10 Everyday Words Star Wars Gave Us

Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Episode IV, Star Wars: A New Hope, the film that lit lightsabers everywhere, was released 40 years ago today. For the first time, we (or at least those of us who were alive back then) met Luke and Leia, Obi-Wan and Vader, Han and Chewie, C-3PO and R2-D2. It was also the first time we heard Star Wars lingo, so much of which, as linguist Mark Peters says, is now commonplace. Here are 10 everyday words given to us by Star Wars.

1. JEDI

Good at something? Feel free to call yourself a Jedi. This term for a knight of the light side—and by extension, someone proficient in a particular field or skill—is said to come from the Japanese word jidaigeki, a genre of Japanese period dramas set during the Edo period or earlier. Such dramas often feature samurai warriors, ronin (samurai without masters), craftsmen, merchants, and government officials, and are also believed to be the inspiration behind the Star Wars films themselves.

2. JEDI MIND TRICK

Although we first witness the Jedi mind trick in the original Star Wars (“These are not the droids you’re looking for,” Obi-Wan Kenobi convinces a Stormtrooper), we don’t hear the term until Episode VI, Return of the Jedi. “You weak-minded fool!” Jabba the Hutt chastises his underling. “He's using an old Jedi mind trick.” Now the term refers to any illusion or subterfuge.

3. THE FORCE

The Force is what gives a Jedi his power,” Obi-Wan tells Luke. “It's an energy field created by all living things.” It’s also been used to refer to everything from positive vibes to inner strength. The force also refers to a body of police, while the word comes from the Latin fortis, “strong.”

4. THE DARK SIDE

Along with a light side, the Force also has a dark side. The phrase is now commonly used to describe the negative aspects of something. The Dark Side of Giving Employees Unlimited Time Off, Digging into the Dark Side of Our True Crime Obsession, and The Dark Side of Detroit’s Renaissance are just a few examples.

5. NERFHERDER

“You stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerfherder!” Leia says to Han. This excellent insult seems to refer to zoophilia, says Peters. That is, a sort of, ahem, attraction to animals. Nerf, before becoming the brand name of soft, spongy toys, was originally a drag racing term meaning to bump another car, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). And in a collision of nerd universes, Nerf Herder is the name of the American rock band behind the Buffy the Vampire Slayer theme song.

6. STAR WARS

In the early 1980s, Star Wars became the derisive nickname for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), Ronald Reagan’s proposed defense strategy of destroying enemy weapons in space with lasers and anti-ballistic missiles launched from satellites. Aerospace journalist Robert Hotz wrote about the “real star wars” in a 1982 issue of Space World magazine, while TIME promptly called Reagan’s initiative his “star wars defense concept” after the SDI was publicly announced a year later.

7. CARBONITE

Before carbonite referred to the material that encased Han Solo in Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back, it was a coke-like material (1810), a kind of salt (1830), and a type of explosive (1890), according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The Star Wars definition was added to the venerable dictionary in 2008.

8. STORMTROOPER

“Only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise,” Obi-Wan says. While stormtrooper wasn’t coined in the Star Wars universe, the films certainly popularized the term. Stormtrooper first came about during World War I, according to the OED, and referred to a soldier, especially a German one, trained to carry out sudden assaults. By the early 1930s, it meant a member of the Sturmabteilung, a paramilitary wing of the Nazis. According to Google Ngrams, the popularity of the term dropped after 1944, rose to a peak in the mid-1970s (around the time Star Wars was released), and an even higher peak in the late 1990s (Episode I, The Phantom Menace was released in 1999).

9. DROID

Droid is another term that was popularized by rather than coined in the Star Wars films. Short for android—which was coined in the late 1800s, but popularized in the 1950s by science fiction writers—droid made its first appearance in the stupendously titled short story, “Robots of the World! Arise!” by Mari Wolf: “They're stopping robots in the streets—household Robs, commercial Droids, all of them.” The OED lists no other usages until Star Wars. "I'm only a droid,” says Threepio, “and not very knowledgeable about such things.”

10. PADAWAN

The Phantom Menace gave us one good thing: the word padawan. Meaning a Jedi apprentice, the term is now used to refer to any apprentice. “One of my super young cooks—I call him a ‘padawan’—always tries to taste stuff,” a Top Chef alum recently told US Weekly. Padawan is also a municipality in Malaysia. The name is apparently a blend of the Bidayuh words Padja and Birawan, Padja the name of the eldest son of an ancient village elder and Birawan the word for mystical healing beads.

