blaster

Sometimes you find an antedating that is much earlier than you expected. Such is the case with blaster, the science fiction word for a ray gun.

The OED dates the science fiction use of blaster to 1950, with a first citation from an Isaac Asimov story, and I would have pegged that as about right for the era of the word’s invention. But this entry hasn’t been updated recently and Jeff Prucher’s Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction makes it out to be another quarter century older. From Nictzin Dyalhis’s “When the Green Star Waned,” which appeared in the April 1925 issue of Weird Tales:

I was holding my Blastor [sic] pointing ahead of me; for as I blundered full upon the monstrosity it upheaved its ugly bulk—how I do not know, for I saw no legs nor did it have wings—to one edge and would have flopped down upon me, but instinctively I slid forward the catch on the tiny Blastor, and the foul thing vanished—save for a few fragments of its edges—smitten into nothingness by the vibration hurled forth from that powerful little disintegrator.

Another early citation is from Henry Kuttner’s “Hollywood on the Moon,” which appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories in April 1938:

Blast out the lakes and canals—whittle down the peaks and mounds with atomic blasters—file them into the shape of gigantic buildings.

At the same time as these science fiction uses, blaster was being used for more conventional weapons. Green’s Dictionary of Slang records blaster being used in criminal slang in the sense of gunman by 1935, and by 1949 it was being used to refer to a firearm itself. For instance, Mickey Spillane’s 1963 Return of the Hood has:

They knew I had a blaster in my belt and would chop them down the second they moved.

Blaster in any sense first appears in the late sixteenth century as a word for a trumpeter. And its use in the context of explosives dates to the late eighteenth. And blaster appears by 1914 as an underworld slang term for someone who cracks safes with explosives. From a Washington Post article of 11 November of that year:

The boxman has a string of monachers such as “peterman,” “yeggman,” “blaster,” “heavyman” and “soup man.”

And in a usage that hearkens back to the original trumpeting sense, by 1989 we have the ghetto blaster, a large, portable cassette tape player.

These various senses of the word, from different arenas, are probably independent coinages. After all, blast + -er is a pretty ordinary etymology.


Sources:

Green’s Dictionary of Slang, 2010, s. v. blaster n.1., blaster, n.2.

Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, 1989, s. v. blaster, n.

Prucher, Jeff, Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, OUP, 2007, s. v. blaster, n.

Sheidlower, Jesse, Science Fiction Citations, s. v. blaster, n., 6 July 2008, http://www.jessesword.com/sf/home.

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