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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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  • by phantomfive (622387) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:40PM (#27481663) Journal
    Grey goo, space elevator, portal, warpspeed, hyperspace. Scyance. Oh sorry, that last one's not from science fiction, it's from that channel (what's it called?) that shows wrestling.
    • by 91degrees (207121) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:53PM (#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 @04:59PM (#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.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by someone1234 (830754)

          Nah, portals exist in fantasy too.

          • by techdavis (939834) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:19PM (#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]
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by martinX (672498)

              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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by phantomfive (622387)

        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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by demi (17616) *

          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 t

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:56PM (#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 Stele (9443) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:22PM (#27482117) Homepage

        Interesting that "Belgium" wasn't in the list.

      • by Purity Of Essence (1007601) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:29PM (#27482211)

        Robotics ... Isaac Asimov

        The corpse of Karel Capek seen sulking nearby.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Chris Mattern (191822)

          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 @07:01PM (#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 Reality Master 201 (578873) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:33PM (#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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by spisska (796395)

          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 th

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by angel'o'sphere (80593)

        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 obvious

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Calmiche (531074)

        Okay, Robotics I knew came from Sci-Fi.

        "Positronic" came from Asimov.
        "Waldo" came from a story by Heinlein where a disabled man uses machines to do his work.
        "Grok" is Heinlein tool, though not popular vernacular.
        "Frak and Frell" from Battlestar Galactica
        "Gorrum" from Firefly.
        "Shazbot" from Mork and Mindy. Not sure if this counts, but it's about an alien.
        "Airlock" is from E.E. Smith.
        "Phaser" is from Gene Roddenberry.

        Then there are a lot of compound words that first were combined in Sci-fi. Transhuman, xeno

    • by Zocalo (252965) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:09PM (#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?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sayfawa (1099071)
        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.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          While this is prevalent today, in the early days, it was less so. Some of the sci-fi authors did research, but many apparently had only a passing acquaintance with the science in their stories, to the point some of it was laughed at when the stories were published by those with breadth or depth of science knowledge. (I am not referring to things generally believed true at the time but proven false later.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by julesh (229690)

        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 ele

    • Scyence (Score:2, Funny)

      by davidwr (791652)

      Scyance.

      That's Scyence you insensitive clod! :)

      Unless of course you mean communicating with the dead [syfy.com]. In that case mea culpa.

    • by MoxFulder (159829) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:40PM (#27482349) Homepage

      I gotta say it... I was pretty shocked to see "Thagomizer [wikipedia.org]" excluded from the article!

      It's a term for the tail spikes of a Stegosaurus, which comes from this Far Side cartoon [wikimedia.org].

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by roc97007 (608802)

      "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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Workaphobia (931620)

      What about neutronium? According to wikipedia, it can now legitimately be used to refer to neutron-degenerate matter - i.e., neutrons that are packed so densely that Pauli's exclusion principle becomes a significant factor - found in the cores of their like-named stars.

  • by soporific16 (1166495) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:41PM (#27481673)
    ... Kudos (Iain M Banks, The Algebraist). He also said that money was a sign of poverty (The State of the Art). And yes, this was WAY before the current economic crisis.
  • Contra Terrene (or CT/seetee) is such a great word, and is technically more correct than "antimatter" (since positrons and such aren't the "opposite" of matter, but rather another state of it). For some reason I just love that one. Also "Tellurian" as a word for people from the planet Earth (Tellus). Earthling is weaksauce.
    • Also "Tellurian" as a word for people from the planet Earth (Tellus). Earthling is weaksauce.

      I prefer Terran.

      But if we did want a name for people from Tellus, wouldn't Tellosian be better? It at least fits grammatically.

    • by hazem (472289)

      Also "Tellurian" as a word for people from the planet Earth (Tellus).

      Thanks for that! I have wondered what "Encyclopedia Tellurica" from the beginning of I-Robot could mean.

  • by chill (34294) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:45PM (#27481713) Journal

    Slashdot effect

    As exemplified by that poor website everyone is now clicking on.

