Things the grind my gears – space edition

There are things that just bug me when I hear them, such as “irregardless” or “whole nother”.  Here’s some of those things as they relate to space and sci-fi terms.

1. Using “solar system” to describe and alien planetary system

This is a bit nitpicky, but it bugs me when I hear “solar system” used to describe a planetary system other than, you know, the Solar System.  Apparently there are a lot of people who don’t know the name of our star is Sol.  I’m not so picky about people calling other stars “suns”, because sun is a generic enough term, and it has a proper name anyway.  But hearing “the planet is in the Argos solar system” just makes my skin crawl.

By the way, I’m also lenient on using “star system” instead of “planetary system”, even though a star system is really two or more stars, which may have their own planetary systems, that orbit each other.  I would think a singular “star system” would still be a star system.

2. People misusing “galaxy” for “planetary system” or mixing up “galaxy” and “universe”

This one really, really bothers me.  This is like mistaking a semi truck for a bicycle.  The Solar System is in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is part of the universe.  We’re talking orders of scale here, and it’s not like any of the words even sound alike.  Saying, “the Star Wars galaxy” makes sense, it’s a DIFFERENT galaxy.  Saying, “the Star Wars universe” is also o.k., if you’re talking about the fictional creation and all its parts.  But, “the fleet waited just outside the Star Wars universe” is WRONG.

3. Using “multiverse” to sound smart

The word “multiverse” has some specific connotations.  You use it when you’re talking about alternate dimensions and timelines, not just to sound impressive.  “No force in the multiverse could stop them” had better refer to a pan-dimensional/pan-time story.

4. Everything non-human is “alien”

This one is very common, and if the story is complete human-centric, then “alien” might be the right word.  But let’s take the Mass Effect universe for an example (see, using universe in the correct sense).  Humans are not the dominant species and, in fact, are very new to galactic civilization.  Now, when a human in Mass Effect refers to other species as “aliens”, that’s fine.  That’s that character’s prerogative. But when, say, a Turian refers to himself or other non-humans as “aliens”, it’s really jarring.  To a Turian, humans are aliens.  This is sometimes alluded to, but usually “alien” means “not human.”

5. Calling humans something else (like “Terrans”)

OK, in general this one can go either way, but our race is generally called “human”.  We use the word to mean a lot of different things, but still, it’s the name of our race (in English, anyway).  Mass Effect gets this right – humans are generally called humans, and the other races don’t necessarily have names that come from their planet’s name.  Krogan aren’t from Kroga, Asari don’t come from Asar, Turians don’t come from Turia (it’s Tuchanka, Thessia, and Palavan to be specific).  Many times, however, authors will have humans called “Terrans” and every non-human will be named for the planet the come from.  It’s just poor imagination.  I mean, Daleks don’t come from Dalekania.  And Skarro is actually a pretty cool name for a planet.

O.k., rant over.


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