back to article Boffins list sci-fi words which wormed their way into dictionary

The Oxford University Press has come up with a list of nine words that originated in science fiction, but which have now become part of the language of science. Robotics is probably the most familiar, but Gas Giant, Zero Gravity and Deep Space are also sci-fi terms co-opted into the real world, according to the OUP blog. We …


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  1. Miles Leadlem
    Thumb Down


    "...mobification, blogosphere, millennials and blook" - works of fiction FAIL. Try work of stupid journalists.

  2. Tony Green

    Pretty poor

    It doesn't look like they researched it very deeply. Robotics certainly came out of SF, but they seem to have missed out on the word's root, "robot", which entered the language of science & technology via Karel Čapek's classic RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots).

  3. Gordon Henderson

    Thagomizer ...

    So many (many) years ago, being a fan of Gary Larsons Far-Side Gallery, I persuaded the sysadmin at the time to let me name my Sun workstation Thagomizer - After the thing that killed Thag Simmons, of-course.

    And still today, the thing that killed the late Thag Simmons is called the Thagomizer...

    Mines the one with the spikey tail...

  4. nick perry

    New words

    They missed out "JOZXYQK"

  5. Hollerith


    Where is terraforming???? I am shocked.

  6. CTG


    Is smeg not in there? OK, it is derived from a real word, smegma (ew), but the derivative is much more widely used than the original, and is also more versatile; e.g. smeg off you smegging smeghead.

    Stoke me a clipper...

  7. AJames

    It's not about predicting the future

    It has been said that all of Science Fiction is based on imagining the answers to two questions "What if...?" and "If this goes on...?". It's not about predicting the actual future. We can leave that to futurologists. Science Fiction is about imagining what might be. It allows us to dream of goals that we can reach for, or avoid fates that we hope never to see.

  8. Lionel Baden


    Oh hang on where do i remember that from !!!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Interesting view of comentards

    I work for OUP, and know who did the work on this. I also know that this was a bit of fun, not an academic excercise. It is interesting to see how the commentards react now I know the background of a story. *cough*Tony Green*cough*

  10. David Edwards

    Zero Gavity

    Isnt that two words that were already in existence?

    PS Terra forming, nice one thats a good word. Any reclaimed land was "terraformed"

  11. Michael Thomspon

    Where's Grok!!!!

    How could they leave out Grok from Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land"!

  12. Frank

    Gas Giant - really?

    I'm surprised that 'Gas Giant,' came from science fiction. I thought the astronomers and astrophysicists had been making up new terms (out of necessity) for many years and the sci-fi writers used them as required. Similarly with Zero Gravity and Deep Space for that matter.

    I just wish that 'tanj' had made it as a mild swear word. Tanj it!

  13. Gordon is not a Moron

    Who needs a title?

    "Nine words that came from deep space"

    so that would be the "Deep Space Nine" then??

    Mines the one with wrinkled nose and odd looking earing in the pocket

  14. James Loughner

    Frack me

    another list.......

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Oh Really

    "Much is made, generally, of the ability of Science Fiction to predict the future, though such predictions are generally assisted by the scattergun approach."

    Hmmmm don't remember reading any Si-Fi story about the collapse of the banking system

    Flame, I'm sure somebody will name Si-Fi story about the collapse of the banking system

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The future...

    "For every "robotics" there's a host of minisecs, mediatrons and simstims that didn't make it into the dictionary."



  17. Glenn Amspaugh


    Oh Really said... Hmmmm don't remember reading any Si-Fi story about the collapse of the banking system.

    Pat Cadigan had a short story about a musician on a floating island complex, trying to work his way to Europe. In the story, the US economy had collapsed, due to several well placed EMP bombs. Not quite the same as a bunch of Goldman-Sachs bankers infiltrating the gov't and holding the US hostage for 2 Trillion Dollars, though.

    Mine's the bindle on that stick.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about

    Googlefroopillion, the standard boorishly large number (usually cash, usually lost) from Dilbert cartoons.

  19. Anthony Bathgate

    What about...


  20. Steve



  21. /dev/me
    Thumb Up

    Re: Oh Really

    >>Flame, I'm sure somebody will name Si-Fi story about the collapse of the banking system

    Planet of the Apes??

  22. Graham Marsden

    What about...

    ... Cyberspace, originally coined by William Gibson in Burning Chrome?

    or Waldo - a type of remote manipulator from Robert Heinlein's story of the same name?

  23. Steve


    > Flame, I'm sure somebody will name Si-Fi story about the collapse of the banking system

    Maybe not /about/ it, but didn't Asimov's Foundation series use germanium as the financial standard because in the new semiconductor-using world it was more valuable than mere gold?

    Something used longevity drugs for the financial system as well, but I've forgotten.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No Bank collapsing stories but...

    Someone did write about Death by Organ Transplant; and how it was a slippery slope as pressure for fresh organs caused the State to make more and more crimes punishable by death.

    (Chinese "Death Vans" as report in the rags last week).

    I seem to remember the hero was on the run because he has accumulated 3 parking tickets.

  25. Bob Howard

    @ Ponder Stebbins

    Eclipse by John Shirley started off with a global collapse of the banking system after a nuke was set off in orbit and the EMP blast wiped out all of the banking computers...

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    really really

    Not quite the same, but 'Earth' by David Brin figures a "post-secrecy" society and refers in passing to a global war against the bankers and tax havens, culminating in a nuclear attack on Switzerland...

    ...although the main story is about loony environmentalists and a "err, should that black hole be down there" bit of geology

    [ Warning: this summary may have missed a few plot details and characterisation subtleties ]

  27. Anonymous Coward

    collapse of the banking system

    > Hmmmm don't remember reading any Si-Fi story about the collapse of the banking system

    Not bank collapse, but either the Godwhale or Half Past Human by T.J. Bass had a character who invested heavily for his retirement, but Big Earth Society strips him of his account balances just as he's ready to retire.

