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1. Star Trek: Terminology Rebooted

Cassie Ammerman, Publicity

I don’t usually go to movies on opening weekend. It takes a very special movie for me to brave the crowds, wait in line, and be up that late (I think I got home around 4:30 am). But Star Trek definitely qualified. I saw it Friday night with a group of friends at an Imax in New York. And if you haven’t seen it yet, I would definitely recommend seeing it at the Imax—the already explosive action is truly amazing.

A little while ago, I wrote a post on the OUPblog about my favorite terminology from Star Trek. I promised to do a follow up with how, if at all, those terms appear in the new movie. Because this is about the reboot, there will probably be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it yet, go see it first and then come back and read!

There were several words that didn’t appear in the movie in any way, shape, or form. Surprisingly, tricorder wasn’t mentioned once. Or did I just miss it? I’m fairly sure tricorders were used, at least in the medical sense, but the word itself was not. Holodeck is a Next Generation term, so I wasn’t expecting it to appear, and sure enough, it didn’t. Neither did Prime Directive or cloaking device, although the Klingons had a brief off-screen role and the Romulans were the villains.

Despite having just knocked four words off my original list of ten (okay, eleven) words, there’s still plenty to talk about, starting with phasers. “Fire all phasers!” is one of the first clear phrases you hear in the opening sequence, as George Kirk battles a massive Romulan ship in order to save the fleeing crew of the USS Kelvin. As a weapon, the phaser is great: it comes in both a large format (on the ships themselves) and small format (pocket sized!); and there are no worries about reloading or recharging when Kirk and Spock get in a phaser battle on Nero’s ship. Spock utters one of my favorite phrases, “Set phasers to stun,” when telling the Enterprise security team to capture Kirk and Scotty. I’ll admit though, that my favorite weapon moment wasn’t using a phaser; it was when Kirk gasps “Got your gun!” as he shoots a Romulan who has been choking him. Such a Kirk moment!

The transporter plays a big role in the movie. When the Enterprise jumps into Vulcan space, they expect a trap. What they don’t expect is to have all their communications and transporter abilities shut down due to “signal interference,” necessitating Kirk, Sulu, and Olsen’s jump to the mining platform to save the day. (I’m not sure why they’re not expecting this. Doesn’t it seem fairly obvious? None of the other ships were able to communicate with the Enterprise before they were destroyed, so obviously communications were down, right?)

My favorite part about the transporter in the movie, however, was how it was portrayed, once again, as a difficult technology. It was a source of endless amusement in the original series (see the episode Mirror, Mirror for a great example). In this movie, the transporter has trouble locking on to anyone who is moving too quickly, which seems like a fairly realistic problem for a fantastic piece of technology. Kirk and Sulu almost splatter on the rocks of Vulcan before Chekov is able to save them, and Spock’s mother is lost as the cliff crumbles underneath her as they’re fleeing the exploding planet, leading to major internal conflict for poor Spock.

Stardate was actually my least favorite term on the original list, and it remains so now, because it’s just not nearly as glamorous. But it is a necessary device, because changing the dates from our own Gregorian calendar gives a sense of the future in ways beyond the technology of Star Trek. It shows a complete change from a system that has been known and accepted in our modern world since 1582.

I learned something new about the Vulcan mind-meld in this movie—it’s probably something everyone else already knew, but if I did, I had forgotten it. Not only can you use the mind-meld to give or take information, but if you’re sharing a sequence of events, as future Spock does with Kirk, the mind-meld also comes with emotional transference. I don’t know if I’d want to know the depth of pain Spock felt at watching his home planet blow up. Although, that transfer of emotion is what clued Kirk in to the fact that young Spock does, in fact, feel emotion, and must be in complete turmoil after seeing his home destroyed and his mother killed. Well, it hinted, anyway. Kirk also required a slightly more direct hint from future Spock.

Future Spock was there for more than just providing broad hints to Kirk, however. He also does a bit of time-tinkering when he gives Scotty an equation that, in a different time line, Scotty invented himself. The equation allows Kirk and Scotty to do what is supposedly impossible: transport themselves onto the Enterprise while it’s going at warp speed. It’s a nice showcase of how clueless, yet totally genius, Scotty is. The best warp scene, however, has to be when Sulu is trying to get the Enterprise underway on her maiden voyage. Captain Pike orders the ship to maximum warp, Sulu cranks it up… and nothing happens, until Spock reminds a slightly embarrassed Sulu to take off the external inertial dampeners. I have to say, Pike’s phrase “punch it” to take them into warp doesn’t stir my heart the way Picard’s calm “engage” does. But that’s a personal preference.

Last but most definitely not least, I loved the redshirt scene. Poor, poor Olsen. Now, I’ve heard some griping about this scene—that if the mining platform was so windy as to blow Olsen away, how could Kirk and Sulu then stand on it and engage in hand-to-hand combat? Well, if you watch the scene again, you’ll see that Olsen (handily visible in his bright red jump suit) pulls his parachute far too late, and doesn’t slow down enough to get hold of anything solid on the mining platform before he tumbles away. In true Star Trek redshirt fashion, not only is Olsen unknown and wearing red, he’s carrying one of the most important things required for the away team’s mission: the charges required to blow up the platform and restore communications and transporter functions. Of course, no one thinks to distribute these between all three men on the mission, just in case—but then, they couldn’t really do that and keep it a true redshirt moment. Olsen was doomed the minute we met him, and we all knew it.

Overall, I think the movie was fantastic. There are a ton of reviews out there now, if you want to check out what other people thought of the newest addition to the Star Trek cannon. I’m going to leave you with a few of the best phrases from the movie, courtesy of my favorite character, Dr. Bones McCoy. Not only does he manage to get the phrase “Damn it, man, I’m a doctor, not a physicist!” in there, he also calls Spock a “green-blooded hobgoblin,” which made me giggle like a schoolgirl. And I will swear up and down that he calls one of the nurses Nurse Chapel, which should please a lot of fans out there.

Oh, and did you spot the tribble?

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2. Star Trek Terminology

by Cassie Ammerman, Publicity Assistant

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 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.)

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.”

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.)

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.

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