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

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.

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Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain
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History
The Time the Oxford English Dictionary Forgot a Word
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain

When the complete edition of what would become the Oxford English Dictionary debuted in 1928, it was lauded as a comprehensive collection of the English language, a glossary so vast—and so thorough—that no other reference book could ever exceed its detail or depth. In total, the project took seven decades to catalogue everything from A to Z, defining a total of 414,825 words. But in the eyes of its editor James Murray, the very first volume of the dictionary was something of an embarrassment: It was missing a word.

Looking back, it’s impressive that more words were not lost. Assembling the OED was a nightmare. Before the first volume—an installment consisting of words beginning with the letters A and B—was published in 1888, multiple editors had taken (and abandoned) the helm, and each regime change created new opportunities for mayhem. When James Murray took command in 1879, the Oxford English Dictionary could best be defined by the word disarray.

The irony of making this massive reference book was that it required millions upon millions of tiny, tiny pieces of paper. Every day, volunteers mailed in thousands of small strips of paper called “quotation slips.” On these slips, volunteers would copy a single sentence from a book, in hopes that this sentence could help illuminate a particular word’s meaning. (For example, the previous sentence might be a good example of the word illuminate. Volunteers would copy that sentence and mail it to Oxford’s editors, who would review it and compare the slip to others to highlight the word illuminate.)

The process helped Oxford’s editors study all of the shades of meaning expressed by a single word, but it was also tedious and messy. With thousands of slips pouring into the OED’s offices every day, things could often go wrong.

And they did.

Some papers were stuffed haphazardly into boxes or bags, where they gathered cobwebs and were forgotten. Words beginning with Pa went missing for 12 years, only to be recovered in County Cavan, Ireland, where somebody was using the papers as kindling. Slips for the letter G were nearly burned with somebody’s trash. In 1879, the entire letter H turned up in Italy. At one point, Murray opened a bag only to find a family of live mice chewing on the paperwork.

When Murray took over, he tried to right the ship. To better organize the project, he built a small building of corrugated iron called the “Scriptorium.” It resembled a sunken tool shed, but it was here—with the help of 1029 built-in pigeonholes—that Murray and his subeditors arranged, sorted, and filed more than a thousand incoming slips every day. Millions of quotations would pass through the Scriptorium, and hundreds of thousands of words would be neatly organized by Murray’s trusty team.

One word, however, slipped through the cracks.

Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Media Specialist, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Bondmaid is not the kind of word people drop during conversation anymore, and that’s for the best: It means “a slave girl.” The word was most popular in the 16th century. Murray’s file for bondmaid, however, reached back even further: It included quotations as old as William Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the Bible.

But then bondmaid went missing. “Its slips had fallen down behind some books, and the editors had never noticed that it was gone,” writes Simon Winchester in The Meaning of Everything. When the first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1888, bondmaid wasn’t there. (That volume of the OED does miss other words, but those exclusions were deliberate matters of editorial policy—bondmaid is the only word that the editors are known to have physically lost.)

When the slips were later rediscovered in the Scriptorium, Murray reportedly turned red with embarrassment. By 1901, some 14 years after the exclusion, he was still reeling over the mistake in a draft of a letter addressed to an anonymous contributor: “[N]ot one of the 30 people (at least) who saw the work at various stages between MS. and electrotyped pages noticed the omission. The phenomenon is absolutely inexplicable, and with our minute organization one would have said absolutely impossible; I hope also absolutely unparalleled.”

All was not lost for the lost word, however. In 1933, bondmaid made its Oxford dictionary debut. It had taken nearly five decades to make the correction.

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10 Fascinating Facts About The Thesaurus

Writers often turn to a thesaurus to diversify their vocabulary and add nuance to their prose. But looking up synonyms and antonyms in a thesaurus can help anyone—writer or not—find the most vivid, incisive words to communicate thoughts and ideas. Since January 18 is Thesaurus Day, we’re celebrating with these 10 fascinating facts about your thesaurus.

1. ITS NAME COMES FROM THE GREEK WORD FOR TREASURE.

Greek lettering.
iStock

Most logophiles consider the thesaurus to be a treasure trove of diction, but the word thesaurus really does mean treasure! It derives from the Greek word thésauros, which means a storehouse of precious items, or a treasure.

2. YOU CAN CALL THEM THESAURUSES OR THESAURI.

Row of old books lined up.
iStock

How do you refer to more than one octopus? People say everything from octopuses, octopi, and octopodes. Similarly, many people have trouble figuring out the correct plural form of the word thesaurus. Though thesauri is technically correct—it attaches a Latin suffix to the Latin word thēsaurus—both thesauri and thesauruses are commonly used and accepted today.