Why 'Run' Is The Most Complex Word in the English Language

iStock.com/VectorStory
iStock.com/VectorStory

English can be hard for other language speakers to learn. To use just one example, there are at least eight different ways of expressing events in the future, and conditional tenses are another matter entirely. For evidence of the many nuances and inconsistencies of the English tongue, look no further than this tricky poem penned in 1920. (For a sample: “Hiccough has the sound of cup. My advice is to give up!”)

As author Simon Winchester wrote for The New York Times, there’s one English word in particular that’s deceptively simple: run. As a verb, it boasts a record-setting 645 definitions. Peter Gilliver, a lexicographer and associate editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, spent nine months sussing out its many shades of meaning.

“You might think this word simply means ‘to go with quick steps on alternate feet, never having both or (in the case of many animals) all feet on the ground at the same time,’” Winchester writes. “But no such luck: that is merely sense I.1a, and there are miles to go before the reader of this particular entry may sleep.”

This wasn’t always the case, though. When the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1928, the word with the most definitions was set. However, the word put later outpaced it, and run eventually overtook them both as the English language's most complex word. Winchester thinks this evolution is partly due to advancements in technology (for instance, “a train runs on tracks” and “an iPad runs apps”).

He believes the widespread use of run—and its intricate web of meanings—is also a reflection of our times. “It is a feature of our more sort of energetic and frantic times that set and put seem, in a peculiar way, sort of rather stodgy, rather conservative,” Gilliver told NPR in an interview.

So the next time you tell your boss you "want to run an idea" by them, know that you’re unconsciously expressing your enthusiasm—as well as all the other subtleties wrapped up in run that previous words like set failed to capture.

[h/t The New York Times]

11 Little-Known Words for Specific Family Members

iStock.com/kali9
iStock.com/kali9

The words we use for family members in English are specific about some things, and vague about others. Our vocabulary marks a distinction between our mother and her sisters (some languages use one word for mother and maternal aunts), but doesn't say whether siblings are older or younger (some languages have different words for brother and sister depending on their age relative to you). We lack words that pick out particular family members (we have cousin, but what about child-of-my-father's-brother?) as well as certain general terms (we have siblings for brothers-and-sisters, but what about nieces-and-nephews?)

If you look hard enough, you can find some words to help fill in the gaps. Here are 11 unusual English kinship words for family members.

1. Patruel

This one means "child of your paternal uncle." Also, a child of your own brother. It hasn't gotten a lot of use in the past few centuries, but it was once convenient to have a term for this relationship because it factored into royal succession considerations. The first citation for it in the OED, from 1538, reads, "Efter his patruell deid withoutin contradictioun he wes king."

2. Avuncle

Your mother's brother. Latin distinguished between patruus, father's brother, and avunculus, mother's brother. (There was also amita, father's sister, and matertera, mother's sister.) It's the root of the word avuncular, meaning "having to do with uncles" or "uncle-like" (i.e., kind and friendly, like an uncle). You won't find the word avuncle in the dictionary, but it has been used in anthropology texts and in papers concerning royal matters.

3. Niblings

Your nieces and nephews. You won't find this in the dictionary either, but use of this term seems to be growing among favorite aunts and uncles who want an easy way to refer to their little bundles of sibling-provided joy in a collective or gender-neutral way.

4. Fadu

Your father's sister. Latin amita covers this relationship, but we don't have to reach that far back to find an English equivalent. Old English made a distinction between aunts and uncles depending on whether they were maternal or paternal. We lost all that when we borrowed the more general aunt and uncle from French.

5. Modrige

"Your mother's sister," from Old English.

6. Fœdra

"Your father's brother," from Old English.

7. Eam

Your mother's brother. It survived in some dialects as eme, with a more general meaning of uncle or friend, into the 19th century.

8. Brother-uterine

Your half-brother from the same mother. This is a term used in old legal documents or other discussions of inheritance and succession. Half-siblings of the same mother are uterine and of the same father are consanguine.

9. Brother-german

Full brother, sharing both parents. Nothing to do with Germany. The german here is related to germane, which originally meant "of the same parents" and later came to mean just related or relevant.

10. Double cousin

Full first cousin, sharing all four grandparents. This comes about when a pair of sisters marries a pair of brothers, among other circumstances.

11. Machetonim

The parents of your child's spouse. Your child's in-laws. Ok, this is a Yiddish word, but one that, like a lot of Yiddish words, has poked its way into English because it fills a gap. When it comes to marriage, this can be a very important relationship, so it’s good to have a word for it. If your parents get along with their machetonim, the family—the whole mishpocheh—will be happier.

This story was republished in 2019.

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