Home Entertainment “Warp speed,” “Prime Directive” predate Star Trek, per new reference tool

“Warp speed,” “Prime Directive” predate Star Trek, per new reference tool

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Screenshot from a Star Trek film.
Enlarge The term “warp drive” actually predates its first use in the long-running Star Trek franchise by 14 years. (credit: Paramount Pictures)

There’s no denying the profound influence that the Star Trek franchise has had on our shared popular culture. But it turns out that some of the best-known terms associated with the series—transporter, warp speed, and the famous Prime Directive—actually predate Star Trek: The Original Series by a decade or more. According to Jesse Sheidlower, a lexicographer and editor of the newly launched online Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction (HDSF), the first mention of those terms appeared in 1956, 1952, and 1940, respectively.

The origins of this new online resource date back to 2001, when Sheidlower was working for the venerable Oxford English Dictionary (OED). “OED has always been a crowdsourced entity,” Sheidlower told Ars. “In fact, it was probably the first crowdsourced thing.” Back in the late 19th century, OED editors typically placed notices in newspapers and magazines asking people to read various materials and contribute to their coverage of the English language.

While at OED, Sheidlower noted that science fiction was an area that was not very well served by scholarship, partly because science fiction hasn’t had much serious literary cache historically. That meant that the most significant (and rare) pulp magazines weren’t available in the usual archives, like the Library of Congress or the New York Public Library. So he set up a Science Fiction Citations Project (SFCP) and called on the science fiction community (fans and writers alike) to submit examples of the specialized terminology they found, all curated by moderators.

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