Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Origin Of The Species

A question came up: what is the origin of the term "bubblehead" as a term of derision/endearment for Submariners? Is it because of the need to keep a "zero bubble" on the inclinometer? Because of the bubble-looking headgear worn by early divers? Or is there some other reason? (Bonus points to whoever can come up with the actual answer, accompanied by a citation from a reliable source. My Googling skillz weren't up to the task, which is fairly rare for me.)


Anonymous Sandy Eggo said...

I just assumed it was because you guys breathe air underwater?

I had never heard the term until my best friend's mother and father (both Navy veterans) said in shock, "You're marrying a bubblehead?!?" And even then, I thought they were calling him a bobblehead...

4/28/2010 9:32 PM

Anonymous 3383 said...

I recall seeing here it was because of the PH po-po wearing white helmet liners.

Previously I thought it was derived from the bubbles trailed by every submarine depicted in film.

4/28/2010 11:09 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, I also Googled "Bubblehead" The first reference which came up was this blog.

Next up was,

According to this one, I'm a "person who is silly, frivolous, ignorant, etc."

Same situation with Mr. Webster as well.

"a foolish or stupid person"

Personally, I find these definitions funny as hell. Do you think a skimmer came up with said definitions? I tend believe so. Not all, but some skimmers hate us with every fiber of their being. I'll bet the house that one of them wrote up these definitions to describe us in their eyes.

Being called a Bubblehead is a term of endearment and a title I've happily earned just like most of the other guys who frequent this blog.

It's late and I'm about piss drunk and ready for the rack...but at Morning Quarters I'll ask my MTCS this same question since he is a history buff as well. I doubt he'll post here, but he might just have the actual definition and origin in which were looking for here.

MT1(SS) WidgetHead

4/29/2010 1:43 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't you guys always tell each other, "Keep an even bubble"?

4/29/2010 2:12 AM

Blogger John Byron said...

I can take the label back to 1960. Will cede to anyone with a cite before that. Authority? I was there and dealt with these goons.

At New London SubBase in the late '50s was formed a roaming posse of shore duty types and ghost riders to act as on-base quasi-shore patrol. Purpose was primarily to enforce uniform regulations on the upper base - do not recall them venturing to lower base and that so probably for their own safety. The leader was a TM-1 (SS) named Smith. These guys always wore helmet liners painted white to identify their role and authority, and so were known by all as Bubbleheads because of this.

I got nailed in the gedunk for wearing boots on the upper base. Was down from Portsmouth for a one-week sonar school. The bubbleheads had their own form to write you up with, not a report chit but intended to function the same way. The form - later called speeding tickets but not then - went to the boat, where in my case and probably most others the XO told the COB to tell the miscreant to stop getting caught. The chits almost always got torn up, at least in the diesels.

These bubbleheads seemed to have been recruited mostly from the ranks of the boat-of-the-month club (another time-honored term from those days), guys who were qualified but too much of jerk to be tolerated very much underway. I seem to recall that this was also a stash job for softball players and other such subpay ghosts.

So. Firm usage of the name Bubblehead, ca. 1960 at New London. Not a positive image associated with the label then, not applied universally to all submariners but rather just to this band of parasites, and not to my knowledge anywhere but New London.

Anyone got an earlier citation?

4/29/2010 3:44 AM

Blogger John said...

I always thought it was because we live and work in a bubble of air. I don't know where it comes from. I consider it a term of endearment. When they called me a bubblehead in the Washington Post article I was very proud of it and of us.

4/29/2010 3:54 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

But others see a naval origin:

Lose the bubble: Originally, to assume such an extreme up- or down-angle in a submarine that the bubble of the inclinometer is no longer visible. In common usage, to lose SITUATIONAL AWARENESS. (link)

BUBBLEHEAD: slang for a submariner, from the necessary preoccupation with the BOAT’s trim gauge; may be spelled “bubble-head”, and also known as BOOMER, DOLPHIN, DIPPER. Compare SKIMMER, AIRDALE, SHELLBACK; see GUPPY, SUBMARINE. [(in original) nb: to "lose the bubble" is to be disoriented, or so far out of control that the SUBMARINE is in jeopardy; see PITCH, YAW, ROLL, ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT] (link)

4/29/2010 6:08 AM

Blogger Ret ANAV said...

Always thought it was a term of endearment as well, though I have no idea of the origins! Actually had someone in uniform (On a Naval base, no less!) ask what my license plate ("BUBBLHD") meant. OK, so I have to cut the skimmers a LITTLE slack once in a while!

