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Skunkworks

The word skunkworks has its origins in World War II. We will look at the meaning of the term skunkworks, where the word comes from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Skunkworks describes a department in a company, laboratory or institution that works on non-traditional or out-of-the-mainstream projects. The first skunkworks was a project to develop the P-80 jet fighter at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation in Burbank, California in 1943. The engineers worked under a large circus tent near a plastics factory, which emanated unpleasant smells. One day, one of the workers answered the phone with, “Skonk Works“, and the name stuck. Skonk Works was a fictional place in the newspaper comic Lil’ Abner where Kickapoo Joy Juice or moonshine was manufactured. Al Capp, the author of Lil’ Abner, didn’t like associating his comic with a military manufacturer. Lockheed changed the name of this division to Skunk Works and trademarked the name. The term skunkworks is now applied generically to projects where a small team of researchers works independently of the mainstream of the laboratory or company. The term is sometimes seen as two separate words as in skunk works, but the generic term is more properly rendered as one word and the specific reference to the Lockheed Martin division of researchers is rendered capitalized as in Skunk Works.


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Examples

Overholser was a member of Skunk Works, the legendary band of scientists and engineers who worked on top secret projects for Lockheed Martin, until 1980. (The Statesman Journal)

John Mertic, director of program management at ODPi, said that work on Hadoop was often relegated to a “skunkworks” project in many mainstream organisations. (The Register)

The brief: Take up at Alfa Romeo, quietly assemble a skunkworks team, and deliver “something totally different” to the fast sedan market in two years and two months. (Road and Track Magazine)

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