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Nine Words From Science Which Originated In Science Fiction 433

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 soporific16 ( 1166495 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:41PM (#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.
  • I'm hoping for... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by greg_barton ( 5551 ) * <greg_barton@nOsPAM.yahoo.com> on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:52PM (#27481793) Homepage Journal

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

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

    by spaceyhackerlady ( 462530 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:57PM (#27481851)

    "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.


  • by someone1234 ( 830754 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:06PM (#27481957)

    Nah, portals exist in fantasy too.

  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:08PM (#27481971)

    He also said that money was a sign of poverty (The State of the Art).

    Nope, it's a sign of TERRORISM! [boingboing.net]

    Man detained, threatened and abused by TSA for flying with $4700 in cash
    Here's a recording of Steve Bierfeldt, a US citizen who tried to board a domestic airplane while carrying $4700 in cash, and was detained by the TSA and subjected to abusive language and threats [...] The TSA agents threatened to turn him over to the DEA. He was returning from a Ron Paul event in St Louis, MO, and worked for the campaign. The cash on his person arose from sales of t-shirts and stickers at the event.

  • by sayfawa ( 1099071 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:27PM (#27482187)
    Oh, how I wish I lived in the Culture. Damn you fuckers, make contact already! Sigh.

    Anyway, if you haven't heard of it, Cory Doctorow's Down and Out In the Magic Kingdom [craphound.com] goes into much more detail about a possible post-scarcity society, where the currency is kind of like /.'s Karma, only it works.
  • by GMFTatsujin ( 239569 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:30PM (#27482219) Homepage

    Oh you DID NOT.

    (Removes jacket, cracks knuckles) Now there's gonna be some. Hope you're wearing your Nikes.

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

    by khallow ( 566160 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:30PM (#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.
  • Quark (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jefu ( 53450 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:34PM (#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.

  • Re:Contra Terrene (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kazymyr ( 190114 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:37PM (#27482313) Journal

    "Earthican" is better. /futurama

  • Re:Forgot to mention (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fallen Seraph ( 808728 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:43PM (#27482375)

    Cyberspace. William Gibson, Neuromancer 1984

    Or perhaps you're referring to the term cyberspace. First used in published form by Vernor Vinge, True Names 1981

    Actually, in True Names it was never called cyberspace, if I recall. Though it was the first fully thought out description of it, I think they called it Other Plane or something like that if my memory serves me correctly.

    But Neuromancer wasn't the first book to use the term cyberspace anyway... That was the short story Burning Chrome, written by William Gibson in 1982, which takes place in the same universe as the Sprawl Trilogy (Neuromancer and it's sequels) as well as the short story Johnny Mnemonic.

    So really it's:
    Cyberspace. William Gibson, Burning Chrome 1982

  • by Roadkills-R-Us ( 122219 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:49PM (#27482439) Homepage

    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.)

  • Syence (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nemesisrocks ( 1464705 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:52PM (#27482451) Homepage

    They're going to rename the high-school subject to 'Syence', in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience.

    I hear the English department is considering renaming one of their courses to "Fyction", too.

  • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:53PM (#27482463) Journal

    >>>Only if you use the word "could" to means "sometime in the future, but not with what we currently know."

    That's not quite accurate. If you read true *science* fiction (as opposed to future fantasy), most of the things described CAN be built. For example Robert Heinlein's "The Roads Must Roll" describes an automated people mover (like an escalator), but scaled-up to the size of interstates with ~100 mph speeds. Theoretically possible. And then there's Isaac Asimov's "Blow Up" about massive nuclear plants that use fusion to generate heat/electricity - that too is a real world technology that's theoretically possible.

    >>>fantasy could happen as well, assuming that we find some source of power that would grant people abilities indistinguishable from magic.

    There's a huge difference. Harry Potter (and other wizards) do magic without using any technology. So I would describe Science Fiction as relating to technology "sometime in the future, which we have the theoretical knowledge to create, but haven't yet learned how to build the machine to enable it". Like fusion reactors. And I would describe stuff like Star Trek or Stargate as Future fantasy where the wands are replaced with rayguns, and the magic with technomagic, and lacking true science.

  • by burndive ( 855848 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @07:28PM (#27482757) Homepage

    Science fiction and fantasy are both thought experiments of the form: if the rules (or the state of things) were different in this way, what would happen.

    Some Science Fiction writers like to suggest or imply that the state of the world or the rules might possibly change in the way that they describe, and therefore serve as an explicit warning/encouragement pointing out the good or bad that could come of such a change.

    Fantasy tends to use metaphor and parallel to make this same sort of point.

    If there are no real rules, and anything can happen, this is called "deus ex machina", and it's pretty lame.

  • Re:Forgot to mention (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Have Brain Will Rent ( 1031664 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @07:33PM (#27482821)
    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.
  • They missed one (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Megane ( 129182 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @07:36PM (#27482849) Homepage
    Flash Crowd [wikipedia.org] - which a web site being slashdotted is a form of.
  • Avatar (Score:2, Interesting)

    by crevistontj ( 1032976 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @08:18PM (#27483175)
    The term "avatar" as a representation of a person in virtual space was coined in Snow Crash.
  • by Angus McNitt ( 542101 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @08:39PM (#27483305)
    I was taught as a young child that:

    Science Fantasy said the sky was purple.
    Science Fiction said the sky was purple, but gave a scientifically plausible reason as to why.