4/29/2010 6:08 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

I was told many moons ago that it referred to the bubbles in the blood stream associated with Nitrogen Narcosis (the bends) that happen from too fast an ascent from deep depth.

4/29/2010 6:51 AM

Anonymous GrumpyBubbles said...

No citation, but I was always told it was originally a derivative term used by the skimmers that we just embraced.

Nitrogen Narcosis and the Bends are two very different issues. The Bends cause bubbles in the blood from gases coming out of solution, and potential death. Nitrogen Narc is caused by inert gases being absorbed into the body at a higher rate due to higher pressures at depth, causing euphoria.

See, I did learn something at the escape trainer!

4/29/2010 7:11 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

i was told during my submarine qualification, that it was about the bubble trim level gauge. (that whole 'make your depth XXX with a 15 degree down bubble' thing)

maybe there is an 'Ugly Mother Fuckers of America' member(some sort of unofficial submarine club) lurking about that can shed some light.

4/29/2010 7:43 AM

Anonymous word said...

Bubblehead is the antonym of skimmer.

4/29/2010 8:14 AM

Blogger Mark said...

As a task for my Chief's Initiation in '92, I was tasked to find the meaning of Bubblehead in my charge book. This was pre-internet so I relied on the wealth of the knowledge to be found in the Chief's community in Ballston Spa. The my favorite was from a skimmer Master Chief... "Because a bubble of air is that can be found in the heads of those that volunteer to go on submarines."

EMCS/SS Retired
Math Teacher in UpState NY

4/29/2010 8:39 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if this is the definitive anser or not, but it certainly has some cred.

My uncle was a Navy salvage deep diver LDO/submarine qualified officer in the 50's/60's (ex-WW2 sub TM). He said the moniker "bubblehead" refered to the diver helmet. Somebody used it incorrectly to refer to submarine sailors, and it stuck.

That also reminds me of the "whitehats" (dixie cup)for enlisted & "raghats" (piss cutter) for CPOs/Officers discussion. Some call the dixie cups "raghats".

My father (ET1(SS)'62-'68)once chastised me for calling the Submarine Warfare Insignia "fish". He said "Where's the respect? Dolphins are "almost sacred"." I never called them that again, and I corrected anybody else I heard saying that from that point on. It really meant something to me because I knew he'd served with WW2 vets.

Also, (according to my dad) we are "Submarine Sailors", not "sub(standard)mariners.


4/29/2010 11:34 AM

Blogger Ret ANAV said...

Sonarman: "Also, (according to my dad) we are "Submarine Sailors", not "sub(standard)mariners."

This has ALWAYS been one of my pet-peeves!! I always correct people, saying that the correct pronunciation is "Sub-Marine-Er", capping it off with my refusal to be addressed as a lower-form of mariner!

4/29/2010 11:44 AM

Blogger Mark said...

Also, one of my pet peeves,

someone that works on a truck is a truck er,
someone that works on a farm is a farm er,
someone who works on a submarine is a submarin er.

sub standard - below standard
sub par - below par
sub mariner - being below a mariner (i.e. landlubber)

That is the way I have always viewed it.

EMCS/SS Retired
Math Teacher Up-State NY

4/29/2010 12:55 PM

Anonymous a Canadian submariner said...

I believe that Bubblehead is a strictly USN term as other English speaking navies don't use it. Likewise for the pronunciation of submariner which is generally pronounced as submar-iner.

4/29/2010 3:42 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

When did "sub par" get its negative meaning? Shouldn't that be a good thing?

4/29/2010 4:53 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"sub par" is a good thing, if you're playing golf. Almost all other situations, it is not favorable to below below average.

4/29/2010 5:11 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I pulled this from a PDF of the USS Sea Owl's (SS-405) monthly newsletter from September, 2006. As much as I hate to give credence to anything that RD says, this story appears to validate the one he posted earlier:

