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Nine Words From Science Which Originated In Science Fiction 433

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the science-emulates-science-fiction dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Oxford University Press has a blog post listing nine words used in science and technology which were actually dreamed up by fiction writers. Included on the list are terms like robotics, genetic engineering, deep space, and zero-g. What other terms are sure to follow in the future?"
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Nine Words From Science Which Originated In Science Fiction

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  • Forgot to mention (Score:5, Informative)

    by PriceIke (751512) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:48PM (#27481755)
    Cyberspace. William Gibson, Neuromancer
  • How about Waldo? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:51PM (#27481787)

    It's an engineering term for a remote controlled robotic arm, derived from a Heinlein story.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldo_(device)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:52PM (#27481797)

    And I'm pretty sure portals existed before sci-fi.

  • by 91degrees (207121) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:53PM (#27481801) Journal
    Warpspeed and hyperspace aren't really used outside of science fiction though. Space elevator and grey goo I'll grant you. A portal is just an opening or a doorway.
  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:54PM (#27481809)
  • by Eythian (552130) <robin@kallisti.netGINSBERG.nz minus poet> on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:56PM (#27481835) Homepage

    It's probably for the best. If you open the link in Firefox on Ubuntu 8.10 (32- or 64-bit), gnome-panel will segfault, restart, segfault, restart... until you change the tab that firefox is showing.

    Bug report [launchpad.net], and here [launchpad.net]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:56PM (#27481839)
    We were pretty excited around here when Brave New Words won the Hugo Award. Now that Brave New Words is available in paperback we asked Jeff Prucher, freelance lexicographer and editor for the Oxford English Dictionaryâ(TM)s science fiction project, to revisit the blog. Below are Prucherâ(TM)s picks of words that may seem to come from science, but really originate in science fiction.

    In no particular order:

    1. Robotics. This is probably the most well-known of these, since Isaac Asimov is famous for (among many other things) his three laws of robotics. Even so, I include it because it is one of the only actual sciences to have been first named in a science fiction story (âLiar!â, 1951). Asimov also named the related occupation (roboticist) and the adjective robotic.

    2. Genetic engineering. The other science that received its name from a science fiction story, in this case Jack Williamsonâ(TM)s novel Dragonâ(TM)s Island, which was coincidentally published in the same year as âoeLiar!â The occupation of genetic engineer took a few more years to be named, this time by Poul Anderson.

    3. Zero-gravity/zero-g. A defining feature of life in outer space (sans artificial gravity, of course). The first known use of âoezero-gravityâ is from Jack Binder (better known for his work as an artist) in 1938, and actually refers to the gravityless state of the center of the Earthâ(TM)s core. Arthur C. Clarke gave us âoezero-gâ in his 1952 novel Islands in the Sky.

    4. Deep space. One of the other defining features of outer space is its essential emptiness. In science fiction, this phrase most commonly refers to a region of empty space between stars or that is remote from the home world. E. E. âoeDocâ Smith seems to have coined this phrase in 1934. The more common use in the sciences refers to the region of space outside of the Earthâ(TM)s atmosphere.

    5. Ion drive. An ion drive is a type of spaceship engine that creates propulsion by emitting charged particles in the direction opposite of the one you want to travel. The earliest citation in Brave New Words is again from Jack Williamson (âThe Equilizerâ, 1947). A number of spacecraft have used this technology, beginning in the 1970s.

    6. Pressure suit. A suit that maintains a stable pressure around its occupant; useful in both space exploration and high-altitude flights. This is another one from the fertile mind of E. E. Smith. Curiously, his pressure suits were furred, an innovation not, alas, replicated by NASA.

    7. Virus. Computer virus, that is. Dave Gerrold (of âoeThe Trouble With Tribblesâ fame) was apparently the first to make the verbal analogy between biological viruses and self-replicating computer programs, in his 1972 story âoeWhen Harlie Was One.â

    8. Worm. Another type of self-replicating computer program. So named by John Brunner in his 1975 novel Shockwave Rider.

    9. Gas giant. A large planet, like Jupiter or Neptune, that is composed largely of gaseous material. The first known use of this term is from a story (âSolar Plexusâ) by James Blish; the odd thing about it is that it was first used in a reprint of the story, eleven years after the story was first published. Whether this is because Blish conceived of the term in the intervening years or read it somewhere else, or whether it was in the original manuscript and got edited out is impossible to say at this point.
  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:59PM (#27481863)
    A portal is just an opening or a doorway. A portal as a connection between to two points that are not contiguous in normal space is a concept exclusive to science fiction.
  • by onkelonkel (560274) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:02PM (#27481897)
    Dear sweet child. (/pats head).

