Sci-fi terminology is a real place : A new online dictionary goes further than any other has ever gone before.

''Warp speed'' may be a term of the moment, thanks to the federal coronavirus vaccine program. But it's also one with a history - which goes back further than ''Star Trek,'' to a forgotten 1952 science factory story in the pulp magazine imagination.

Ditto for ''transporter,'' ''moon base'' and ''deep space,'' to name just a few of the more than 400 words whose origins are getting pushed back earlier than their previously first appearance, thanks to the  Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction, a new free online resource.

A historical dictionary devoted to the history of something as future-oriented [and imaginary] as science fiction may seem like a contradiction in terms. But then science fiction has always had a curious relationship to the real world, said Jesse Sheidlower, its editor.

''Despite the fact that.a lot of people look down on science fiction as a genre, it's everywhere,'' he said. ''And there's a very interesting crossover between science fiction and science.''

The dictionary is the latest in a series of eclectic projects for SheIdlower, a former editor at large at the Oxford English Dictionary who first came to prominence in the 1990s, as part of a new generation of lexicographers injecting the field with a fresh nerd-cool factor.

Peter Gilliver, an executive director at the O.E.D. and the author ''The Making of the Oxford Dictionary,'' called the new online dictionary ''quite impressive, and very stylishly presented.''

Jessie doesn't like to leave any stone unturned,'' he said. ''He's a very dogged researcher.''

Historical dictionaries aim to show not just what words mean, but who has used them, in what contexts, and how these meanings have evolved.

They range from behemoths like the O.E.D., which attempts to cover the whole of the language, to national dictionaries like the Dictionary of. Canadianisms on Historical Principles to more specialized efforts dedicated to golf or hip-hop. 

The science fiction dictionary grew out of the Science Fiction Citations Project, a crowdsourced effort initiated in 2001 by the O.E.D. and managed by Sheidlower. The goal of that project was to expand the O.E.D.'s coverage of science fiction, something of a gap in its research, by drawing on the reading and knowledge of fans.

[''Brave New Words,'' a print historical dictionary based on the project and edited by Jeff Prucher, appeared in 2007.]

In early 2020, Sheidlower, who left the O.E.D.in 2013, got permission to continue the project independently .[In addition to the editing, he coded the site himself , and shares his research back with the O.E.D.

He also had a resource that didn't yet exist when the original project started : the Internet Archive's vast collection of digitized - and searchable - pulp magazines.

The World Students Society thanks author Jennifer Schuessler.


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