Science fiction's contributions to science terminology

From the Oxford University Press's blog, "Nine Words You Might Think Came from Science but Which Are Really from Science Fiction."
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. "Doc" 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 Earth'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 ("The Equalizer", 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 "The Trouble With Tribbles" fame) was apparently the first to make the verbal analogy between biological viruses and self-replicating computer programs, in his 1972 story "When Harlie Was One."

Nine Words You Might Think Came from Science but Which Are Really from Science Fiction (via Beyond the Beyond)


  1. I think I dislike the implication that science fiction isn’t part of science.

    I also seem to recall reading that some form of positron/positronic/et cetera was initiated by Asimov.

  2. I got your gas giant right here…

    I love good science fiction. Here’s to hoping there is additional words it can add.

  3. (Sorry for the anon posting, I still can’t log in as Quothz.)

    A good read, although attributing “zero-g” and “zero-gravity” is a bit of a stretch. Using g as a unit for gravity, and G as the gravitational constant, go back to Newton. “zero-g” for 0g is not really what I would call much of a contribution to scientific terminology.

  4. If you want to stretch a point, the word “quark” was first coined by James Joyce. Not science fiction as such but definitely on the fringes of literature.

  5. Why isn’t “cyberspace” in there? That was the only reason I read it, to see Gibson’s contribution. I think “cyberspace” is about as important as “robotics”

  6. Bizarrely, opening that page kills the task bar on my install of Linux Mint OS. Not quite sure how a website could do that, but there you go.

  7. Oh, they need to include H.G. Wells’s notion of “Big Thinks.” I know it has nothing to do with science, but it’s such an awesome phrase…

  8. Odd that they credit “robotics” to Asimov, but don’t point out that the word “robot” itself comes from a Czech SF play.

  9. That’s a cool article! I thought Asimov coined “robot” too…but apparently disagrees! =/

    Origin [of “robot”]:
    Czech, coined by Karel Čapek in the play R.U.R. (1920) from the base robot-, as in robota compulsory labor, robotník peasant owing such labor

    The OED also cites ÄŒapek. A commenter on the linked site talks a bit about this.

  10. #1 Trevel, his robots have “positronic brains”. It’s just a name. That phrase is still not in use yet, because robots still don’t have brains using positrons, or brains for that matter. He didn’t made up the word positron either. That would be Anderson, after he actually first detected it in 1932, when Asimov was 12.

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