell who did a detailed study of the "canals" on Mars in the late 1800's. He was convinced he was seeing evidence of water, and a firm believer in what he deemed as "little green men" or Martians. For those unfamiliar with his name, he is credited with (perhaps) the first major study to locate Planet X, now known as Pluto. Unfortunately, his efforts to find Planet X were fruitless, and the discovery would not be his.
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Old 05-03-2000, 11:46 AM
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Did Lowell use the phrase "little green men?"

If so, do you have a source?
Old 05-03-2000, 03:08 PM
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Alright, dammit, how about The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet (1954), by Eleanor Cameron. Green planet, little people, no copy of the danged book.

And when I mentioned that Burton had snagged Invasion of the Saucermen's Martians, I was referring to this:

Which you can also see here, assuming I didn't screw up both links.

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