    Doc Smith was writing about hyperspace and hyperspatial tubes about 70 years ago.
  • by Zocalo (252965) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:09PM (#27481989) Homepage
    Actually, I think we're going to struggle to come up with with the lengthy list we that might imagine here. Most "Sci Fi" terms actually come from blue sky mathematics and science texts:
    • "Grey Goo" was coined by Eric Drexler in the book "Engines of Creation" (1986).
    • "Space Elevator" was coined by Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovskii in an 1895 (not a typo!) astronomy paper.
    • "Portal" was in common use long before it because associated with science fiction, SciFi just repurposed it - half a point at best.
    • "Hyperspace" originated in 19th century English mathematical and science texts to describe Euclidean geometries with greater than 3 dimensions.
    • "Warp speed" though, I'm not sure on. I'm pretty sure it predates Roddenberry though... Any takers?
  • by richardellisjr (584919) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:13PM (#27482043)
    According to Webster's portal dates back to 14th century. While there may have been some sort of science fiction back then I don't think it's anything close to what we consider science fiction.
  • by techdavis (939834) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:19PM (#27482089)
    Portal - n. Origin: 1300-1350

    1. a door, gate, or entrance, esp. one of imposing appearance, as to a palace.
    2. an iron or steel bent for bracing a framed structure, having curved braces between the vertical members and a horizontal member at the top.
    3. an entrance to a tunnel or mine.
    4. Computers. a Web site that functions as an entry point to the Internet, as by providing useful content and linking to various sites and features on the World Wide Web.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/portal [reference.com]
  • by Matheus (586080) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:21PM (#27482105) Homepage

    I strongly disagree. As with any pair of genres there is overlap between the two BUT I would say that Science Fiction and Fantasy are both sibling subsets of Fiction.

  • by Purity Of Essence (1007601) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:29PM (#27482211)

    Robotics ... Isaac Asimov

    The corpse of Karel Capek seen sulking nearby.

  • by Petrushka (815171) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:30PM (#27482233)
    "Frag" comes from military usage, ca. the time of the Vietnam War, not from science fiction.
  • by kris_lang (466170) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:33PM (#27482265)

    Quark is partially based on James Joyce's work, Finnegan's Wake, though it seems to be a retro-explanation by Gell Mann.

  • by Reality Master 201 (578873) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:33PM (#27482267) Journal

    What's interesting is that they don't note the origin of the word "robot," itself, which is most likely the Karel Chapek play "R.U.R" [wikipedia.org]. Robota means drudgery in Czech.

  • Surprised (Score:3, Informative)

    by aitikin (909209) on Monday April 06, 2009 @07:02PM (#27482545)
    I'm rather surprised that the term taser isn't on the list. After all, it stands for Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle.
  • by Seraphim1982 (813899) on Monday April 06, 2009 @07:25PM (#27482725)

    "Cybernetics" was invented/discovered by Norbert Wiener (a mathematician) that deals with the study of control systems (One subset of which might be replacing/enhancing/comparing biological contol systems with mechanical/electrical ones). Your "body part prosthetics" idea sounds like Biomechatronics (the integration of mechanical, electronics, and biological parts). As for a crude example: Cybernetics would be something like "We've developed a replacement heart, now how do we get it to change its pumping rate in response to stress like a real one", whereas biomechatronics would be something like "Let's go develop a pump that can replace a heart".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 06, 2009 @07:37PM (#27482861)
    The terms you are looking for are hard [wikipedia.org] and soft [wikipedia.org] science fiction.
  • by anarche (1525323) on Monday April 06, 2009 @07:45PM (#27482941)
    Yes, while his brother Josef sits grinning at the irony of your post...
  • Re:Forgot to mention (Score:4, Informative)

    by anarche (1525323) on Monday April 06, 2009 @07:56PM (#27483021)
    Not the point of the article though. Gibson created (amalgamated) the word cyberspace, but it wasn't in Neuromancer - its was Burning Chrome. The concept behind cyberspace (artificial reality) was first espoused by Plato, before the birth of Christ.
  • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Monday April 06, 2009 @07:58PM (#27483033)

    The corpse of Karel Capek seen sulking nearby.

    Capek coined the word "robot". He did not come up with the admittedly derivative word "robotics". Asimov did that.

  • by Rog7 (182880) on Monday April 06, 2009 @08:01PM (#27483055)

    Robotics ... Isaac Asimov

    The corpse of Karel Capek seen sulking nearby.

