Welcome to my guide on how to write technobabble! Every post will start with one letter of the alphabet, from A to Z, and cover tips and ideas for all you writers of sci-fi. Whether you’re writing about near-future science fiction, far-flung alien worlds, or historical steampunk adventures filled with advanced technology that never was – these posts are designed to help you write convincing and unique tech for your story!
N is for Names
With all of the tips and advice I’ve given about how to go about creating technology and analyzing how it fits into your story’s world, you might still be struggling with the actual naming of things. I gave some tips in my first post about using acronyms as names for gadgets and other sci-fi elements. And this post is another offering on how to actual create technobabble names or words.
The “N is for Names” of this post has a double-meaning, because using real names is a great way to name things in sci-fi. Much like using acronyms, there’s a precedent for this in the real world:
-the Geiger Counter, used to detect and measure radiation, is named for its co-inventor, Hans Geiger.
-Morse Code, the dots and dashes used with telegraph machines and still used today in certain situations, is named after Samuel Morse.
-the Petri Dish, used by biologists of all sorts to contain and study organic materials, is named after Julius Richard Petri.
-the Diesel engine, a now-common type of combustion engine, is named for its inventor, Rudolf Diesel.
-a Ferris Wheel, a popular ride at fairs and amusement parks, is named for its creator George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.
And the list goes on. Naming an invention or discovery after the person responsible for it is a time-honored tradition, and it can work for your fictional world, as well.
I used this in Blueshift, a sci-fi novelette that I wrote. I needed an official-sounding name for the ring-shaped space station in the story, so I named it after the fictional designers of that style of space station: Dyson-Vanderklein Habitable Ring Array.
In the Star Trek universe, one of the many pieces of tech mentioned periodically is the Heisenberg Compensator. Clearly, this is a gadget that is named after someone—but in this case, it’s not just an arbitrary name. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (named after Werner Heisenberg who first formulated the concept in the 1920s) says (in simplistic terms) that it is impossible to know both the exact position and exact momentum of a particle at the same time. What this means is that the transporters used in Star Trek could never be possible (because the machine could never know the exact placement of every atom in your body in order to teleport you). And so, to overcome this problem and thus create the fabulous “beam up” devices, a tech gadget was invented that could compensate for the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.
This technique was also used in older stories, like the ones by Jules Verne. When Verne was writing his novels, “science fiction” wasn’t a genre yet; and now, they’re often considered steampunk or retro-futurism. At the time, though, he was just writing wildly creative adventure stories. In A Journey to the Center of the Earth, the adventurers carry Ruhmkorff coils to generate artificial light without using torches or candles. These coils were real, named after the 19th century German inventor who commercialized the use of the generic induction coil. In some versions of Verne’s story, they are called Ruhmkorff Lamps: a “technobabble” term that was based on a real invention, but didn’t quite exist as such in real life.
So if you’re trying to come up names for your tech, then just look to “names,” both real and fictional, and create your eponymous technobabble!