Now here's a surprise. I discovered the other day that with a little low cunning, I might just be able to sneak myself into the Oxford English Dictionary as official inventor of the word "condom". As my little brother the rock star once said after having a careful impression of his family jewels taken by Cynthia Plastercaster, I only hope our mother never finds out ...
Perhaps I'd better explain the sordid background. The OED has a specialist website for its SF word citations at www.jessesword.com/sf – hugely redesigned since I last mentioned it here in SFX. Visitors are encouraged to find and submit even earlier appearances of all the listed SF terms.
There are several small eye-openers there. Everyone associates Gotham – as a fictional version of New York City – with Batman, but US author Washington Irving used the name in precisely that sense in 1807. Everyone knows that the phrase "science fiction" was invented, like the genre itself, in the 20th century. However, dedicated OED research found it used in 1851, while the posher version "speculative fiction" goes back to 1889.
After that, it was a relief to confirm that no one has dethroned H G Wells as the original inventor of "heat ray", "time machine" and "time traveller". Isaac Asimov is still the main man for "robotics", dating from 1941. "Worm", in the modern sense of malicious self-propagating software, was indeed coined by John Brunner in his prophetic 1975 SF novel The Shockwave Rider.
Atomic, as in atomic explosives? Wells himself first dropped the Bomb in fiction, in The World Set Free (1914). Parallel universe? Wells yet again, in Men Like Gods (1923). Xenobiology? That was Robert A Heinlein in 1954.
A good many terms made popular by Star Trek come from much earlier. Force fields and tractor/pressor beams first appeared in SF in the 1931 magazine version of E E "Doc" Smith's Spacehounds of IPC. Jack Williamson – who died in late 2006 after an astonishingly long SF career that began with a first story published in 1928 – introduced space warps in 1936 and the Prime Directive (though somewhat different from Star Trek's) in 1947. The "warp drive" itself first appeared in the letter column of Marvel Science Stories magazine in 1951.
So it's mildly startling that no one seems to have called a robot a droid before Star Wars. The word makes its debut in George Lucas's second-draft script. Of course, if you reckon it's merely an abbreviation of "android", there's this earlier instance in (dramatic pause) Chambers Cyclopedia, 1727. In the same way, "robot" – based on a Czech term for forced labour – comes from Karel Capek's 1920 SF play R U R (Rossum's Universal Robots; English translation published 1923), but the short form "bot" didn't appear until Richard Meredith's novel We All Died At Breakaway Station (1969).
You'd expect the OED lists of SF words to be enormously long, but they don't count a word as entering the language of SF until it's used by multiple authors. Thus Ursula Le Guin's instantaneous galactic communicator the "ansible" (from Rocannon's World, 1966) has been adopted by various others and gets a listing ... but although it appeared much earlier, James Blish's closely similar "Dirac communicator" (from "Beep", 1954) was less popular and didn't make the cut.
A happy personal discovery at the OED site was their page on the word "geas", meaning a magical compulsion or binding spell. This was introduced to fantasy fiction by the great James Branch Cabell in 1921, but smugness overwhelmed me on learning that the newest "geas" citation is from one of my own sillier stories. Mind you, it would be even nicer if they actually credited me and gave the title instead of baldly mentioning the 1997 issue of Interzone where it appeared. That's a hint, OED people, a hint!
As for my famous invention of the condom, you'll probably have guessed the context by now. The OED wants pre-1987 appearances of the word in its non-rubbery SF community sense, as shorthand for "convention-going fandom" or "the SF convention scene". Their earliest cite was from Sharyn McCrumb's 1987 detective novel Bimbos of the Death Sun, which takes place at an unlikely SF convention. As it happens, though, my own newsletter Ansible first used "Condom" as the title of the convention news section in February 1986. Take that, Ms McCrumb! Fame at last!
But, just between you and me, I bet I wasn't the first.
David Langford has an uneasy feeling that Christopher (The Prestige) Priest wrote a fanzine column called Condom in the 1970s. Let's hope he doesn't read SFX.