Words We Know Because Of Star Trek

Star Trek is one of the most beloved science fiction television franchises to ever air. Debuting in 1966 with Star Trek: The Original Series , this long-running franchise is about the crew of a starship (spaceship), the USS Enterprise , as it explores the deepest depths of outer space. Along the way, the crew meet new life forms, get into all kinds of hijinks , and battle for their lives. The show is particularly known for the way it implicitly and explicitly addresses issues of race; in fact, the original series featured one of the first multiracial casts on American television.

Over time, the Star Trek franchise—which now includes movies, books, comics, and even an animated series—has had an enormous influence on popular culture. Terms and expressions from the show, like live long and prosper , have become part of the general lexicon, even for people who couldn’t pick Captain Kirk out of a lineup (hint: it’s the guy who looks like William Shatner).

There are dozens of terms that Star Trek has contributed to the English language. We’ve picked out just a handful of expressions the show created or popularized to highlight their meanings and origin stories. Read on if you dare.

To boldly go where no man has gone before

It sounds like something JFK would say, but it was actually popularized by Star Trek . “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is the name of the second Star Trek pilot, which eventually became the third episode of the first season of the original series—got that straight? It was written by Samuel A. Peeples, a prolific television writer best known for his Westerns.

The expression itself made its way into the voiceover by Captain James Tiberius Kirk (played by William Shatner) that opened every episode of the original run of show:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before.

In the series Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987–1994), the language was changed to no one has gone before to be more gender neutral.

The expression itself has gone far from its origins and become a reference point for memes and snowclones in its own right. For instance, the phrase “to boldly go where no woman has gone before” is used variously to discuss women in STEM research, running large companies, or winning a presidential election in the United States.

To boldly go where no [x] has gone before has caught some flack as an expression because it uses a split infinitive . In other words, the infinitive verb to go is “split” or separated, by the adverb boldly . But frankly, to go boldly where no [x] has gone before just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Resistance is futile

Resistance is futile is the nihilistic catch phrase used by the perennial baddies on the show, the Borg. The Borg are a collective of cyborg aliens that our protagonists frequently skirmish with; they are utopians who ruthlessly pursue perfection at all costs.

The specific phrase resistance is futile was first uttered by a Borg in the film Star Trek: First Contact (1996). However the exact phrase was used once in a ’70s TV series Space: 1999. A different version of the phrase, “resistance is useless,” was used by Douglas Adams in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and in Doctor Who , as early as the ’60s or ’70s.

Resistance is futile and its variations, like it is futile to resist , has become a stock phrase of movie villains in general since the Star Trek usage.  Doctor Who  even switched over to this phrasing when reoccurring baddie The Master in the popular Doctor Who series says resistance is futile in season 14, episode 9, “The Deadly Assassin.” It also has more broadly permeated popular culture. For instance, conservative television personality Ann Coulter published a book entitled Resistance Is Futile!: How the Trump-Hating Left Lost Its Collective Mind in 2018.

Live long and prosper ( the Vulcan salute 🖖)

One of the main characters on Star Trek is Mr. Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy), who is a member of the Vulcan race, an alien people who are known for their pointy ears and aversion to emotion. Members of the Vulcan race greet each other with the hand salute (raising their hand with a separation between the middle and ring fingers).

Nimoy first used the gesture in the 1967 TV episode “Amok Time,” in which Spock comes into contact with other members of his Vulcan race.

Nimoy wanted the Vulcans to have a way of greeting one another similar to human hand gestures. In an interview with the  New York Times , Nimoy said that his  Vulcan salute  was inspired by a gesture that he witnessed during a Jewish religious service when he was a boy. Jewish priests perform the actual religious gesture with both hands to form the Hebrew letter  shin , ש.

The greeting  Live long and prosper!  has also accompanied the Vulcan salute ever since its debut. Deuteronomy 5:33 is most cited as the inspiration for the phrase.

Star Trek fans and nerds alike are prone to use the salute, the expression, or both as a sign of their geek pride.

Prime Directive

In the world of Star Trek , our protagonists work for Starfleet, an intergalactic space force dedicated to exploration and diplomacy (think UN Peacekeepers, but in space). Starfleet crew are expected to follow the Prime Directive . Prime means “first” and directive refers to an official order or mandate. The Prime Directive is never explicitly stated on the show, but based on references throughout the franchise, fans have determined it means that:

  • The crew cannot interfere with the development of another society; and,
  • every species has the right to live as it wishes without interference by another.

These principles were developed by the show’s creators as a statement against American intervention in Vietnam.

Despite how official it sounds, there are a lot of examples of the Prime Directive being violated by characters on the show. Nevertheless, references to the Prime Directive percolated into the popular culture … and even academic study. It’s particularly used in reference to the ethics of interventionism —whether in concrete applications like foreign policy, or further afield (such as discussing possible contact with sentient extraterrestrial life forms).

Beam me up, Scotty

Beam me up, Scotty  is a  catchphrase  from the television show and film series  Star Trek . It can stand on its own as an  allusion  to the show; it can be used to comment on something retrofuturistic; or it can serve as a humorous request to escape a certain situation.

In  Star Trek , characters “ beam ” up and down from their ship to various planets by means of a teleporter. Requests for the chief engineer, Montgomery Scott, nicknamed “Scotty,” to  beam up  or  beam down  are common throughout the series. The phrase  Beam me up, Scotty  is especially associated with Captain Kirk, the captain of the Starship Enterprise.

Beam me up, Scotty  is one way of saying “get me out of this place” or expressing rhetorical frustration with the world around you. Evidence for these senses, sometimes extended to “Beam me up, Scotty, there’s no intelligent life down here ,”  date back to the 1980s, especially used in difficult legal or business contexts.

