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Sci-Fi Science

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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  • Futurists (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Red Flayer (890720) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:47PM (#27481743) Journal
    Sure, SF writers named things that had no name, but that were theorized (by themselves or others).

    Some of those names stuck.

    But what about all the names that sucked and never stuck? In other words, throw a million darts and surely some will hit the bullseye.

    I'm coming up empty right now, but there have to be some obvious ones... like pretty much any scifi term that begins with "med-" or "medi-".

    And, of course, as we all know from xkcd, the quality of the fantasy [sci-fi?] novel is inversely proportional to the number of made-up words.
  • by 91degrees (207121) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:00PM (#27481881) Journal
    Wasn't that a popular science essay rather than science fiction though?
  • by lobiusmoop (305328) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:06PM (#27481951) Homepage

    So why are 'worm' and 'virus' (in the context of computing) on the list?

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:08PM (#27481983) Journal

    Warpspeed and hyperspace aren't really used outside of science fiction though.

    Yep, but the question was, "What other terms are sure to follow in the future?" and if we ever do invent faster than light travel, you can bet that we'll be using the word 'warp' to describe how fast we're going compared to the speed of light. It's just too convenient. Currently there is no reason to use it in science because, well.......we don't actually have anything that goes faster than warp 1, and that only in vacuums.

  • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:20PM (#27482095) Journal

    Science Fiction is just a subset of Fantasy.

    Is it? I remember Arthur C Clarke saying that Sci Fi is something that could happen, while fantasy is something that could never happen.

    It always baffled me how the two genres (at least in my mind they're quite different) were always lumped together in bookstores. I was always a sci fi fan but wasn't much into the dungeons, dragons, wizards and trolls thing.

  • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:33PM (#27482263)

    I remember Arthur C Clarke saying that Sci Fi is something that could happen, while fantasy is something that could never happen.

    Only if you use the word "could" to means "sometime in the future, but not with what we currently know." By that reasoning, fantasy could happen as well, assuming that we find some source of power that would grant people abilities indistinguishable from magic. Is that any crazier than assuming that at some point we'll be able to travel faster than the speed of light?

  • by sayfawa (1099071) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:39PM (#27482341)
    And even if an author did coin a word first, the thing is, lots of (good) sci-fi authors actually do some kind of research into cutting edge/blue sky science when writing their stories, or they just like to read about current science research anyway. So when they come up with a term for something that's not going to have a pay-off for 50 or more years and put it in next-year's best-seller, their term for it has a much better chance of getting into public usage than whatever the nerd working on it calls it. But it doesn't mean they had some uncanny ability to predict and/or shape the future.
  • by demi (17616) * on Monday April 06, 2009 @07:05PM (#27482583) Homepage Journal

    I don't know why you would bet that. It seems as likely to me that it would be called "entangled replication" or "time drive" or "teleportation"; or perhaps be named after the yet-to-be-discovered phenomena or law that allows us to do such a thing; or originate in a non-English language. Fact is, we don't know and I actually think conventional notions of driving something through space propulsively are likely as not not to apply to such a thing.

    Science fiction can further science by inviting us to imagine the not-yet-possible, but I think we need to be wary of the ways in which the demands of human narrative can limit our imagination as well.

  • by Zarf (5735) on Monday April 06, 2009 @07:12PM (#27482633) Journal

    I too was always pretty baffled at that. Me though, I'm more the opposite. I've always been a huge fan of fantasy, but not nearly as much of sci fi. I've enjoyed some sci fi, like Star Wars and Stargate, but most of it was more boring for me.

    I don't consider Star Wars sci fi.

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Monday April 06, 2009 @07:17PM (#27482657) Journal

    "Isolinear optical chip"? I'm trying to remember other ST:TNG technobabble, especially from the later seasons when it became the "babble of the week", but thankfully it's all faded from memory.

  • by angel'o'sphere (80593) on Monday April 06, 2009 @07:44PM (#27482929) Homepage Journal

    Nice that you did not chose a particular order ^^

    Because strictly speaking already the first one is arguable wrong:


    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.

