10 Words Coined in the Sci-Fi Universe
While the noun robotics is commonplace today, it wasn't back in the 1941 when sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov coined the term in a short story published in Astounding Science Fiction. It took another 20 years before the term really took off, and by the 1980s, robotics had firmly planted itself in the English language. The term robot entered English in 1923 from a translation of Karel Capek's 1920 play called Rossum's Universal Robots. It came to English from Czech base robot-, as found in the words robota meaning "compulsory labor" and robotnik meaning "worker."
While time travel has been considered since as early as The Mahabharata, H. G. Wells gave the English language much-used terminology on the subject. In 1894 Wells coined terms related to time travel such as time travelling and time traveller in his story with the heading "Time Travelling: Possibility or Paradox." A year later, in his novella The Time Machine, Wells explores time travel in more detail as an unnamed protagonist moves backwards and forwards in time, encountering the mythical species of the Eloi and the Morlocks on his way.
Zero gravity was coined by Arthur C. Clarke in Sands of Mars, his first science-fiction novel. A year later, he coined the term zero g, where g is short for "gravity," in his novel Islands in the Sky. Zero gravity is the condition in which the apparent effect of gravity is zero, and objects float if they aren't tied down to something larger and more sturdy, like the wall of a spaceship. This concept of zero g became official terminology of astronauts as the Space Race accelerated in the 1960s, and today, it's viewed more as a science term than a sci-fi term.
If you're traveling in a spacecraft at a speed faster than light, you're moving at warp speed. The word warp comes from the Old English wearp which refers to threads running over fabric. In the 20th century, it became popular to conceptualize space and its relation to time as a fabric. The first known usage of warp in relation to speed was in a 1968 Star Trek script, "All Our Yesterdays." Since its debut in English, warp speed has taken on metaphorical senses outside the realm of space.
Droid, or a robot in human-like form, is a shortened form of android which was used as early as the 1700s. Droid was first published in the 1950s in magazines like If that printed sci-fi short stories. The 1977 film franchise Star Wars brought droid into mainstream usage. Lucasfilms Ltd., the production company that gave the world these beloved sci-fi films, has even registered droid as a trademark, which has led to legal debate on the use of the term following the introduction of Droid smartphones.
Alien comes to English from the Latin alienus meaning "belonging to another." When it first entered English in the 1300s, it referred to an outsider, someone born in another country, or someone who is unfamiliar. It was not until the late 1920s that alien took on its sci-fi meaning of "an intelligent being from another planet." Similarly, when earthling first entered English in the late-1500s, it meant someone who lived on earth, not in heaven. Only in the mid-1800s did it take on the sci-fi meaning of a person who is not an alien.
Nanites, or tiny robots built on the small scale, were a concept first realized in science fiction and later researched by scientists in the hopes of making these minute robots a reality. Sometimes called nanomachines, nanorobots, or nanobots, these robots will one day have many real-life applications, including targeted drug delivery in patients with cancer. Perhaps one of the first science fiction writers to imagine nanotechnology was Nikolai Leskov, whose 1881 story described imperceptible robots, requiring 5,000,000 times magnification to be seen.
When clone first entered English in 1903, it was used in the context of botany. It comes from the Greek klon meaning "a twig" and is related to klados meaning "offshoot of a plant." Later, clone took on the sci-fi sense of "artificially duplicated person" thanks to Alvin Toffler's 1970 book Future Shock. While ethics have deterred the real-life cloning of people, in the 1980s, scientists started seriously discussing cloning animals, and in 1996 the first mammal clone was created in the form of a sheep named Dolly.
The second half of the 20th century saw the birth of the cyberpunk sci-fi subgenre. Often set in industrial dystopias, the cyberpunk genre features plots related to computing, hackers, and large corrupt corporations. Perhaps the earliest recorded use of the term was in Bruce Bethke's 1983 story "Cyberpunk." One year earlier William F. Gibson (pictured), an early cyberpunk writer, coined the term cyberspace in a story he wrote for the popular sci-fi magazine Omni.
Science fiction writers of the cyberpunk persuasion introduced the world to a new sense of virus: the computer virus. This sense of virus appears in a short story by Gregory Benford published in 1970 in which a malevolent computer program called VIRUS infects computers via their modem connections. Within five years David Gerrold, Michael Crichton, and John Brunner had all published sci-fi novels featuring computer viruses, and from there, computers along with the viruses that aim to corrupt them became part of language and life beyond science fiction.
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