"As many of those of us who were stationed in New London
(Groton/Gales Ferry actually ! ! ) know, there was - and still is - an
"upper base" and a "lower base". This meant different things to
different folks but to the Master-at-Arms ("MA" ) Force it meant
another opportunity to hassle us smoke boat (as Dexter Armstrong
would say ! ) sailors. These "MA" folk (I’m being very kind here)
were almost exclusively surface craft sailors and they delighted in
"injecting themselves" into our daily lives in other than a kindly
way. You need to realize that these chaps did not come from the
top of their classes. And seldom were any of them rated higher
than E4. If there was an E4, he was singular in number and the rest
were usually E3 with a smattering of E2s. I don’t know if they
lacked "jurisdiction" on the lower base or whether it was simply a
matter that they were obviously outnumbered there and chose to
stay away, but for whatever reason they tended to stay away from
lower base waterfront areas. The "38th parallel" between the lower
base & upper base was the train track railroad crossing just east of
the towering chain link fence that separated the upper & lower
base areas.
After a full days work cleaning bilges, painting the boat,
conducting field day - or whatever - we dragged our filthy, stinking
selves up the hill to the barracks along the Military Highway where
we luxuriated in showers with plenty of hot soapy water after
shedding our dirty dungarees into hermetically sealed plastic bags
to be taken out to Fusconi’s for much needed decontamination and
pressing. It was at the railroad crossing that the MA folk started
"hassling" us. We called these MA people "bubbleheads" because
they wore plastic helmets that resembled a bubble. Yet some years
later (around 1976 or 1977) the term "bubblehead" was adopted to
mean a submariner ? ? ?"

4/29/2010 6:39 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no citations. Just ass u me d it was because we lived in a HY 80 reinforced air bubble.

4/29/2010 7:10 PM

Anonymous jerknomor said...

Finally, with women onboard Bubbleheads will be able to reproduce!

4/30/2010 5:38 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't have to come home to do our laundry! Woo Hoo!!

4/30/2010 6:00 AM

Blogger Bill Lapham said...

Did you see those guys on MARYLAND on NBC last night? "Oh, I think it will be great having women onboard." How much did they pay those guys? And the boat! Damn, where did everybody go when the were filming? The engine room? I know T-hulls a palacial, but for christ sakes, if you're going to film a nine-man bunkroom, why not put nine guys in their skivvies in there! Damn!

4/30/2010 6:59 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

i saw it. man, was that a sham. i guess the enlisted guys were told that if you want to make rank, don't say anything derogatory or your evals will suffer. some things never change.

as told to me by Lt. Timothy Benson on SSN-757 the summer of 1995, "you know, if you extend on board for the deployment, your evals might reflect that."
"no thank you. just sign me out. thanks."

4/30/2010 10:38 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i saw it. man, was that a sham. i guess the enlisted guys were told that if you want to make rank, don't say anything derogatory or your evals will suffer. some things never change.

While my boat was in the yard, several of us nukes were not allowed onboard while the admiral and his flunkees toured for fear that we would actually tell them what we thought if asked. What a bunch of PC chumps.

4/30/2010 10:58 AM

Blogger reddog said...

This term goes way back and refers to the "Bends" and the voids (Bubbles) that Submariners and Divers developed in their brains, from decompression and the resultant loss of mental acuity and frequent bouts of aberrant behavior associated with such lesions.

This is the hot skinny. If you have ever lived and worked in close proximity to those who have logged a lot of time in the decompression chamber, the truth of this is evident.

5/04/2010 11:26 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

Found in comments on this website:

Reader comments:
Other than the general gist of Bubblehead = Submariner he (see above URL)may have missed the boat on this one.

The “bubble” in this case refers to the bubble of air in an inclinometer. The inclinometers in question sort of looks like the glass vials in a common carpentry level, except larger and with a curved vial. When properly mounted along one of the submarine’s axis and the sub is level on this axis, the bubble will be centered in the vial and indicate zero degrees. When navigating around the ocean’s blue underwater, a submarine not necessarily trimmed so all of the axis are level. In fact, it is typical for a submarine submerged and maintaining a specific depth to be trimmed with the bow (pointy end in the front) slightly lower than the stern, which is referred to as the sub having a “down bubble.” When officer directing how the ship is to be navigated orders the sub to have a “2 degree down bubble”, the helmsman (the sailor driving the sub) responds by adjust the position on the sub’s dive planes until the inclinometer indicates -2 degrees and then responds by saying, “2 degree down bubble, aye.”
by Lee Hein 24 Mar 09, 0854 GMT

Submitted by Jeff; a Dad to one "Bubblhead" son and an Uncle to two "Bubblehead" Nuke nephews (one of whom just returned on the Virginia).

5/09/2010 1:12 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

a Canadian submariner said...
'I believe that Bubblehead is a strictly USN term as other English speaking navies don't use it. Likewise for the pronunciation of submariner which is generally pronounced as submar-iner.'

Incorrect!! We definately use the term here in do the Royal Navy.

Reddog has it spot on, bubblehead is often used in a degrogatory manner in reference to the damage cerebral arterial gas emboli have on neurological fuction ie. the brain. It's often used in the context of insinuating someone is 'brain damaged' or neurologically impaired.

1/14/2011 9:34 PM


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