Writer’s Block: May the Fourth Be With You

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

If you’re a fan of science fiction cinema, and of Star Wars in particular, then this week’s column title is probably something you’ve heard before.

For several years now, May 4 has been celebrated as Star Wars Day by Star Wars and sci-fi fans around the globe. Fans spread feelings of goodwill by exchanging the wish, “may the Fourth be with you.” It’s a play on words, using the date on the calendar to allude to the common refrain “may the Force be with you”‘ repeated by Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Jedi master, and numerous other characters throughout the film franchise.

And since this Thursday was May 4, I thought I’d spread the goodwill to you, our readers, by saying may the Fourth be with you all.

The Force isn’t the only bit of jargon from a fictional universe to have inserted itself into our very real world, though. Personally, I’m a much bigger fan of another futuristic outer space canon — Star Trek — and a phrase made famous by one of its original characters, Mr. Spock.

For those unfamiliar, Spock was half human and half Vulcan — a humanoid race of highly intelligent, rigidly logical people. Though Vulcans eschewed feeling or expressing emotion in favor of interpreting their experiences through reason and a sense of clinical detachment, they were also fond of expressing a blessing for a good life and good fortune. “Live long and prosper,” they’d say as a form of greeting or goodbye to those they cared about.

Though there’s no Vulcan Day or Star Trek Day (as far as I know!) it’s not entirely unheard of to hear someone say “live long and prosper” once in a blue moon. There are other catchphrases from Star Trek which have become part of our vernacular, too. For example, Siri, the personal assistant found on Apple iPhones, will respond to you if you ask her to “Beam me up, Scotty.”

But it’s not just Star Wars and Star Trek. Who among us hasn’t said “I’ll be back!” or “Hasta la vista, baby!” in our best Austrian accent thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous character, The Terminator? I’ve said “I’ll be back” when I step out of the office to grab some lunch!

The word “grok” is a strange one that got its start in science fiction, too — in Robert A. Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land.” It’s a word that most closely means to understand something on a very deep level. It’s a word I first learned by reading Heinlein’s novel, but once I did learn it, I began to notice it being used in other places, even in casual conversations. I know I’ve used it myself in at least one of these columns.

And, who hasn’t heard of “doublespeak” and its related “doublethink?” That’s science fiction (George Orwell, “1984”), too! Nowadays you’re likely to hear one or both of those words while watching one of the evening cable political news shows.

I love that science fiction is such an integral part of the fabric of our culture. I love that themes, ideas, political and social commentaries that first got their starts in science fiction have evolved to become a bit of a pop culture shorthand to express those same kinds of things in our tangible, real-world conversations. What about you? Is there some phrase or figure of speech you use that has its origins in science fiction? Let us know online at www.portisabelsouthpadre.com.

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