    Karel Capek's variation of the Czech "robota" was not mechanical in nature, so I'm not sure if it would apply for this list as a scientific term.

    Asimov's Robotics however, was about the science and technology of electrical-mechanical devices.

    It's nit-picking, for sure, but in reference to this particular list, Asimov's usage is the correct one.

  • by spisska (796395) on Monday April 06, 2009 @08:18PM (#27483173)

    What's interesting is that they don't note the origin of the word "robot," itself, which is most likely the Karel Chapek play "R.U.R" [wikipedia.org]. Robota means drudgery in Czech.

    The term was most certainly coined by Karel Capek. The R.U.R is for Rossum's Universal Robots; the play is from 1921.

    The word robota has a bit more complex meaning than just drudgery. It can generally mean any unpleasant physical task, but particularly where there's an obligation.

    The term is medieval in origins, and describes the obligation of labor that peasants owed the landlord. Every household owed X days of robota every year, in addition to taxes, crop quotas, etc.

    It is not robota, for example, to clean your kitchen or wax your car. It may be robota to mow your lawn, depending on how you feel about it.

    It's definitely robota when you have to complete some substantial task for someone else, particularly when you know there are better ways of doing it but can't, for whatever reason, use any of them.

    The play is really interesting, and the English translation is very good. The robots are machines, but they're basically humans without emotion.

    Capek also wrote an excellent proto-dystopian novel called War With the Newts [wikipedia.org].

    Newts has a lot of the same themes and ideals of RUR, but is a lot darker and a lot less positive about humanity in general. Not a surprising attitude for central Europe in 1936.

    But I highly recommend reading him. He's an overlooked genius of the Modern period

  • by ikono (1180291) on Monday April 06, 2009 @08:56PM (#27483427)
    Star Wars (and Star Trek) are what we call 'Space Opera,' which is a romanticized outer space story, not necessarily science fiction. Both Science Fiction and Fantasy are part of a greater term called 'Speculative Fiction,' which is what that section should be called...
  • by danisdanisdan (545489) on Monday April 06, 2009 @09:39PM (#27483749)

    Warpspeed and hyperspace aren't really used outside of science fiction though. Space elevator and grey goo I'll grant you. A portal is just an opening or a doorway.

    That's just not true. Google has 974,000 hits on "warpspeed" including:

    http://www.warpspeedperformance.com/ [warpspeedperformance.com] - Exhaust and chassis upgrades

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/booster_shots/2009/02/hiv-evolving-at.html [latimes.com] - Article about evolution of HIV

    http://www.opera.com/press/releases/2009/04/02/ [opera.com] - Apparently Opera allows you to browse the web quickly. (Admittedly that's rather science-fictiony.)

    And many others.

    Granted, not used currently in *science* but it's certainly used outside science fiction!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 06, 2009 @09:52PM (#27483847)

    Or it could be named after the runny cheese product.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 06, 2009 @09:54PM (#27483879)

    Pioneer aviator Wiley Post invented and patented the pressure suit in the very early 1930s, for use in his high-altitude flights. He, along with Will Rogers, died in a plane crash in 1935. One of his original suits is in the Oklahoma Historical Society's possession, though I don't know whether it's currently on display or in storage.

  • by mj_sklar (888539) <matthew.sklar@ g m a i l .com> on Monday April 06, 2009 @10:18PM (#27484067) Homepage

    Since when is German based on Latin?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:21AM (#27484997)

    E.E. Doc Smith...

    Lensman series and Skylark Series...

    Important stuff excluding the sexist and technological lackings that made it acceptable for societal absorbtion at that time.

  • Re:Great Scott! (Score:4, Informative)

    by unitron (5733) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @01:09AM (#27485261) Homepage Journal

    They were saying "gigawatt" correctly, it comes from "gigantic", and it was only in the '80s and '90s that a lot of people saw the "giga" prefix in print, probably in relation to computers, without having ever heard it, unlike people who dealt with radio frequencies in the billions of Hertz (cycles per second) or power in the billions of Watts had done, and proceeded to mispronounce it and spread that mispronounciation to others.

  • Re:Avatar (Score:2, Informative)

    by damnbunni (1215350) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @01:43AM (#27485427) Journal
    Run Magazine printed an article about LucasArts' Habitat (which was commercialized as Club Caribe on QuantumLink - think Second Life for the Commodore 64) that referred to your user-created graphical persona as an avatar. In 1986. Reference: http://thefarmers.org/Habitat/2004/09/the_avatar_is_legal_voting_age.html [thefarmers.org]

Slowly and surely the unix crept up on the Nintendo user ...

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