Oddly enough, despite the popularity of the phrase, this exact catchphrase never actually appeared on any episode of the show. (For example, the original film series used “Scotty, beam me up” in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. )

Imagine this: you’re a young actor, and you’ve just been cast on an episode of Star Trek. You’re thrilled! Maybe this will become a regular gig. You get to the set and the wardrobe manager hands you … a red shirt. Your heart sinks. Why?

In the original series of Star Trek , of which there were three seasons, background characters wore red uniforms in contrast to the main cast’s blue or gold uniforms. And these background characters frequently bit the dust. According to an analysis by fan Matt Bailey, 73 percent of the crew members who died in the original series were wearing red shirts. (A different analysis determined that proportional to the rest of the crew, red shirts were not more likely to die than gold or blue shirts, so take it for what you will.)

This trope became known as a redshirt or, in other words, characters who are included just so they can be killed off later. While the name might come from Star Trek , it was hardly the only TV show or movie to engage in this practice. A classic example of a redshirt is the character that appears at the beginning of a murder mystery who is killed off to get the ball rolling.

If you’re traveling in a spacecraft at a (very hypothetical) speed faster than light, you’re moving at  warp speed .   Warp speed  draws on earlier references to  warps —metaphorical twists—in time and space during interstellar travel in science fiction. Dating back to science fiction in the 1950s, a  time warp , for instance, would allow movement back and forth in time or suspend the passage of time. (Again, extremely hypothetical stuff.)

In the world of Star Trek , ships are outfitted with warp drives that allow them to move at superluminal speeds, or warp speed . Since  Star Trek ,  warp speed has spread as a term for “extremely fast” more generally. Buckle up.

Check out this article we did with the Langley Research Center at NASA to take your vocab on a trip through outer space, too.

trekkie | trekker

The word trekkie , or the less-common trekker , is a word used to describe die-hard Star Trek fans. According to popular lore, the word trekkie was coined by show creator Arthur W. Saha in 1967 though not attested until later. Trekkie is actually predated by the word trekker , which was used by a fan in a letter to the editor printed in the March 4, 1967 edition of TV Guide .

Either way, trekkies or trekkers are known for cosplaying as their favorite characters, discussing the show endlessly with one another, and generally enjoying the Star Trek fictional world. Trekkies are stereotyped frequently in popular culture as dweeby nerds, but the truth is that there are a lot of different kinds of Star Trek fans. This has caused some to adopt the word trekker to refer to Star Trek fans who might not fit the classic stereotype.

One of the many alien races in the Star Trek universe are the Klingons. These are, frankly, pretty monstrous-looking beings and their language (which is also called Klingon) sounds pretty scary. But, it is a language . In fact, American linguist Marc Okrand created an entire Klingon language, of which there were about a dozen fluent speakers as of 1996 (the last time a study was done).

Reference to the Klingon language, also known as Klingonese, is found throughout popular culture. Generally, when a character knows Klingon in television or movies, it’s shorthand for “nerd.” Additionally, Klingon has gone far beyond the Star Trek universe. There are books, theater performances, and even at one point a Wikipedia in Klingon. Not bad for a totally fictional language! J.R.R. Tolkien would be jealous.

Want to know about more fictional languages? Read about them here. 

(Vulcan) mind meld

If you’ve ever felt you’ve read someone’s mind, you might have experienced a Vulcan mind meld . It’s unknown where the word meld comes from, but it’s believed to be a combination of the words melt and weld , which gives you a pretty good sense of what happens during a Vulcan mind meld .

On the show, Mr. Spock and other members of the Vulcan race are able to read someone’s thoughts, see their memories, and even at times feel their emotions. It’s essentially a power that allows people to communicate with their mind—in other words, telepathy .

In the popular lexicon, a Vulcan mind meld , or simply a mind meld is used to describe a similar phenomenon: when two people are so in sync that it is as if they are of one mind. No Vulcan powers required.

If you’re curious about other words that originated from the sci-fi universe, check out these words.

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Star Trek terminology: A beginner’s guide to acronyms

December 15, 2021 by Philip Bates Leave a Comment

One of the first things you need to know about Star Trek terminology is that there are a lot of acronyms. A lot. And they’re not all simple. Doctor Who is easy: “TARDIS” stands for “Time And Relative Dimension In Space.” No, Star Trek has complex engineering and story-specific abbreviations like “M/ARA”, which means “Matter/ Antimatter Reaction Assembly.”

star trek terminology

It can all be a bit intimidating, especially if you’re new to the worlds of Trek and don’t know your TNG from your LLAP. Fortunately, you don’t need to know them all. In fact, your enjoyment shouldn’t be inhibited whatsoever. But if you’re invested in Trek , you deserve an easy way into this sometimes-scary encyclopaedia of terms.

So here’s a brief beginner’s guide to acronyms and abbreviations commonly used by the Star Trek fandom.

What does Star Trek: TOS mean?

Here’s the perfect place to begin.

The ingenuous thing about Trek is that it spans the generations – and in doing so, spans numerous incarnations too. That results in a vast number of ideas, but it can cause a problem because fans need to quickly refer to specific TV shows. Hence “ST: TOS.”

star trek kirk spock mccoy

“ST” obviously means Star Trek , and “TOS” simply means “ The Original Series, ” i.e. the three-season show that ran from 1966 to 1969, and starred William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy , DeForest Kelley, and more.

This was even referenced in Star Trek: Lower Decks . Commander Jack Ransom mentions the “TOS” era, and when questioned over its meaning, he slyly says the acronym stands for “Those Old Scientists.” Nicely done, Trek writers!

What does Star Trek: TNG mean?

“TNG” is one of the most famous pieces of Star Trek terminology – and stands for one of its best-loved shows too: The Next Generation , which featured Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard at the helm of the USS Enterprise between 1987 and 1994.

star trek next generation

What does Star Trek: DS9 mean?

