GOOD

\nStar Trek's many contributions to the English language

This is going to come as a stunner, but there's a certain movie hitting the screen, a movie for the pointed-ear set that hopes to resuscitate the comatose Star Trek franchise for a new legion of Klingon language learners.The only Treks I ever treasured were the original series and movies II-IV-which went from "Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!" to "Whales!"-so I am moderately giddy about this origin story for the old crew. But the prime directive of this column is language, and several Trek terms are deeply embedded in English. The franchise has probably contributed more words than any other television-and-movie monolith.Since I have only a column and not a Russian novel, I'll stick to words from the original series (known by fans as TOS). My apologies to the lingo of The Next Generation, especially holodeck, nanite, and the Borg, which might be the best comparison/insult ever for someone who has lost their individual identity somewhere in the evil hive-mind of a merciless corporate collective. Except for this paragraph, I'll also be skipping terms from Trek fandom, such as the Trekkie vs. Trekker distinction (among fans, Trekker is a kinder term than Trekkie, though Trekker is mostly unknown to outsiders) and redshirts, minor characters who tended to wear red and die, inspiring fans of others shows to use the term for all doomed extras.Warp speed is a good candidate for most successful Trek term, as it is used to describe all sorts of speedy stuff, including somewhat non-interstellar phenomena such as stock crashes ("Chairman Steven Roth said a ‘warp speed' decline wiped out 10 years of shareholder gains.") and overscheduled families ("We're going at warp speed as families… We're trying to give an opportunity for a family to reconnect with each other, to relax, refresh, and refocus."). Other warp jargon adds specificity to exaggeration, as in this 2006 quotation: "Nicholson has gone from prospect to problem child at warp factor nine." (June 2, 2006, Mike Freeman, Florida Times-Union)Then there's cloaking device, another super-popular term that can refer to just about any kind of hiding thingy, including political chicanery, as seen in 2006: "Some use the term ‘nonpartisan' as a cloaking device to disguise an agenda or ideology." (October 20, 2006, Mike Rosen, Rocky Mountain News). Originally referred to as an invisibility screen, cloaking system, and cloak, it wasn't until "The Enterprise Incident" (written by D.C. Fontana, Sept. 27, 1968) that the term cloaking device was mentioned, in this case by Mr. Spock: "I believe the Romulans have developed a cloaking device which renders our tracking sensors useless." Meanwhile, real scientists have been working on actual cloaking technology. Duke University researchers got these results: "a beam of microwaves aimed through the cloaking device at a ‘bump' on a flat mirror surface bounced off the surface at the same angle as if the bump were not present." Disguising a bump isn't quite as sexy as cloaking a spaceship-and it won't help the Romulan Empire much-but it's still pretty cool.


Besides the Vulcan nerve pinch and the photon wedgie, the mind meld was one of Mr. Spock's most reliable tricks, one that was so helpful on search parties and talent shows. The mind meld wasn't named until later episodes, but it was described by Mr. Spock in "Dagger of the Mind" (written by Shimon Wincelberg, Nov 3, 1966) when the Vulcan uttered words that would have made the Bush administration proud: "I must now use an ancient Vulcan technique to probe into Van Gelder's tortured mind!" Along with warp speed, mind meld has been prominent enough to wind up in the Oxford English Dictionary, which records examples related to the media ("The next [moment], he's mind-melding with an ABC News producer about educational technology initiatives") and cultural immersion ("I wish it could have been a week longer but, still,..I think we had a pretty good mind-meld. There's this whole other culture, this whole other way of being here, of being on the planet").Other Trek terms have been late-blooming, like grup-an obscure word from a horrible episode that is a contraction of grown-up and started meaning a Peter-Pannish yuppie type after a 2006 article by Adam Sternbergh resuscitated the word. Many other Trek-associated words weren't coined on the show, but still deserve a mention. As recorded in Jeff Prucher's sensational Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, beam referred to transport by "matter transmitter" since at least 1951-13 years before TOS. Prime directive-that "interfering with other cultures is a no-no" version of the golden rule-is also much older than Trek, but it has meant other kinds of supreme commandments in the hands of various authors.Trek has been a catchphrase machine as well as a word factory. You don't have to wear a Starfleet uniform to recognize "Beam me up, Scotty," "He's dead, Jim," and "Most illogical." Other phrases have become snowclones-those adaptable expressions that are just about everywhere. Trek-propelled snowclones include "X, the final frontier" and "Where no X has gone before," but my fave is "set phasers on X," which has replaced stun with wordplay like stunned, stunning, fun, and pun, as well as surprising substitutions like deep fat fry, mid-life crisis, ultra-paranoid, and world domination. I even found an example of set phasers on hit ‘em with the chair.Since I have minimal credibility as a Trekkie-and, to tell you the truth, I think Star Trek: The Next Generation might be the worst-acted TV show of my lifetime-I'm sure there are enough omissions here to choke a Horta. So let me know what I missed. I can take the criticism; deflector shields are up.
Trending Stories