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Prototype Worlds: A Glossary of SF Jargon

This is a glossary of SF coinages, collected for the enjoyment and education of SF fans, SF writers, lexicographers, and linguists.

Most of this glossary is words originally coined in science fiction to describe technologies that did not exist at the time of writing or SFnal ideas for which no obviously suitable mainstream term was handy (some of these have since become mainstream). Some words coined elsewhere but now used almost exclusively in SF (e.g. cyborg, ornithopter) are included.

The intent is to capture terms which are general to SF, not terms specific to one single imagined world. SF writers use, and experienced SF readers learn, a vocabulary that crosses multiple fictional worlds. This vocabulary of conventional terms conveys important information about the kind of world the author has imagined, and that world's relationship to the archetypes and tropes of SF.

Some terms used by SF fans in discussing SF, but not used in SF itself, are included. These are tagged "Critical term".

Contributions and corrections are invited; send them to Where an entry says "[first use unknown]" this is specific invitation to send information on the earliest usage you know about.

The glossary

SF Words and Prototype Worlds, an essay on the understanding of science fiction.

Recent Changes and Future Plans

(For convenience, here's a link to my commentary on the Encyclopedia of SF which describes the experience and knowledge-base from which these reviews were written).

The Oxford English Dictionary now has a similar project.

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