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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Wednesday (10/2/13) 8:57pm - ... wherein Peter writes about technobabble.

Bridget asked me about how to improvise "technobabble", AKA the random and vaguely-scientific phrases you often hear in science fiction.  I thought about giving an overview of basic terms for the most significant branches of science, but that would take forever, and might not even help much.  Instead, I'll provide something more directly useful:

The Ten-Minute Guide To Inventing Technobabble

This'll be a quick'n'easy way to invent phrases like "the inverse transtemporal field."  Wouldn't that come in handy in a show?  "There's no way to fire the engines!  We're trapped in an inverse transtemporal field!"  Perfectly credible sci-fi-ery.

We're going to make phrases of this form:
1. Adjective
2. Fancy adjective
3. Noun

And it'll be like a Chinese menu -- just memorize a few selections for each, and you'll be able to create a vast number of phrases.


For (1), let's just use a list of three sciencey adjectives.  I'll give you the meanings of the adjectives just for fun -- really, knowing what they mean is absolutely unnecessary.

"Quantum" -- this means that this stuff comes in a numeric quantity that's a whole number.  So, less like water, where you can have 1.52343 liters of water, and more like dogs, where you have 1 dog, or 2 dogs, or 3 dogs -- not 1.5 dogs.

"Inverse" -- upside-down or backwards.  An inverse dog is a dog standing on its head.

"High-energy" -- self-explanatory.  A high-energy dog is very troublesome.

So, applying these to the first example, we could have a "quantum transtemporal field", an "inverse transtemporal field", or a "high-energy transtemporal field".  Options!


Let's move on to element (2), the "fancy adjective".  The fancy adjective is "fancy" because it is actually a *prefix* plus an adjective.  So we'll see a few prefixes, followed by a few adjectives.

"Trans-": This prefix means "across".  A transatlantic dog has crossed the Atlantic ocean.

"Ultra-": This prefix means "high".  Many ultrasonic noises are too high for our hearing, but are audible to dogs.

"Cyclo-": This prefix means "circular".  A "cyclotron" shoots elementary particles in a circle.  (Alas, we're losing the 'dog' pattern here.)

And now, the adjectives we can prefix those onto:

"Temporal": Relating to time.

"Spatial": Relating to space.

"Nuclear": Relating to nuclei, the bits at the centers of atoms.

So now we're getting somewhere.  This set of prefixes and adjectives give us lovely words like "cyclotemporal" and "transnuclear".  Add in the (1) adjectives, and we can have a "high-energy ultraspatial..." something-or-other.


Okay, that brings us to (3), the nouns.

"Anomaly": when "this is weird and I have no idea what it is" would sound awkward, scientists say "anomaly" instead.

"Field": the region where something is in effect.  If you drop an apple anywhere in the earth's "gravitational field", it will fall towards earth, because the earth's gravity applies there.

"Flow": self-explanatory -- describes when a force, or a fluid, or energy, is moving from one place to another.


So now we can put these all together.  If we arbitrarily pick the first item off each list, that gives us a "quantum transtemporal field", and there's even money that that phrase has been used in a Doctor Who episode somewhere.  Hopefully with a bit of practice you'll gain facility with these 4 x 3 = 12 lexical building blocks, and you'll be good for spouting out random science-y terms when the situation calls for it.

If you get this down pat and feel like going beyond it, here are a couple of possibilities:

Mood: [mood icon] amused · Music: none
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