TNG proved so popular that another Trek series came about in 1993 and ran until 1999: Deep Space Nine , commonly referred to as “DS9” in Star Trek terminology.

Unlike previous iterations of Star Trek , this series was named after the space station that served as the main setting for the programme. From Deep Space Nine, Starfleet could explore the Gamma Quadrant via the Bajoran wormhole located nearby, thus giving viewers wider horizons than the premise might otherwise hint at.

star trek deep space nine

What does Star Trek: VOY mean?

“VOY” means “ Voyager ,” the successful series that ran from 1995, following the cancellation of The Next Generation , and so proved an accompaniment to Deep Space Nine .

star trek terminology

What does Star Trek: ENT mean?

You’ll probably have already worked out, based on the standard abbreviations formula within Star Trek terminology (and with some knowledge of Star Trek ‘s most famous ship) that “ENT” is short for “ Enterprise .”

ENT was a prequel to TOS and ran from 2001 (the year Voyager concluded) to 2005.

star trek terminology

What is the acronym for Star Trek: Discovery?

In Star Trek terminology, the acronyms apply to all series and even movies, so yes, Star Trek: Discovery (2017 – present) has its own abbreviations. In fact, all the latest crop of Trek incarnations do: Lower Decks is “LD”; Picard is “PIC”; and Prodigy is “PROD”.

And Discovery is “DSC.” However, if you’re talking about it, it’s probably easiest to just call it “DISCO,” same as it is referring to Voyager by its name. These abbreviations are typically used in Star Trek terminology when discussing the wider universe of adventures. Let’s say you’re talking about how the Enterprise appears across different programmes: cite mentions as “(TOS),” “(ENT),” or “(DSC)” – and yes, you generally do so using brackets.

star trek discovery

What does LLAP mean in Star Trek terminology?

But obviously, acronyms aren’t just useful when talking about TV series and movies. So “LLAP,” which you might’ve seen emblazoned on posters, clothing, stationery, and more Star Trek products doesn’t actually mention a particular show at all.

In Star Trek terminology, “LLAP” means “Live Long And Prosper,” Spock’s famous saying from TOS. It’s more often than not accompanied by the Vulcan salute; that is, a “V” shape formed using your fingers. You know the one.

It’s a phrase we love so much, we put it on an exclusively-designed knitted scarf – the full “Live Long And Prosper,” not the “LLAP” version, because we want to spread that inclusive message beyond even the massive Trek fandom.

Star Trek scarf

What does IDIC mean in Star Trek terminology?

Here’s another piece of Star Trek terminology we thought was iconic enough to grace our Trek line of products , although you might not know it from the acronym “IDIC,” or even from the full, uncondensed version: “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”.

No, you’ll recognise it as the symbol that looks like a silver or grey pyramid pointing into a circle.

star trek terminology

It’s known in the Vulcan language as Kol-Ut-Shan. Its philosophical meaning translates across all linguistic boundaries. In ‘Is There in Truth no Beauty?’ (TOS), Miranda and Spock say that “the glory of creation is in its infinite diversity,” and “the ways our differences combine to create meaning and beauty.”

What does GNDN mean in Star Trek terminology?

There are loads of acronyms to learn – perhaps too many. This is only the start of a Trek voyage, and there’s always time to find out more. And so, for now, we’ve saved the best to last.

You might have spotted the “GNDN” label on pipes throughout the original USS Enterprise in TOS. Pipes running through the walls had set colour combinations and coding designations, which helped build up the intricate depth of details put into the ships. And while many did have actual meanings, “GNDN” is really an in-joke. In the TOS Season 2 DVD special feature, Designing the Final Frontier , set designer John Jefferies, finally revealed what this acronym means.

“GNDN” simply means “Goes Nowhere, Does Nothing.”

It’s a brilliant gag, and so unlikely for a show whose horizons stretch out, “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations – to boldly go where no man has gone before!”

What is your favourite piece of Star Trek terminology? Are there any fun in-jokes that always crack you up? Let us know in the comments section and on social media!

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The Origins of 11 Famous Star Trek Lines

By rick marshall | nov 6, 2015.


Few franchises have had the cultural impact of the various Star Trek television series and movies, and nowhere is that more evident than in the snippets of dialogue that have become a part of the American vernacular—and in some cases, found their way abroad, too. Here are 11 of the most notable Star Trek catchphrases, as well as a little more information about their origins.

1. "Live Long and Prosper"

The Vulcan greeting and the finger-separating hand gesture that accompanies it first appeared in the second season of Star Trek: The Original Series , during an episode titled “Amok Time.” Spock himself (actor Leonard Nimoy) has made no secret of the fact that the gesture and phrase were his idea, and that he based them on Orthodox Jewish blessings he remembered from his childhood. In the Jewish blessing, the position of the fingers forms the Hebrew letter “Shin,” which represents the name “Shaddai” (Almighty God). Nimoy put his own spin on the traditional gesture by holding up just one hand (instead of both) and changing up the verbal blessing slightly.

2. "Highly Illogical..."

While Spock never shied away from questioning the logic of those around him—usually Kirk—it wasn't until the second season that he took things up a notch and deemed the actions of the native inhabitants of planet Omega IV “highly illogical” in the episode titled “The Omega Glory.” Previously, it had always just been “illogical” or, in rare cases, “most illogical,” but it took a pair of natives attacking Kirk in a jail cell for Spock to pair his trademark raised-eyebrow reaction with the term “highly illogical.” The phrase would then be repeated in several more episodes, as well as the subsequent films and J.J. Abrams' reboot of the franchise.

Bonus: “Highly Illogical” was also the name of Leonard Nimoy's 1993 music album featuring several songs he recorded in the 1960s (including “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”) as well as a few new tunes.

