This excellent word (“Origin unknown”) is best explained by quoting the OED’s citations:

1936 Allen & Lyman Wonder Bk. Air 312 A modoc, the derivation of which is obscure, is a flashy chap who goes around wearing helmet and goggles, and more than likely, leather boots and riding breeches, too, and talking about the big things he is going to do for aviation. 1942 Berrey & Van den Bark Amer. Thes. Slang §756/2 Modock, one who has taken up aviation for publicity, social, or similar reasons. 1960 Wentworth & Flexner Dict. Amer. Slang 341/2 Modoc, one who becomes an Air Force flier for publicity, social prestige, or similar reasons.

As far as I can tell by googling, the word is dead as a mackerel, which is a pity—it has a fine slangy ring to it. (Found at The Sensible Ass, a blog which makes a habit of listing odd and interesting words.)
Update. According to Mike (in the comments), modock (as he spells it) “is currently used by a large group of U.S. pilots”; I am happy to retract my statement that it was dead as a mackerel. Mike is interested in the early history of the word, so if you know anything about it, please e-mail him (click on his name in the comments for the address).


  1. Seems weird not to mention the possibility of a connection with Modoc County, California. (Northeast corner of the state.) Didn’t the story about Ishi, the last Yahi, occur in the early 1900’s?

  2. Here is a link that gives a derivation of “Modoc” as in Modoc Indians, the Modoc War, and Modoc County: “Modoc is from the word Moadokkni, meaning ‘Southerners.’ Their kindred tribe, the Klamath, refer to them as Moadok Maklaks, ‘people of the south.’ In their own language, the Modoc call themselves Maklaks, meaning ‘people.'”

  3. Apaches. Those were the french dudes that wore those striped shirts and threw their women around on the dance floor, right?
    Captain Jack was a Modoc, the country he made his last stand in is amazingly surreal, with quiet volcanoes and fields of hardened lava. This is an OK version of the events at the end of his life.
    The Modoc War
    Here’s a picture of Captain Jack and an example of an alternative medicine’s alternative to the malpractice suit.
    Captain Jack’s Stronghold

  4. Seems weird not to mention the possibility of a connection with Modoc County, California
    Except that it’s hard to imagine what such a connection might be, unless there happened to be an early hotshot pilot from there who was called “Modoc” the way other guys are called “Tex”… but then you’d expect the word would have been connected with him. The county is presumably named after the Indian tribe.

  5. The Historical Dictionary of American Slang antedates the OED by a little bit: 1933 Stewart Airman Speech 78: Modock: One who talks about aviation but never flies.
    It also includes two other cites not used by the OED. I do not have any earlier cites, nor did a simple search in the usual places turn anything up.

  6. As an aside, I absolutely love Captain Jack’s Stronghold and that whole area. Much of my family is from the Klamath area, and it’s an amazing place to visit. One of the Oregon-California borderland’s many jewels.

  7. Modock is currently used by a large group of U.S. pilots. The group uses the term as derogitory way to describe a pilot who looks the part but isn’t a true aviator. However, there is some contoversy as to its true meaning and origin. The group feels that the term has been around since 1921 but that fact is still unsubstantiated. There is also some question whether a man named Cy Caldwell coined the term. Caldwell was a known humorist and columnist for an aviation magazine, as well as a pilot, in the 1930s. If so, why did he use the word ‘modock.’ If there is anymore information on the the term ‘modock,’ as it applys to pilots or the aviation community, I would love to know more.

  8. Modock is used by a large group of pilots to describe one who talks more about his flying antics than actually doing them.

  9. John W Bettridge says:

    There is quite a myth/legend about an early family member and it is much written about. In 1170. a Man from Wales, by the name of MADOG, reportedly sailed from there to what is now Mobile Bay, Alabama. I wonder if the MODOC, Indians got their name from him, based on a piece about a “Boston Charley” of the MODOC’S, who was very white. Reportedly Madog, mixed with Indians, and the result was white Indians. That is they had white hair and blue eyes. They say, this was noticeable among the MANDANS, of North Dakota.

  10. There is a Modoc South Carolina. They have a racetrack that I believe is the Mococ Speedway. My lifelong friend, Dave, his Dad was Lt. Colonel Fred Smith. I remember him talking about having an Oldmobile of Buick or whatever it was and saying “that car would really modock.” I still say modock with that use but did not know that it referred to flying. I like it.

Speak Your Mind