Tuesday April 18, 2006

Experts Suggest What?

Sometimes being a long-time science fiction fan has unexpected side-effects.  For example, I was just now scanning the current headlines and I came across the following:

Experts Suggest Spacing Pregnancies

If you haven't been soaking in SF for a few decades, you probably understand immediately what the headline-writer means: experts are suggesting that women should wait some amount of time between pregnancies—perfectly reasonable advice.  But due to lexical interference from SF vocabulary, I misunderstood it to mean: experts are suggesting that women shove newborn babies out of an airlock.  Don't worry, though, after a brief whiskey-tango-foxtrot moment, I deduced they weren't recommending infacticide by explosive decompression.  Whew!

I had another encounter—or rather, a notable non-encounter—with the transitive verb to space recently.  After the big surprise in the recent season finale of Battlestar Galactica, I was poking around the 'net reading various recaps and discussions, and I noticed that some BSG fans seem to be using the verb to airlock (see here, here, and here for examples) where I would use the verb to space.  This seems like a needless redundancy in the lexicon.  Can't we all agree what to call it when you shove someone out an airlock?  Sooner or later somebody's going to actually do it, and it would be a shame to have to spend time afterwards arguing about the proper term.

[Now playing: "We Didn't Do It" by Tegan and Sara]

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
07:27 PM in Linguistics in SF , News | Submit: | Links:

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Comments

I refer to it as 'spacing'. To 'airlock' someone would be to put them into an airlock.

Or, alternately, there's the obscene definition of 'airlock' from the book 'Once More With Feeling' by Victoria Coren and Charlie Skelton ...

Posted by: Steve at Apr 18, 2006 9:44:33 PM

I refer to it as 'spacing'. To 'airlock' someone would be to put them into an airlock.

I'm confused. Aren't we talking about the same thing? Or are you making a distinction between putting someone into an airlock and putting someone out through an airlock?

Posted by: The Tensor at Apr 18, 2006 9:47:19 PM

The problem, as I see it, is that airlocking is ambiguous between putting someone into an airlock (and leaving them there), spacing someone via an airlock, and deep-sixing someone via an airlock. Spacing is nice and specific. As long as you're not dealing with pregnancies.

Posted by: includedmiddle at Apr 18, 2006 11:15:10 PM

I agree about the distinction between airlocking someone (like Mal did to Jayne in 'Ariel' on Firefly (he did eventually let him out...) and spacing them (which is what Mal was threatening to do, but didn't).

However, I'm confused by your interpreting "pregnancies" as "newborn babies".

I actually interpreted that, for a brief moment and only since you deal with sci-fi so much - as "experts recommend pregnant women be sent into space," loony as that is...

Posted by: The Ridger at Apr 19, 2006 5:57:38 AM

Does this mean that BSG viewers (and commentators) are not long-time SF fans? I'm putting my ignorance on display here, I only recently discovered TV SF, but I'd have thought trekkies (e.g.) would use "spacing" the way the Golden Age folks did. Is there a whole new generation of fans having to negotiate their language all over again?

Posted by: tikitu at Apr 20, 2006 9:01:10 AM

This argues against SF being actually, y'know, good for your brain.

Posted by: Deborah at Apr 25, 2006 1:26:34 PM

'spacing' is better; translates neatly into esperanto too (spacenigi)....

Posted by: giridhar at May 11, 2006 1:43:19 AM

Samuel Delaney, in his collection of essays, "The Jewel-Hinged Jaw" suggested that the lack of lexical interference was the reason some people just don't get sf or like to read it.
His example was the sentence "Suddenly her whole world exploded!" which could either be some kind of gothic-romance metaphor or a literal description of what happened to Princess Leia in the first Star Wars movie

Posted by: Carl Zeichner at May 11, 2006 2:26:29 PM

If the direct object of the verb “to airlock” is something inanimate it might imply a completely different action. Construction of an ad-hoc airlock, say, or maybe subjecting the item to a temporary vacuum in the airlock, or even storage of it in the airlock chamber.

“To space” is clear even with an inanimate direct object. In that case it doesn’t imply the murder of the object, only the disposal of it.

Posted by: James Crippen at Jul 28, 2006 2:54:24 PM

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