3. "Beam Me Up, Scotty"

One of the most interesting aspects of this phrase—a request directed at Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott for transport back to the USS Enterprise—is that it was never actually uttered in any of the Star Trek television series or movies. More often than not, the command was akin to “Three to beam up” or more directly, “Beam them up,” with the closest approximation being “Beam us up, Scotty” in a few episodes of the Star Trek animated series. However, William Shatner did say this line while reading the audio version of his novel Star Trek: The Ashes of Eden .

4. "I'm A Doctor, Not A..."

Everyone knows that Dr. Leonard McCoy is not an engineer, a coal miner, or an escalator, but that never stopped him from reminding his fellow crew members. The first time DeForest Kelley uttered his famous catchphrase as we know it was in a first-season episode titled “The Devil in the Dark.” In that episode, McCoy saw fit to let Kirk know that he was a doctor, not a brick-layer. It's worth noting that an earlier episode, “The Corbomite Maneuver," had him asking Capt. Kirk, “What am I, a doctor or a moon-shuttle conductor?” but it wasn't until much later in the season that we got the full line that would later be heard in just about every subsequent series, as well as the Star Trek films. The line even made it into J.J. Abrams' 2009 reboot, with Karl Urban (as McCoy) exclaiming, “I'm a doctor, not a physicist!”

5. "Make It So"

Captain Jean-Luc Picard's signature line was a part of Star Trek: The Next Generation from the very start, with actor Patrick Stewart uttering what would become his character's most memorable catchphrase in the pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint.” The episode was written by Gene Roddenberry himself, so it's likely that he wrote the line for Picard, though the phrase has been in use for quite a while in military circles as a way to tell someone to proceed with a command.

6. "To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before..."

The infinitive-splitting opening narration for each episode of Star Trek: The Original Series (with the exception of the pilot episodes) was famously recited by William Shatner, but the actual origins of the line are uncertain at best. Some reports suggest that it was inspired by a 1958 White House press booklet promoting the space program, though some have speculated that it came from a statement made by explorer James Cook following an expedition to Newfoundland. Writer Samuel Peeples, who authored the pilot episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” is often credited with the decision to make the phrase such a significant part of the series. The line was eventually repeated—with a few minor tweaks—in each iteration of the series and films.

7. "Khaaannnn!"

Possibly the most meme-friendly line of dialogue ever to come out of the Star Trek universe, this scream of rage originated in (no surprise here) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . Left marooned on a dead planet by the evil villain Khan then taunted about his predicament, Kirk let loose with a primal roar—and the rest was viral-video history.

8. "I'm Givin' Her All She's Got, Captain!"

Much like “Beam me up, Scotty,” this famous catchphrase often associated with USS Enterprise Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in Star Trek: The Original Series was never said in this exact form by actor James Doohan in the series or subsequent films. The closest approximation is a line in the second-season episode “The Changeling,” when Kirk asks Scotty to divert more power to the ship's shields. Scotty responds with, “Giving them all we got.” However, Doohan did utter every word of the famous line as part of a cameo in 1993's Loaded Weapon , in which he turns up as a panicky police officer trying to fix a coffee machine. Similarly, Simon Pegg used the same line “I'm givin' her all she's got, Captain!” in 2009's Star Trek reboot, in which he plays a young Montgomery Scott.

9. "Nuclear Wessels"

Russian crew member Pavel Andreievich Chekov's inability to pronounce the letter “V” became a recurring joke after the character was introduced in the second season of Star Trek: The Original Series as the ship's navigator. While it made for some funny moments throughout the series and subsequent movies, one of the most memorable pronunciation gaffes occurred during Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home , when Chekov begins asking passers-by in 1980s San Francisco where he can find “nuclear wessels.” Even though Walter Koenig had been playing the character for almost 20 years before The Voyage Home hit theaters, the two-word line soon became indelibly connected with his portrayal of the character.

10. "Resistance Is Futile"

This famous line was first uttered by robotic aliens The Borg in the epic third-season finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation , titled “Best of Both Worlds, Part 1.” Not only did the 1990 episode offer up one of the greatest cliffhangers in television history, but it also coined a phrase that would live forever in the nightmares of fans—mainly because it was recycled for use in countless other series and films down the road.

11. "Set Phasers To Stun"

It was established early on in Star Trek: The Original Series that the phasers used by the crew of USS Enterprise had a “stun” setting (as mentioned in “The Man Trap” episode), and both Kirk and Spock often found themselves instructing their crewmates to use the non-lethal capabilities of their standard-issue weapons. However, it wasn't until the second season of Star Trek: The Animated Series that we first heard Kirk issue the command “Set phasers to stun.” The line eventually became an oft-repeated order in subsequent series, turning up in both Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: The Next Generation , as well as many of the movies (including 2009's reboot).

This article originally appeared in 2013.

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Oxford University Press's Academic Insights for the Thinking World

star trek terms phrases

Star Trek terminology

star trek terms phrases

Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction

  • By Cassie Ammerman
  • May 7 th 2009

The eleventh Star Trek movie is opening this Friday, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve already bought my ticket. It’s a reboot of the original series, which means more James Tiberius Kirk , Spock , and the rest of the gang. It’s enough to make me jump up and down in excitement.

Thinking about the various iterations of Star Trek made me think about all my favorite aspects of the series. One of my absolute favorite things about it is the terminology. In his book Brave New Words , Jeff Prucher has a short essay about Star Trek and its influence on the language of science fiction. “Words coined for the series and its spin-offs have stuck in the popular imagination, and are used by people in all walks of life,” he says. And it’s true. So, in celebration of a new Star Trek movie, I decided to put together a list of my top 10 favorite words from the Star Trek universe.

In case this isn’t enough of a Star Trek fix for you, here are some more posts about the series and the upcoming movie: a list of lists (from io9) and Trek for kids (from Time Out Kids ). I’ll probably be back next week with a follow up post, looking at how many of my favorite terms and technologies worked their way into the movie. I’m hoping at least half will show up somewhere. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I’m sure I will!

