The "Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction" launches

My old friend the lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower has launched an incredibly cool project: the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction, which tracks down how sci-fi terms were first used, and then evolved over time.

For example, in that screenshot above is the entry for "first contact", which was first used in a short story in 1935, gets picked up by Arthur C. Clarke in 1973, and then gets kind of meta in 1999 when Diane Duane uses it in Storm at Eldala.

By poring through oodles of issues of old sci-fi, including the massive trove of them scanned by the Internet Archive, Jesse has made some truly delightful discoveries — often discovering that well-known sci-fi terms were used a lot earlier than readers may have suspected: "Deep space" was first used in 1921, "ray gun" in 1923, and "teleported" in 1931 ("The essential elements of sea-water, minus the undesirable saline properties, can be teleported to Mars", in Clark Ashton Smith's "Planet Entity").

As an example, here are the first bunch of entries for "earthborn", which the dictionary defines as "a person born on Earth; people born on Earth collectively" …

The New York Times has a nice writeup of the dictionary, with some quotes from Jesse:

One of the main goals of historical lexicography is finding antedatings, as instances that push back the earliest known use of a term are called. Some included here involve large leaps: "Thought-controlled," used to describe devices controlled by neural impulses, is pushed back to 1934 from 1977.

The dictionary also illustrates the complicated interplay between imaginative literature and the real world. The words "graviton" and "biotechnician," for example, first appeared in science fiction sources before being adopted in the real world.

Conversely, Sheidlower said he was surprised to learn that "hypospray," another term chiefly associated with "Star Trek" (defined as "an injection device which forces a fine, high-pressure jet of fluid through the skin without breaking it"), not only appeared as early as the 1940s, but was in fact a real device that was trademarked in 1948.

I'm gonna spend hours poking around in this, I am getting zero work done today.