3. EARLY THESAURUSES WERE REALLY DICTIONARIES.

Close-up of the term 'ideal' in a thesaurus.
iStock

Ask a French scholar in the 16th century to see his thesaurus, and he'd gladly give you a copy of his dictionary. In the early 1530s, a French printer named Robert Estienne published Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, a comprehensive Latin dictionary listing words that appeared in Latin texts throughout an enormous span of history. And in 1572, Estienne's son Henri published Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, a dictionary of Greek words. Although the Estiennes' books were called thesauruses, they were really dictionaries comprised of alphabetical listings of words with their definitions.

4. A GREEK HISTORIAN WROTE THE FIRST BOOK OF SYNONYMS.

Stacks of books surrounding an open book and a pair of glasses.
iStock

Philo of Byblos, a Greek historian and grammarian, wrote On Synonyms, a dictionary of synonyms that scholars consider to be the first ancient thesaurus. Dating to the late 1st century or early 2nd century CE, the book lists Greek words that are similar in meaning to each another. Sadly, we don’t know much more about On Synonyms because copies of the work haven’t survived over the centuries.

5. AN EARLY SANSKRIT THESAURUS WAS IN THE FORM OF A POEM.

Sanskrit lettering.
iStock

In the 4th century CE, an Indian poet and grammarian named Amara Sinha wrote The Amarakosha, a thesaurus of Sanskrit words. Rather than compile a boring list of similar words, Amara Sinha turned his thesaurus into a long poem. Divided into three sections—words relating to the divine, the earth, and everyday life—The Amarakosha contains verses so readers could memorize words easily. This thesaurus is the oldest book of its kind that still exists.

6. A BRITISH DOCTOR WROTE THE FIRST MODERN THESAURUS.

Portrait of Peter Mark Roget.
Thomas Pettigrew, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Peter Mark Roget is the British doctor credited with authoring the first modern thesaurus. In 1805, he began compiling a list of words, arranged by their meaning and grouped according to theme. After retiring from his work as a physician in 1852, Roget published his Thesaurus of English words and phrases; so classified and arranged as to facilitate the expression of ideas and assist in literary composition. Today, Roget’s Thesaurus is still commercially successful and widely used. In fact, we celebrate Thesaurus Day on January 18 because Roget was born on this day in 1779.

7. THE THESAURUS HAS A SURPRISING LINK TO A MATHEMATICAL TOOL.

Image of a vintage log log slide rule.
Joe Haupt, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The division between "words people" and "numbers people" is deep-seated. Many mathematicians may try to steer clear of thesauruses, and bibliophiles may avoid calculators, but the thesaurus is actually linked to a mathematical tool. Around 1815, Roget invented the log log slide rule, a ruler-like device that allows users to easily calculate the roots and exponents of numbers. So while the inventor of the thesaurus was compiling words for his tome, he was also hard at work on the log log slide rule. A true jack-of-all-trades.

8. THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY HAS ITS OWN HISTORICAL THESAURUS.

Synonyms for "love."
iStock

In 1965, a professor of English Language at Glasgow University suggested that scholars should create a historical thesaurus based on entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. The project was a massive undertaking, as people from multiple countries worked for 44 years to compile and classify words. Published in 2009, the Historical Thesaurus to the Oxford English Dictionary contains 800,000 words organized by theme and date. The thesaurus covers words and synonyms from Old English to the present day and lets readers discover when certain words were coined and how long they were commonly used.

9. ONE ARTIST TURNED HIS LOVE OF WORDS INTO A SERIES OF THESAURUS PAINTINGS.

Mel Bochner, "Crazy," 2004.
Mel Bochner, "Crazy," 2004. Francesca Castelli, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2014, the Jewish Museum in New York showed a survey of conceptual artist Mel Bochner’s art. Bochner had incorporated words and synonyms in his paintings for years—which were collectively referred to as the thesaurus paintings—featuring word paintings and lists of synonyms on canvas. The brightly colored paintings feature different groups of English and Yiddish synonyms. According to Bochner, Vietnam and Iraq war veterans cried after seeing his thesaurus painting Die, which features words and phrases such as expire, perish, succumb, drop dead, croak, go belly up, pull the plug, and kick the bucket.

10. THERE'S AN URBAN THESAURUS FOR ALL YOUR SLANG SYNONYM NEEDS.

Copy of an Urban Dictionary book.
Effie Yang, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Urban Dictionary helps people decipher the latest slang terms, but where should you go when you need a thesaurus of slang? Urban Thesaurus, of course! The site, which is not affiliated with Urban Dictionary, indexes millions of slang terms culled from slang dictionaries, then calculates usage correlations between the terms. Typing in the word money, for example, gives you an eclectic list of synonyms including scrilla, cheddar, mulah, coin, and bling.

This story originally ran in 2017.

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