1. Transporter , n . Transportation device that converts objects or persons to energy, sends that energy to the destination, and reconstitutes the objects/persons back into matter. Transporters cannot beam objects through deflector shields. ( Star Trek Library )

Leonard Nimoy

The transporter is one of the most useful inventions of the Star Trek universe. It can get you from point A to point B (and sometimes, inexplicably, point Z during electrical interference) instantaneously. Worried about being torn apart and put back together at the molecular level? Don’t be. Rarely does a transporter user have his DNA scrambled. However, this doesn’t account for the occasional creation of an exact clone caused by glitches in the transporter stream.

2. Tricorder , n . A hand-held Starfleet device combining sensors, records, and built-in computing capability. Issued in a variety of models for engineering, scientific and medical uses. As of 2366, the standard model tricorder sensors could not detect subspace phenomena or neutrino particles. ( Star Trek Library )

Who didn’t want a tricorder as a kid? Something you could wave around, beeping, and then (pointing it at an annoying younger brother) “I’m registering large quantities of methane emissions. Everyone evacuate! He farted!” Or, in a more practical sense, I’d love to have one as an adult. A hand-held device that can detect carbon monoxide, or tumors, or any number of things? Imagine how much easier than a CAT scan that would be.

3. Mind-meld , n . In the Star Trek universe, a telepathic union between two beings; in general use, a deep understanding. Hence mind-melding , adj . 1968 J. M. Lucas Elaan of Troyius ( “Star Trek” script ) (May 23) 40: Mr. Spock, […] he refuses to talk. I’ll need you for the Vulcan mind-meld. ( Brave New Words )

This was an ability I always envied Spock—well, this and the Vulcan nerve pinch. Can you imagine how useful that would be in quieting said annoying younger brothers? The mind-meld is equally neat though; I’d love to know what a whale is thinking ( Star Trek IV , for those of you who are not as nerdy as me).

4. Phaser , n . An energy weapon that fires a beam which can be set to varying degrees of intensity. Also used fig . [in SF, primarily associated with the Star Trek universe.] ( Brave New Words )

Famous phrase from the original series: “Set phasers to stun.” Often followed by a death of some kind, so I’m not sure how good the “stun” setting was… although it’s hard to argue with giving Bones another opportunity to say “He’s dead, Jim.”

Walter Koenig

5. Stardate , n . According to Gene Roddenberry in “The Making of Star Trek,” stardates were originally created “simply to keep from tying ourselves down to 2265…” and to make clear that Star Trek was set in the future. There wasn’t a method used to calculate the date, but the producers of the original show did keep a rough track of stardates and there was some logic as to how they progressed. However, as the shows aired out of order from the production order, the stardates would sometimes go backwards. To address this problem, Roddenberry formulated a clever explanation that used a bit of scientific double talk to make stardates sound more plausible, i.e. they “adjust for shifts in relative time which occur due to the vessel’s speed and space warp capability…” ( Star Trek Library )

I never knew how they came up with the stardates, and now I’m going to have to pay attention to the new movie and how it does them. Of course, it won’t match up to the original series because the whole plot revolves around alternative futures and time travel, but still. Something to pay attention to!

6. Warp speed , n . In the Star Trek universe, a faster-than-light speed attained by a spaceship using a warp drive; in non- Star Trek use, a very fast speed. [ 1968–69 J. L. Arosete All Our Yesterdays ( “Star Trek” script ): Beam us up. Maximum warp as soon as we are on board.] ( Brave New Words )

I loved the idea that not only would humans one day be able to go at warp speed, but that we would have different levels of warp speed . We could go Warp One if we weren’t really in a hurry, Warp Five if we wanted to get there fairly quickly, and Warp Nine if we were fleeing from a star going nova unexpectedly behind us.

7. Prime Directive , n . The most important rule or law, which must be obeyed above all others. Also in extended use. Often cap . [Popularized by the television show Star Trek .] 1966 B. Sobelman Return of Archons ( “Star Trek” script ) (Dec. 1) 50: KIRK: Landru must die. SPOCK: Our prime directive of non-interference… KIRK: That refers to a living, growing culture. I’m not convinced that this one is. ( Brave New Words )

Every captain needs a rule to rebel against. For the captains of Star Trek (and I mean that in just about every iteration of the series), it’s the prime directive. Kirk, Picard , Janeway and the others are not supposed to interfere in the normal development of a civilization, especially pre-warp civilizations. Yet time and time again, they get drawn into it somehow. Does NASA have a prime directive in place yet? If not, they should start thinking about one.

8. Cloaking device , n . A device which renders something invisible or undetectable. 1968 D. C. Fontana Enterprise Incident ( “Star Trek” script ) (June 13) IV-61: The cloaking device is operating most effectively, sir. And the Commander informed me even their own sensors cannot track a vessel so equipped. ( Brave New Words )

William Shatner

How is it that the Klingons , an alien race whose main identity is that they are warriors, and Romulans , of a similarly martial tradition, were the ones who used cloaking devices most often? That doesn’t seem particularly fair to me.

9. Holodeck , n . A room-sized chamber that creates a complete holographic environment; 1987 Encounter at Farpoint ( “Star Trek” script ) (May 22) 65: Lieutenant Commander Data… now located in Holodeck area 4-J. ( Brave New Words )

The holodeck is famous for malfunctioning, making it someplace I don’t think I’d want to go on a regular basis. Interestingly, the holodeck made its first Star Trek appearance not in The Next Generation , but in the animated series that was on from 1973-74.