    I know it's simplistic, but it's been my litmus test thus far. My dad originally attributed the distinction to a John W Campbell quote, but I have never been able to find it published anywhere.
  • by carlzum ( 832868 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @08:43PM (#27483335)
    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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 06, 2009 @09:03PM (#27483491)

    If there are no real rules, and anything can happen, this is called "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", and it's quite fun.

  • Obvious: warp drive (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mbkennel ( 97636 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @09:11PM (#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.

  • by Reality Master 201 ( 578873 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @09:52PM (#27483843) Journal

    In Russian, yes; not in Czech - same root, different meaning - in Czech the standard verb for "to work" is "pracovat," or more generically, "delat" (the e should have a hacheck over it - Slashdot's support of anything but ASCII sucks), which is the same as in Russian.

    Actually, Russian and Czech are a fun pair of languages, in terms of false cognates. "Stool", meaning "chair" in Russian is "table" in Czech, and "krasny" is "red" in Russian, but "beautiful" in Czech (same root, and the origin of "krasivy" in Russian) - if you've ever seen the movie Kolya, there's a pun about the latter pair cognate as little boy is saying "Nash krasny" ("our [flag is] red") and the main character wonders what's so beautiful about it.

    Also, sorry about my choices for Russian transliteration - I don't write Russian very often, and particularly not in roman characters, so I don't know how the kids do it these days.

  • Re:Great Scott! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mt._Honkey ( 514673 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @10:16PM (#27484041)

    "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".

  • by Calmiche ( 531074 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @10:49PM (#27484253)

    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, xenobiology, virboknife, visiphone, psychohistory, etc...

  • by FiloEleven ( 602040 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:14AM (#27485561)

    If you read true *science* fiction (as opposed to future fantasy)

    All true Scotsmen wear kilts.

    There are certainly differences between sf and fantasy, but I think you're trying to draw a line in the sand that doesn't exist, or if it does it's probably fractal and not at all straight or easy to delimit. As a faster poster wrote, both are subsets of speculative fiction, and IMO they have much more common ground than difference. Someone else wrote of the hard/soft SF distinction which seems a closer match to the concept you've presented. Even so, there's enough mingling between SF and fantasy that makes it hard to pin down the genre of many stories and a lot of it depends on what you, individually, think is possible or plausible. I don't believe that "mind uploads" or strong AI are plausible, so going by your categories I would call them future fantasy even though they are staples of SF. In everyday conversation I would also call them SF because that is their flavor. Where would a lunar base fall? A lunar society? A medieval society that unearths advanced technology?

    Harry Potter (and other wizards) do magic without using any technology.

    If you can't BS a tech history for Harry Potter, then you're not trying hard enough.

    Just for fun (mine, mostly):

    Harry Potter and his ilk lost the knowledge of the nanomachines that they carry, and by the fourth centuray AD had developed the ritual incantations and wizardly trappings upon which they have come to rely in order to use them. These self-replicating machines (and they are machines, though they were bio-engineered and so have yet to be rediscovered) were created long ago in an event more monumental than the Singularity because reality itself became malleable to the extent that the user understood how--not all the nasty math and quantum psych/physics, but how to pass one's intent on to the machines. Like any complex system, it took some effort for most people to get even small results and a lot more to master, and the unforeseen consequences of a closed beta becoming open (through sexual promiscuity, naturally) resulted in the demise of the advanced global civilization that had created it. Survivors eked out a living how and where they could and, for the most part, passed on the information in story form to their offspring, as well as the nanomchines. The stories changed over the years and many wrote them off as mythical; even more forgot them entirely. You can still find some dedicated users; some wizards but many more mystics, who have guarded themselves against the colossal forces at their command by constructing elaborate belief systems that govern their usage. There is a reason for the strict rules at monastic orders and Hogwarts.

    The truth is that we all have this power. I fear the day when the men of science begin to convince us that it is so.

    There's Harry Potter explained, with Jesus and all miracle-workers thrown in for free. I might as well have called 'em Midichlorians and gotten Jedi in the mix. It's not a very good or original backstory, and it's certainly not hard SF, in fact it has a fantasy flavor (not surprising given the task), but the technological elements are there.

  • by Workaphobia ( 931620 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @03:15AM (#27485989) Journal

    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.

  • Sophont (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AlecC ( 512609 ) <aleccawley@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @05:13AM (#27486477)

    One word I would like to see get more use is "Sophont", coined by Poul Anderson (actually by his wife, I believe, but his name is on the books) to mean any life intelligent enough to share what we currently call "human rights" but will have to stretch when we meet intelligent ETs.

  • Re:Forgot to mention (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GileadGreene ( 539584 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @05:36AM (#27486591) Homepage
    Er... Snow Crash was first published in around 1992. Some 8 years after Neuromancer. So I fail to see how Stephenson could be a "predecessor" of Gibson.
  • by naoursla ( 99850 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:47PM (#27491437) Homepage Journal

    David Gerrold predicted the unit of currency in the future would be the calorie.

Friction is a drag.