Science fiction is a productive source of neologisms. Sometimes what is envisioned in fiction enters the lexicon before science makes it a reality, and sometimes futuristic and fantastic concepts that can never be real enter the language through science fiction. When we talk of the intersection between science fiction and popular culture, conversation inevitably turns to Star Trek. The original television series ran from 1966–69 and bequeathed us any number of spin-off series, movies, cartoons, and books, but it also left us with an enriched vocabulary. Alongside phasers and warp speed, the TV show gave us the mind-meld.
In the TV series, mind-melding is an ability possessed by the telepathic race of Vulcans to join the thoughts of two individuals. The term first appears in the episode “Elaan of Troyius.” The script for the episode was penned by J. M. Lucas on 23 May 1968, and the episode aired on 20 December:
Mr. Spock, […] he refuses to talk. I’ll need you for the Vulcan mind-meld.
While the word mind-meld is original to Star Trek, the TV series did not invent the concept. Science fiction writer Keith Laumer wrote of telepathic connections called mind links in his 1970 novel The House in November. Other writers have used the phrase mind link since, but it was Star Trek that brought the concept to and cemented it in the public consciousness.
Within a decade after its appearance in the TV series, mind-meld was being used to refer to a deep understanding or non-verbal communication between two people. From a column by Dr. Laura Schlessinger that appeared in the Kingston, Jamaica Sunday Gleaner Magazine on 4 August 1978, 5/4:
When people are in love, in an intimate relationships [sic], there is not automatic mind meld. People cannot know what is in each other’s mind.
One of the signs that a word has caught on and become a permanent part of the lexicon is when it becomes another part of speech. Mind-meld has become a verb, appearing as early as 1976 in Phil Foglio’s, And Then ... New York:
We’re backstage still waiting for Leonard Nimoy, who has gone thru 3 albums, mind-melded with 4 Trekkies and a Wells Fargo guard, faith healed a sick cat, and is halfway thru his current book.
The verb appears in a non-Star Trek context, in Sharyn McCrumb’s 1988 Bimbos of the Death Sun, 20:
I’ll find him if I have to mind-meld the desk clerk.
And you know a pop culture reference has come of age when a major politician flubs it. At a press conference on 1 March 2013 U. S. President Barack Obama melded two different strains of science fiction when he said:
Most people agree that I’m presenting a fair deal. The fact that they don’t take it means that I should somehow do a “Jedi mind-meld” with these folks and convince them to do what’s right.
He, of course, meant Jedi mind trick, which is another thing altogether and from Star Wars, not Star Trek.
Even imaginary abilities and things can have words and science fiction, like any other genre of literature, can be source of such words (and really awesome titles like Bimbos of the Death Sun).
“mind, n.1,” Oxford English Dictionary, third edition, 2002.
Prucher, Jeff, “mind-meld, n.,” “mind-meld, v.,” “mindlink, n.,” Brave New Worlds: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, Oxford University Press, 2007.
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton