New SF in the OED

The OED’s quarterly update of new and updated entries always makes for entertaining reading (especially if you can get access to the online version; I get it through the San Francisco public library’s website — it’s free to anyone with a library card, and all California residents are eligible; if you’re a CA resident and happen to be visiting SF, it’s well worth your time to get a card!). I always scan it for SFnal words, and the latest batch has some interesting ones.

First off is fembot, which is defined as “A robot resembling a woman in appearance. Also in extended use: a woman characterized as a robot.” This is probably most familiar from the Austin Powers movies, but the first citation is from the Oct. 24, 1976 Fresno Bee, regarding an episode of The Bionic Woman. Somewhere, there must still be a Steve Austin/Jaimie Sommers fandom which would be able to tell us whether the word was used in an episode, or whether it was the reporter or somebody in marketing who came up with the term.

Next is the venerable FTL, which they list as an adjective (and “also as adv.”), and which I decided was an abbreviation. They only go back to 1964, even though both BNW and the SF Citations Project take it back to 1950.

Less directly SFnal, but interesting nonetheless is galactically. The primary sense (“With regard to a galaxy or galaxies; in galactic terms.”) goes back to 1903 in a non-SF use. The entry for the second sense (“To a vast extent or degree; hugely, immensely.”) strikes me as odd because the first citation they give for it is from an Ursula K. Le Guin novel (The Dispossessed), and to my eye looks like a strictly literal use in the first sense. But you decide: “After all you’re a world-famous—a galactically famous scientist!”  It  does, I suppose,  mean ” to a vast extent” in this context, but mostly it means that the scientist is actually famous throughout the galaxy, or “in galactic terms.”

Finally, we come to silver surfer, a term which is perhaps only marginally SFnal. It refers to “an elderly or retired person who uses the Internet,” and is a reference in part to the Marvel comic book character, Silver Surfer, and in part to the sense of “silver” referring to the color of hair “when white with age”.

5 Responses to “New SF in the OED”

  1. Fred Galvin says:

    I see that one of their new entries is “breathability”, with an earliest cite from 1953 for the sense related to material or clothing, and 1955 for the sense “suitability of air for breathing”. Not a stfnal word, but I’d think there’d be some cites in old stf stories. When you land on a new Earth-like planet, you test the air for breathability, right?

  2. jeff says:

    I’d think so, too. Or at least, I wouldn’t be surprised.

  3. John Cowan says:

    “Galactically famous” is the furthest thing possible from literal in its context — in fact, it is comic hyperbole. At this point in Hainish history, neither FTL communication nor FTL travel is possible, and the likelihood is that outside the double planet Urras/Anarres, no one in the Hainish Expansion has ever heard of Shevek at all. Most of the planets, indeed, are completely out of contact and have been throughout their history — it is possible that Urras knows nothing of *any* extrasolar planet except Hain itself and Terra/Earth.

  4. jeff says:

    Thanks for the clarification. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve read The Dispossessed, so I had forgotten the larger context. It’s good to know that the OED’s lexicographers are on the ball, after all!

  5. San Diego Public Library also connects the library card owner to the OED Quarterly Update as part of access to Research Data Bases. It’s probably available in most California areas, so visitors to many parts of California can access it by signing up for a library card.

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