10. Redshirt , n . [After the red shirts worn by crewmembers in the television show Star Trek , who were frequently killed after arriving on a new planet] a character who is not portrayed in any depth; an extra; especially one whose main plot function is to be killed. 1985 Major Inconsistency (Usenet: net.startrek) (May 28): You’re right, Redshirts are never allowed to survive an episode. ( Brave New Words )

Whenever an away team was formed in the original series, it always seemed to consist of a mix of Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, Spock, Uhura, and a poor random ensign. The away teams would change, but there was always that ensign in a bright red uniform, and as soon as you saw him, you knew the unfortunate man was doomed to die in some horrible way. While not a term that was ever used in the series, I’m interested to see if the phenomenon continues in the new movie. And also kind of hopeful that it does. After all, the new movie is supposed to pay homage to all the things we love about Star Trek , right?

Bonus Word: Tribble , n . Origin: unspecified. A small animal characteristically soft, furry, and pleasing to most humanoids (with the exception of Klingons). Tribbles give off a soft purring sound that is soothing to many. They are also asexual, born pregnant, the only determinant of birthing being how much food they consume. ( Star Trek Library )

Admit it, it’s your favorite episode too.

Featured Image Credit: ‘The southern constellation of Carina’ by NASA, ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team, 2009. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons .

Cassie Ammerman  was a Publicity Assistant with OUP from 2007 - 2009.

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[…] has a new post about Star Trek terms that includes some info from BNW.  Other Trek-related words she doesn’t mention are […]

[…] spin-off series, I admittedly have stood on the “literary” fiction side. But after my colleague Cassie Ammerman introduced me to prominent SFF writer Neil Gaiman (you might recognize him as author of Coraline, a […]

[…] and phrases. I won’t list them here, so maybe you can guess what they are before you follow this link and read the article for yourself. How many did you get right? Let us know in the comments. Hint: […]

Ahhh, “Redshirt”…

You have to catch the Family Guy episode where William Shatner and a Redshirt both appear.

“Wow – I did not see that coming.”

or the Futurama episode with the Star Trek cast xD I <3 Futurama!

[…]   “Star Trek terminology” by Cassie […]

The caption under the picture of Kirk and the woman is incorrect. It’s Julie Newmar, not Judie. Episode was Friday’s Child.

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Charley Locke

18 Klingon Phrases That’ll Save Your Life One Day

Star Trek The Next Generation

Long ago, as the crew of the Enterprise explored the final frontier, one man boldly did what few—if any—actors had ever done before: construct a language from scratch. But while James Doohan (Scotty) may have invented a form of Klingon on the set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture , the real credit for its enduring legacy goes to linguist Marc Okrand, who started developing Klingon for Trek films in 1984, bringing constructed languages ("conlangs") to generations of new enthusiasts, from Trekkers to Dune fans to Na'vi admirers.

People constructed languages before Klingon: J.R.R. Tolkien created Quenya in 1915, later used in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings ; Edgar Rice Burroughs invented Barsoomian in 1912 for A Princess of Mars ; St. Hildegard of Bingen fashioned the Lingua Ignota in 1200, crediting some angels for divine inspiration. But as part of a TV show beloved by millions of viewers, Okrand's Klingon brought conlangs to the popular lexicon.

Much of Klingon's appeal comes from its lexical novelty. According to Joey Windsor, a linguistics doctoral student at University of Calgary, Okrand designed Klingon against the conventions of human language: It’s meant to sound alien. The sentence structure in Klingon is object-subject-verb, which is the least common construction among all 7,000 human languages; it includes unusual sounds like the trilled "r" (think Willy from The Simpsons ) and the guttural "h" (say “Bach,” with force). "He broke every one of those tendencies, but stopped just shy of the language becoming unpronounceable and unlearnable," says Windsor. "I would describe Klingon as a barely natural human language."

As the first constructed language widely portrayed on-screen, Klingon faced an additional hurdle: unlike the Elvish dialects in the Lord of the Rings novels, characters had to actually speak it. So Okrand developed a language both grammatically alien and actor-friendly. "It's a really choppy language," says Windsor. That's helpful for any actors who may not yet be fluent in Klingon—it allows them to simply memorize syllables, rather than long phrases.

Of course, Klingon was ultimately designed for the fans. For first-time viewers, fluent speakers, and those in between, the elaborate dialogue brings them into the world of the Trek —something not all fictional languages pull off. When done haphazardly, invented languages can alienate an astute audience. (Remember when Leia negotiated for Chewbacca’s life in Jabba’s court using the same few sounds over and over again?) But when done well, conlangs make the fictional world seem far more real.

In that regard, Klingon is the standard-bearer—and countless others have followed. But its most diehard speakers are still Trek fans, who—like Windsor—have given the language a life beyond the screen. Since he first got hooked while watching the pilot of Star Trek: The Next Generation , Windsor has given linguistics lectures on Klingon, created four languages himself (which he uses in Dungeons & Dragons), and built up quite the vocabulary of Klingon phrases. To help celebrate this week's 50th anniversary of Star Trek , WIRED asked Windsor to put together a primer on the language. Whether you're meeting a Klingon for a beer, in need of a grave insult, or begging for your life, this guide has you covered. (And here's an International Phonetic Association pronunciation chart, just in case you need help telling a velar fricative from a glottal plosive.)

__Pronounced: __ˈqhuʂ.ɖɑq ˈbɑʔ luʔ.ˈʔɑʔ Usage: When you’re sitting down to negotiations with a Klingon, it’s probably best to proceed with caution—although your polite question may betray your humanoid tendencies.

__Pronounced: __d͡ʒɪ.ˈd͡ʒɑt͡ɬ Usage: As a greeting. "A Klingon will not waste time on trivial pleasantries," notes Windsor. Why say "hello" when you can issue an order, instead?

__Pronounced: __ˈphɛʔ.vɪl ˈmuʔ.qhɑɖ.mɛj Usage: Instead of “all the best” or “have a nice day,” let your parting words say what you really mean.

__Pronounced: __nuqʰ.ˈɖɑqʰ ʔox pʰut͡ʃ.ˈpʰɑʔ.ˈʔɛʔ Usage: Helpful if you forget which door is which on the battlecruiser.

__Pronounced: __nuqh.ˈɖɑqh ʔox tʰɑt͡ʃ.ˈʔɛʔ Best Use Case Scenario: This one is obvious. But be prepared for an answer that will lead to either Bloodwine or the taste of defeat.

Pronounced: thɛ.ˈrɑʔ.ŋɑn ʂod͡ʒ lu.d͡ʒɑb.ˈʔɑʔ Best Use Case Scenario: If the idea of serpent worms turns your stomach, it's worth asking if your dining companion is taking you to a Klingon joint.

Pronounced: qhutʰ nɑʔ xɪ.ˈnob Best Use Case Scenario: Those salt crystals may be acceptable on human food, but Klingon gastronomes insist on eating gagh raw (and live).

Pronounced: qʰɑɣ ʂopʰ.ˈbɛʔ Usage: A way for one Klingon to call another a coward.

Pronounced: xɪ.ˈd͡ʒɑ/ɣo.ˈbɛʔ Usage: As in, "Yes, I surrender."

Pronounced: ˈɖot͡ʃ.vet͡ɬ vɪ.ˈnɛx Usage: Klingons aren’t known for their diplomacy, or their manners—get straight to the point.

Pronounced: xɑb ʂoʂ.ˈlɪʔ q͡χut͡ʃ Usage: As any Trekkie knows, this is a serious insult.

Pronounced: nuqʰ.ˈd͡ʒɑt͡ɬ Usage: If you need to buy a few minutes to come up with an escape plan, feign hard-of-hearing.

Pronounced: d͡ʒɑɣ yɪ.ˈbuʂ.tʰɑx Usage: Klingon does have words for “sorry” and “surrender,” but according to Windsor, “no Klingon would use them, and you would lose all honor if you did.” Try this distraction tactic instead.

Pronounced: ˈxɛɣ.luʔ.mɛx q͡χɑq͡χ ˈd͡ʒɑd͡ʒ.vɑm Usage: If you hear this, let’s hope the Klingon uttering it is going into battle for you, not against you.

Pronounced: ˈqʰɑʂ.tʰɑx nuqʰ d͡ʒɑjʔ Usage: If you’re averse to cursing (Klingons aren’t), leave off the jay’ at the end.

Pronounced: woʔ ˈbɑt͡ɬ.vɑɖ Usage: Uh, we’re all on the same team, guys.

Pronounced: ˈt͡ɬɪ.ŋɑn mɑx Usage: A common Klingon victory chant.

Pronounced: q͡χɑpʰ.ˈlɑʔ Usage: To be exclaimed victoriously after your first full conversation with a Klingon. And, hopefully, your escape.

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Memory Alpha

Tamarian language

  • View history

Tamarian written language

Examples of Tamarian written language

The Tamarian language was the spoken language of the Tamarians .

  • 3.1 Background information
  • 3.2 Apocrypha

History [ ]

The Tamarians spoke entirely by allegory, referencing mytho-historical people and places from their culture . As a result, when the Federation first made contact with the Tamarians, although their universal translators could successfully translate the individual words and sentence structure of Tamarian speech, they were unable to convey the symbolic meaning they represented. Without prior knowledge of the Tamarians' history and legends, a word-by-word translation was of no use to someone attempting to communicate with them. This language barrier led to the isolation of the Tamarian people after all attempts at communication had failed.

For example, instead of asking for cooperation, they would use a phrase such as " Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra ", because their culture's stories include a tale of two Tamarians, Darmok and Jalad, who were brought together while fighting a common foe on an island called Tanagra. The problem with communicating in this fashion is that without understanding the context of the reference, the metaphor has no meaning. While explaining the structure of the language, Counselor Deanna Troi gave the example that " Juliet on her balcony " could be used to describe a romantic situation, but it is impossible to understand if the listener does not know who Juliet is, or why she was on the balcony. ( TNG : " Darmok ")

While he was trapped with Captain Dathon on El-Adrel IV in 2368 , Captain Jean-Luc Picard gained an understanding of the metaphors used by Dathon as communication. Captain Picard used the Tamarian metaphors to establish communication with the Children of Tama and resolve a confrontation between the USS Enterprise -D and a Tamarian deep space cruiser . ( TNG : " Darmok ")

By 2379 , the language barrier had been sufficiently broken for it to be available as an elective language to learn at Starfleet Academy while Brad Boimler was a cadet . By 2381 , the first Tamarian in Starfleet, Kayshon , had reached the rank of lieutenant junior grade , and those working with him could at least reasonably understand him even when the universal translator failed. The universal translator was largely able to translate Tamarian speech, though some metaphors were still translated literally, occasionally resulting in metaphors being mixed into an otherwise understandable sentence. ( LD : " wej Duj ", " Kayshon, His Eyes Open ", " The Spy Humongous ")

Examples [ ]

Some examples of the Tamarian language:

  • " Arnock at the race of Natara " – running
  • "Arnock, on the night of his joining" - congratulations, or a great achievement (perhaps 'racing to a long-awaited consummation')
  • " Bazminti when he pulled back the veil " – an undercover operation or hidden agenda
  • "The beast at Tanagra" – a problem to be overcome
  • " Chenza at court, the court of silence" – not listening
  • "Children of Tama" – Tamarian
  • "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" – cooperation
  • "Darmok and Jalad on the ocean" – new friendship and understanding gained through a shared challenge
  • "Darmok on the ocean" – Loneliness, isolation
  • " Gramble , his throat slit by his mistress " – carelessness, clumsiness
  • " Kadir beneath Mo Moteh " – failure or inability to communicate or understand; derisive in connotation
  • " Kailash , when it rises" – a necessary loss or sacrifice
  • "The path to Kamata in spring " – signifying calming peace
  • " Karno in the forest with Mira " – overeating or weight gain
  • " Karno , when his mind was fogged?" – may refer to someone being confused or corrupted by unknown cause
  • " Kiazi 's children, their faces wet" – downplaying the severity of a perceived injury
  • " Kimarnt , her head cloudy?" – offering an intoxicating beverage
  • " Kira at Bashi " – to tell a story
  • " Kiteo , his eyes closed" – refusal to understand
  • " Koltar , when he drowned in the swamp " – resigned to one's fate, or remarking on a gruesome fate
  • "Life in the cave of Garanoga " – a place where one feels a sense of belonging
  • " Mirab , with sails unfurled" – signifying departure/engines to full/fleeing; depending on tone, could mean "Prepare to withdraw" or "We have to get out of here!"
  • " Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel " – successful first contact between two alien cultures, or to work toward a common goal; coined in 2368
  • " Rai and Jiri at Lungha . Rai of Lowani . Lowani under two moons. Jiri of Ubaya . Ubaya of crossroads, at Lungha. Lungha, her sky gray" – greeting between two different cultures/races
  • " Rapunki , when he joined the Seven " – greeting, expressing honor at joining a new group
  • "The river Temarc in winter " – to not be swayed from a decision; often used as an imperative
  • " Shaka , when the walls fell" – failure
  • " Sokath , his eyes uncovered/opened" – understanding/realization
  • " Temba , at rest" – declining a gift. A gracious response signifying that the gift is unnecessary or should rightfully be kept by the other person.
  • "Temba, his arms wide/open" – signifying a gift
  • " Unzak and Vhila as children?" – meaning unknown, perhaps related to language learning or making a connection with other cultures
  • "Unzak, when he guided the florkas to their roost" - meaning unknown, perhaps a reassurance related to carefully escorting something to a destination
  • " Uzani , his army with fists closed" – to close rank and attack after luring the enemy
  • "Uzani, his army with fists open" – to lure the enemy towards you by spreading your forces
  • " Zenrox , tilling his field in the spring" – meaning unknown (possibly "stop what you are doing/what you are doing is wrong"); exclaimed in a panic
  • " Zima at Anzo " "Zima and Bakor " – danger/hostility arising from miscommunication/misunderstanding.
  • " Zinda , his eyes red" – expressing pain or dismay
  • "Zinda, his face black, his eyes red" – anger or conflict, also can indicate pain, possible indication of inability to survive (either self, or other party)

These phrases and idioms were often attenuated in conversation: "Shaka, when the walls fell" was heard shortened to "Shaka"; others followed a similar pattern.

Picard used "The river Temarc in winter " at the start of his conversation with the Tamarian first officer, when he was trying to bring an end to the battle, possibly meaning "stop."

Dathon also used " Callimas at Bahar " after experiencing pain in his shoulder, signaling to Picard with a hand wave associated with "stay back", or perhaps meaning "I feel better now" or "the pain is gone".

Appendices [ ]

Background information [ ].

In devising the Tamarian language, " Darmok " writer Joe Menosky was inspired by three sources: the work of psychologist James Hillman (who had emphasized "All is metaphor"), the quote "Every word is a poem" from translator and poet John Ciardi , and the dense historical metaphors present in Chinese poetry and philosophical works such as the I Ching . ( Star Trek: The Next Generation 365 , p. 220)

In one scene where Picard attempts to treat a wounded Dathon, the Tamarian says " Kiazi's children, their faces wet ". It is unclear what Dathon means by this, although (since Dathon is trying to shoo Picard away from caring for his injuries at the time) it may allude to children crying for no reason; the Tamarian may be saying that Picard should not worry or feel sad, as nothing could be done. It might also mean that Dathon knew he was dying, as Kiazi's children apparently knew, since Picard was trying to find out the extent of Dathon's injuries at the time.

SF Debris theorizes in his video " The Language of Darmok " that "metaphor" is likely not what is really going on with the Tamarian language by using Chinese as an example. He explains that in Hanzi, the Chinese system of writing, the word for China is comprised of two ideograms: 中 ("middle") and 国 ("nation" or "kingdom"). The second character itself is comprised of two radicals, 玉 ("Jade" or "precious gem") and 囗 ("enclosure"). Given the universal translator does a word-by-word translation, SF Debris opines this means if the translator were to be given the term "中国," rather than return "China" or "Middle Kingdom," it would probably produce the somewhat nonsensical "central enclosed jade". [1]

The Atlantic 's " Shaka, When the Walls Fell " comes to a similar conclusion stating, "Metaphor and image are not accurate descriptions of the Tamarian language’s logic." and presents allegory as a better representation of what is really going on which fits reasonably well into SD Debris' explanation. [2]

Apocrypha [ ]

The Tamarian language is explored further in the short story "Friends with the Sparrows" from the TNG anthology book The Sky's the Limit . In the story, it is explained that Tamarians have a fundamentally different brain structure to most humanoids, and as such experience concepts such as time and self differently.

The story also explains that Tamarian children learn the stories behind the metaphors, and thus their meanings, through enactment and repetition. Variations of meaning in metaphors were conveyed through subtle vocal and gestural cues that the universal translator had previously missed. In fields such as engineering and programming, a musical language was used to convey precise equations, numbers and instructions; thus, explaining how Tamarians could effectively operate starships.

The Voyager relaunch novels Full Circle and Protectors introduce the Tamarian Dr. Sharak who had been teaching the language to Samantha Wildman .

  • 1 USS Bozeman
  • 3 Battle of Wolf 359

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Jack Kiely is a writer with a PhD in French and almost certainly an unhealthy obsession with Star Trek.


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