    Robotics comes obviously from Robot. So I said arguable: no one objects that Mr. Asimov coined the term robotics but without the term robot, robotics would not exist.

    The term robot was introduced by Karel apek, in a theater piece: Rossum's Universal Robots (Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti), the original inventor according to wikipedia is his brother, Josef apek.

    angel'o'sphere

  • by martinX (672498) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @01:43AM (#27485429)

    Portal - n. Origin: 1300-1350
    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.

    I remember when Yahoo called itself a portal. It was anything but useful.

  • by Phroggy (441) <slashdot3 AT phroggy DOT com> on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:21AM (#27485601) Homepage

    No matter how advanced a civilization is, their space fighter's engines won't make noise in vacuum nor will move like an atmospheric plane.

    You know, very few sci-fi TV shows get this right. Firefly did. Stargate SG-1 occasionally tried (they didn't have that many space battles, but although I remember a few times when they tried to get it right, they often didn't). Babylon 5 made a deliberate choice to have sounds for dramatic effect, but they were VERY good at paying attention to physics otherwise.

    On the other hand, it *can't* be sci-fi. All we know sci-fi is about the future, while Star Wars is about a long time ago, in a far far distant galaxy (grin).

    That would rule out Stargate as well, since that's set in the present.

  • by Phroggy (441) <slashdot3 AT phroggy DOT com> on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:41AM (#27485715) Homepage

    Star Wars had a lot of fantasy elements like magic, knights, trolls, princesses, etc, and had a lot less scientific jargon than something like Star Trek. I would still consider Star Wars a blend of sci fi and fantasy, but definitely more in the future fantasy camp.

    Star Wars also had lightsabers, blasters, giant robot walker things, space ships that can jump to hyperspace, a planet in a binary system where moisture farming is a legitimate occupation, an army of clones let by an evil villain kept alive by the technology in his suit, and let's not forget all the droids. Oh, and it didn't really have trolls in the fantasy sense, it had aliens. But the Force is definitely a fantasy thing, not a sci-fi thing (midichlorians be damned); I'll grant you that.

    The great thing about Star Wars was that all the technological stuff wasn't pristine and shiny, it was old and beat-up. The droids each have a function and serve a purpose (although C3PO never seemed especially useful). Futuristic technology was used as common tools, rather than something impressive to be marveled at. This, combined with a non-futuristic musical score, shifted the focus away from the technology and to the story, which is what great science fiction is about anyway.

  • by julesh (229690) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @03:13AM (#27485967)

    The concept behind cyberspace (artificial reality) was first espoused by Plato, before the birth of Christ.

    I think you may be slightly misrepresenting the ideas of Plato here, which essentially boiled down to mathematical truths being as real as the world we can see and touch. I don't think he believed in creating a new reality, i.e. an "artificial reality", just that there was another reality than our own and that we could explore it through mathematics.

  • by julesh (229690) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @03:34AM (#27486081)

    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

    I think we should give SF credit when the term is significantly changed in meaning. The list in the article gives a few good examples; "robot" (although not "robotics" which is the term they actually mention), "worm", and "virus" were all in use to mean something different beforehand. Hence, grey goo and (I guess) space elevator are out, the rest are used by SF to mean something different to the original meaning, so if they became real concepts would qualify.

  • by julesh (229690) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @03:54AM (#27486145)

    Star Wars (and Star Trek) are what we call 'Space Opera,' which is a romanticized outer space story, not necessarily science fiction.

    Space opera is usually considered a subgenre of science fiction. I've met and talked to a _lot_ of science fiction fans, but never one who doesn't consider space opera part of the genre.

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @04:35AM (#27486343) Homepage Journal

    Good science fiction won't necessarily give you the reason that the sky is purple, however there is a reason and the book is consistent. If the book couldn't have taken place on a world with a purple sky, yet the sky is purple, it's Fantasy. But if the sky is purple, and it's not explained why, it might still be sci-fi. Then again, it might just be fantasy. You have to be able to look deeper to make the distinction, which is why the two genres are generally lumped together at the bookstore.

To thine own self be true. (If not that, at least make some money.)

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