Keith Laumer's Bolo series features futuristic tanks named Bolos which possess artificial intelligence in later Marks.

What is the origin of the name "Bolo"? Is it an acronym or abbreviation for a longer word? Is it based on a term used in real life (perhaps by the military)?

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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolo_(tank) – Valorum Sep 30 '14 at 19:56
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    Historically there was the WWII bomber, the Douglas B-18 Bolo. That could have been a military inspiration. Laumer, of course, was an officer in the United States Air Force. – ImaginaryEvents Sep 30 '14 at 20:01
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    @Richard: They don't explain it there. Neither do they explain it in the "Official History" released in one of the books. – FuzzyBoots Sep 30 '14 at 20:02
  • @Richard I checked that Wikipedia article first but it doesn't seem to help. The best indication is that the first Bolo was developed by the fictional Bolo Division of GM, but that just raises the question of how that division of GM got its name. – Null Sep 30 '14 at 20:05
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    @Mazura - I'm struggling to find a solid link. The wikia is uncited – Valorum Oct 5 '14 at 19:39

A Bolo Knife is a heavy machete-like long single-edged knife, originally of Filipino origin. During the U.S. occupation of the Philipines in the early 20th century the American military adopted it and made their own version.

bolo knife

Originally used as an all-purpose agricultural tool, it's also good for close combat.

Between the Crimean war and WWI caterpillar-tread tractors were used in farming. This connection from agriculture to military may be what inspired Keith Laumer to use the name for his autonomous BOLO tanks.

I've looked through the "Brief Technical History" and the "Brief History" appendices in BOLO! and The Compleat BOLO, and I don't see any mention of why the name 'BOLO' was used.

  • That is a real life military term but it's not clear how that would relate to the Bolo tanks. The comment about the B-18 Bolo and Laumer's service in the USAF seems a more plausible connection. – Null Sep 30 '14 at 20:07
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    Yes, but can you link the knife to the term bolo used in the book? – Valorum Sep 30 '14 at 20:13
  • I just noticed The Best of the Bolos: Their Finest Hour (the book I read which inspired this question) has the "Brief Technical History" and I don't see anything either. I also checked the first Bolo story "The Last Command" (it's also in the book) and there isn't an explanation. – Null Oct 1 '14 at 4:04

Used in the Phillipines and by the U.S. Army. Origin: Phillipine Spanish, 1900 >- 1905.

The successor to the Main Battle Tank which was limited to Direct Fire in the Close Support Role. The Bolo was developed with the upgrading of the Indirect Fire, Active Protection, Electronic and Cyber-Warfare capabilities to that same "Close Support" role. The main battle tank fulfills the role the British had once called the 'universal tank', filling almost all ground battlefield roles. The Bolo fulfills ALL ground battlefield roles.


Heavily adapted from these Wiki's- Bolo (tank), Chain shot, Shotgun, Bolas

Prior to the Mark XIV, early Bolo Marks utilized projectile weapons for their main battery. All marks of Bolos are equipped with a set of secondary batteries such as rapid-fire mortars and heavy howitzers. In artillery, a chain-shot is an obsolete type of naval ammunition formed of two sub-caliber balls, or half-balls, chained together. They were used in naval warfare in the age of sailing ships and black powder cannons to shoot masts, or to cut the shrouds and any other rigging of a target ship. In modern times, the effect is replicated in shotguns with the use of bolo shells, consisting of two slugs joined by steel wire. When fired, the slugs stretch the connecting wire, causing it to slice up its target badly when it hits. They are banned in several jurisdictions, including Florida and Illinois.

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A Bolas is a throwing weapon. IMO, where the B-18 (long range bomber) got its name from. (bola being Spanish for 'ball', is also the etymology of Bolo ties)

myetymology.com: The Greek suffix -bolos, -βολος, -βόλος derived from the Greek word ballein, βάλλω (to throw)

  • Bolo, dictionary.com: a soldier who does not meet the minimum standards of marksmanship. -I'm beginning to believe that the modern English definition of the verb should be somewhere along the lines of: any weapon capable of reaching out and touching someone to an exceptional extent. E.g, Boloed by a .50 cal. – Mazura Oct 5 '14 at 20:01
  • I still don't see a definitive connection between the tank and the knife or the throwing weapon. It's tempting to assume tank = weapon but it could just as easily be named after the town in Tibet – Valorum Oct 5 '14 at 20:15
  • My lose (guess) translation of the Greek verb ballein into a noun would be: the thing that throws stuff. I see a connection for a bolo soldier, in that they should be using bolas instead of bullets (might as well just throw rocks at 'em). Modernly used as a derogatory connotation for what was a superior weapon in its day. – Mazura Oct 5 '14 at 20:34
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    @Mazura I don't think the projectile weapons used by the early Mark Bolos has anything to do with the name because the first Bolo story features a Mark XXVIII which has a plasma based Hellbore as its primary weapon. This answer contains a lot of speculation so I can't accept it as is, but it does contain a lot of information about the origin of the word itself so I think it is useful and deserving of a +1. – Null Oct 6 '14 at 15:34

If in the army one was unable to qualify on rifle use, one was said to "bolo"! It was a reference to the Philippine broad knife used in combat. "Can't hit the enemy with a rifle? Here's your knife."

An insult and badge of temporary dishonor or inability to qualify as a fully trained soldier. (1967+ use in army basic training.)

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