  • Futurists (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Red Flayer (890720) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:47PM (#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.
  • Forgot to mention (Score:5, Informative)

    by PriceIke (751512) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:48PM (#27481755)
    Cyberspace. William Gibson, Neuromancer
    • by glwtta (532858) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:51PM (#27481777) Homepage
      Cyberspace. William Gibson, Neuromancer

      They said "science", not "online wankery".
      • by lobiusmoop (305328) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:06PM (#27481951) Homepage

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

      • Re:Forgot to mention (Score:4, Interesting)

        by khallow (566160) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:30PM (#27482231)
        This may surprise you, but "Neuromancer" was blogged on dead trees as was the tradition for many such ancient works. It is such an old story that it predates even the use of the term "blog". And it comes at a time when online wankery was reserved only for the academic and military elite of some of the most powerful countries in the world.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        It seems to me that John Brunner wrote about a lot of things Gibson gets credited for... man he was right about so many things - I'm waiting for the first reality show with kids walking a plank over a shark tank while their folks watch and count their dough... won't be long now.
        • Re:Forgot to mention (Score:4, Informative)

          by anarche (1525323) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:56PM (#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.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by julesh (229690)

            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 bwcbwc (601780)

      Wasn't Rudy Rucker the one who came up with "wetware"?

      You can always tell the snobbish, stuck-up zombies from the low-class, plebian ones. They're the ones moan "weeeeetwaaaarrre" instead of "braaaainnnnzzzz".

    • by HTH NE1 (675604)

      Cyberspace. William Gibson, Neuromancer

      "And they never let me forget it." -- William Gibson, Wild Palms [imdb.com]

  • How about Waldo? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:51PM (#27481787)

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

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

  • I'm hoping for... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by greg_barton (5551) * <greg_barton@ya[ ].com ['hoo' in gap]> on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:52PM (#27481793) Homepage Journal

    "My God, it's full of stars!"

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      "My God, it's full of stars!"

      As others have noted when looking at pictures like the Hubble Deep Fields, Sir Arthur got it wrong. What Dave Bowman should have said was "My God, it's full of galaxies!"

      I have the same reaction whenever I wander around the Virgo Cluster with my big Dob.

      ...laura

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:54PM (#27481809)
  • by just_another_sean (919159) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:55PM (#27481823) Homepage Journal

    I predict Frack, Frell and Frag are coming soon...

  • They aren't really really, but scientists have been discussing the reality of them for a while.
  • That one seems to have entered the popular lexicon.

  • by brian0918 (638904) <brian0918 AT gmail DOT com> on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:02PM (#27481895)
    "Doc, Doc... what the hell is a jiggawatt?!"

    I don't know about you, but I tend toward this word whenever the possibility arises.
    • by oldhack (1037484)

      "Doc, Doc... what the hell is a jiggawatt?!"

      Power required to inflict megahurt.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Mt._Honkey (514673)

      "Doc, Doc... what the hell is a jiggawatt?!"

      Not to burst the joke, but I think Doc Brown and company were saying "gigawatt". The soft "g" sound is a perfectly valid pronunciation. The prefix "giga-" has the same Greek origin as "giant".

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

        by unitron (5733) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:09AM (#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.

  • /. should start keeping track of times to server-meltdown for these linked stories.

    Improving /.'s uptime would be good, but I guess knocking down other sights until the bar is lowered to our level works too

  • by kris_lang (466170) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:33PM (#27482265)

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

  • Quark (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jefu (53450) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:34PM (#27482271) Homepage Journal

    Not from science fiction, from "Finnegans Wake" which is certainly not your usual brand of fiction.

    Three quarks for Muster Mark!
    Sure he hasn't got much of a bark
    And sure any he has it's all beside the mark.

  • Surprised (Score:3, Informative)

    by aitikin (909209) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:02PM (#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.
  • They missed one (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Megane (129182) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:36PM (#27482849) Homepage
    Flash Crowd [wikipedia.org] - which a web site being slashdotted is a form of.
  • Obvious: warp drive (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mbkennel (97636) on Monday April 06, 2009 @08:11PM (#27483535)

    "warp drive" is now being used in some speculative General Relatvity research papers about, well, warp drive.

    In fact the term is so well known from Star Trek that there really isn't any other good word to describe it, and it is scientifically description.

    Of course Gene Roddenberry knew what GR had to say about such things from the get go.

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