    It's a stretch. Or is it?

  28. Greg Trocchia

    More terms from SF

    Off the top of my head there is "cyberspace", from Gibson's Neuromancer and "flashmob" which came from Niven. You also have not just the name, but the concept of a countdown which was invented as a tension heightening method in Fritz Lang's film "Frau im Mond" and was picked up by the rocket scientists (some of the key figures in the German VfR were associated with the film, Lang hired Herman Oberth himself to build a real rocket as PR for the film, but he wasn't able to produce a flyable rocket on the needed schedule) as a useful way of sequencing the events leading up to a rocket launch.

    As to the "scattergun approach" of SF, this is due to the goal of SF not being to predict THE future, but rather to posit a plausible future in which to set the story. To the extent that the elements of this future are indeed plausible, it is not surprising that some of those elements, or something very like them, come to pass. An additional feature aiding this process is that since a lot of folks who make a career in technologically related field are (again, unsurprisingly) attracted to reading/watching SF, some of the devices/concepts depicted there become inspirations for their efforts. What reading SF does is not to tell you what will happen so much as to prepare you for what might happen.

  29. Jolyon Smith

    Sci-Fi and the Economic Crisis

    Two works springs to mind:

    For Us The Living - Robert Heinlein.

    Only relatively recently published because frankly, as a novel, it's pretty dire, being a fairly flimsy structure on which to hang a treatise and series of essays (in the form of lengthy character monologue) about the inevitable systemic failure of capitalism in the late 20th/early 21st century and it's replacement by a system based on the philosophy of Social Credit.

    It was definitely worth publishing, but I can understand perfectly why it wasn't published in 1939, when it was written by a then unknown author.

    Aside: One of the characters in the story is a creative dancer - she performs in her home where her performance is remotely captured/recorded over a community network and incorporated by the broadcaster into the program material for transmission.

    Again, remember: Written in 1939!!

    The other work that came to mind is actually a series of 3 novels - collectively known as "The Greg Mandel" series, by Peter F Hamilton. (Mindstar Rising, A Quantum Murder and The Nano Flower).

    In these stories the collapse of capitalism is not a central theme, but it provides a significant element of the back story to the emergence of "Event Horizon" as a globally significant corporation with status and power to rival that of nation states.

    (something which Heinlein also touched on in "Friday", where corporations dominate world organisational structure, rather than nation states)

  30. Not That Andrew

    Where's Waldo?

    The term for a remote manipuulator. Yet another term coined by Heinlein, from the short story Waldo

  31. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    @Pretty poor

    > but they seem to have missed out on the word's root, "robot"

    It may be the word's root (stem), but to be a pedant about it, the word derives from "robota", or drudgery. But yes, via RUR.

    ja tvoi sluga... ja tvoi rabotnik

  32. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    collapse of the banking system

    Isn't that what Dune was about?

  33. Steve Roper

    And yet another bank collapse sci-fi

    is the "Cities in Flight" books by James Blish: "They Shall Have Stars", "A Life For The Stars", "Earthman, Come Home" and "A Clash Of Cymbals". These books depict a future in which Earth's economy has collapsed, the world has entered a permanent depression where the vast majority of people are out of work, and one by one Earth's cities construct "spindizzy fields" which lift them off the ground, turning them into giant spaceships which then travel to other planets to find work. These cities are called "Okie" cities, from the Great Depression term for someone who left their family behind to find work wherever it could be found.

  34. Andrew Newstead

    Clearing up a few points

    Minisec - Imperial Earth by Arthur C Clarke - I would suggest that this one has happened, viz PDAs and smartphones.

    Execution by organ donation - Known Space series by Larry Niven, esp. "A Gift From Earth" and "The Tales of Gil the ARM".

    Not included but I like it - "Think of it as evolution in action" from Oath of Fealty by Niven and Pournell - used when describing some sort of hopeless endevour.

    I also like "Stand off and nuke the site from orbit, only way to be sure" from Aliens but it's a bit difficult to use this one in everyday life without falling foul of anti=terrorism laws!

  35. Andrew Newstead

    Hang on a min!

    We've forgot Dalek - been in the dictionary since the sixties!

  36. Mr Larrington
    Paris Hilton

    The Great Collapsing Hrung Disaster

    There was a seriously collapsed banking system in "Rama II" by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee.

    If you haven't read it, don't bother. It's worse than crap, it's danbrown.

  37. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    OK, which one have I missed?

    I've read it three times, but although the article says 9 words, I can only find eight. "Robotics, Gas Giant, Zero Gravity, Deep Space, Pressure Suit, Virus, Worm, Genetic Engineering." (OK that's actually 13 words, but YKWIM)

  38. Steve

    @Dr patrick

    You're right, El Reg missed Ion Drive, at least according to

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    > Hmmmm don't remember reading any Si-Fi story about the collapse of the banking system

    In Me2, Lister ends up owning all the wealth on Earth by virtue of having left £17.50 in a bank account before he left.

    The NorWEB Federation seems to exist by using Lister's (presumably toxic) debt to them as collateral.

    And even if it was an April Fools' Day joke from a Sci-Fi comedy, Earth's real economies seem to be behaving in much the same manner...

  40. RPF

    What about...

    1) STAR WARS; The name of the anti-missile systems started by Ronnie Reagan? Did that go into the Dictionary?

    2) The Borg COLLECTIVE; that word's been there for a long time, collective!

    3) STAR TREK; Both very old words I reckon!

    4) FOREVER WAR....


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