Questions Regarding the History of the Term "Psionics."

Aaron L

Adventurer
I was just re-reading this wonderful article about Gary Gygax and D&D's contributions to the English language: From the Dungeon to the Dictionary

But it left me with wondering; in the article, it states " ...he [Gygax] is the popularizer of teleport and psionic, both of which feature prominently in Theodore Sturgeon's compelling 1953 SF novel More than Human... " Is this really the case? Does the prevalence of the terms psionic and teleport really pay a large debt to Gygax's use of the terms in D&D and their spread into popular culture due to their use by D&D players? I really have no idea about psionics, as the term has been in my vocabulary for literally as long as I can remember, but then again I have been a fan and heavy reader of fantasy and science-fiction also for as long as I can remember.

Does anyone know when these words became commonly established? Or recall a time when psionics was a novel term in the world at large? As for teleport, from what I understand the word is generally credited to Charles Fort as teleportation to describe things disappearing or inexplicably moving from place to place without discernible cause, and I'm pretty sure it was already in widespread use to mean "moving from one place to another without crossing the physical space in-between" in science-fiction in general at least since the 1950s or '60s; I do recall that in Uncanny X-Men #1 Jean Grey was said to be able to move objects with her mind through the use of teleportation rather than telekinesis, as I don't think those words had quite yet acquired their final, concrete meanings by that point in the '60s (or maybe they already had and Stan Lee just goofed and mixed up the terms, which is totally possible.)

I know that there was a popular trend of research into ESP and psychic phenomena in the '70s and '80s at various universities and government/military institutions, as an outgrowth of the general psychedelic ideas and "New Age" beliefs that were entering popular culture at the time (see Altered States, one of my favorite movies) but from what I understand in that research it was generally termed just "psi" and not the full "psionic," but I could be wrong and the researchers could have just been using "psi" as shorthand for "psionic."

Does anyone have any idea when the term "psionics" really started becoming commonly known? I'm curious. I assume that its use in comic books spread it further than anything else (no one can read any X-Men comic book for long without coming away with an understanding of what psionics or psionic power means.) Or are there any other D&D related terms that seem common to you but have baffled other people when you used them? I know that just recently my mom was baffled when I used the word "ichor" and she said she had never heard the word before in her life, which actually astonished me as she is otherwise generally quite well-read; I didn't think ichor was that obscure, either as a general term for "monster gore" or as the original meaning of the golden, nectar-infused blood of the Greek Gods. I also know that eldritch used to be obsuce until Lovecraft resurrected it, and even now it is still generally associated with him. Anyone else have any similar experiences?
 
Really what it comes down to is specific cultural experience. Old science fiction fans were probably familiar with psionics as early as its creation in 1951, and the concept as early as the 1930. Gamers might have become familiar with it during the rise of D&D, especially during the golden age of the 80s. I'd bet most D&D players probably aren't that familiar with the word, unless they played in Dark Sun or AD&D. It was part of 3E and 4E, but not heavily, and even in 2E it really wasn't that big outside of Dark Sun. Outside of these groups, I would doubt many people would even believe it's a word.

As for odd words that most people are unfamiliar with, I have read that the English language has degraded significantly over the centuries, with the average person's lexicon shrinking dramatically. I've tried to search the internet for a source, but have been unable to confirm this. Since I read this in high school, it's quite possible this trend has reversed due to the internet. In either case, certain words have changed or become disused, and since our particular hobby has a basis in various historical ages, this has allowed us to revive them for our use. For those outside of the hobby, these words are like Latin... a dead language.
 

Raduin711

Explorer
Regarding "dweomer" I found this article in a blog about obscure words...


The Spell that Wasn't: *Dweomer

One of the most curious words in the entire corpus of Dungeons and Dragons books is *dweomer, which is defined in the 1st edition Advanced D&D Dungeon Master's Guide (1979, p. 228) as follows: "From dweomercraeft, the art (craeft) of magic (dweomer)" . Fair enough, but then whence dweomercraeft? Turns out it is a real, if obscure, word used in Middle English (and presumably in Old English). (As a side note, I find words that start with dw- to be very compelling. The only common ones in English are dwarf, dwell, dwindle, and their derived forms, but how do you like dwale?)

Dweomercraeft first shows up in Layamon's Brut, an epic history of England in verse, a sort of ancestral text to the Arthurian legends, written about 1215 (over a century before Chaucer), which uses almost no Anglo-Norman (i.e. derived from Norman French words). Layamon writes, "And Peluz hit wiste anan thurh his dweomer-craeften". This doesn't help us much, but we also know of an Old English word gedwimer meaning 'sorcery' and gedwimere meaning 'sorcerer, juggler'. There is also a Middle English word dweomerlayk 'magic, practice of occult art, jugglery', also used by Layamon, and used by some later Middle English authors as 'demerlayk'. And so the OED, based on this evidence, defines dweomercraeft as 'jugglery, magic art'.

Nevertheless, *dweomer is an entirely novel term, coined by decomposing and folk etymologizing the compound dweomercraeft in a way that no earlier author had done. Gygax has re-etymologized 'dweomer', as in D&D it always describes a spell or an act of magic rather than sorcery in general. It's a very innovative neologism, one with nearly 8,000 Google results, and has been used elsewhere in print by fantasy authors such as Katherine Kerr, a gamer whose novels have been strongly influenced by D&D. Despite its great antiquity, 'dweomer' is truly new to English.

A possible origin: 'dweomerlayk' shows up as 'Dwimmerlaik' in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, as an epithet applied to the Witch-King of Angmar by Eowyn at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields - you know, that whole 'I am no man' spiel. Tolkien also refers to Dwimorberg, the Haunted Mountain, and Dwimordene, the name given by the people of Rohan to Lorien. All of these 'dwimmers' and 'dwimors' mean 'haunted' in the Rohirric language, which is of course just Old English (cf. Foster's The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth, p. 101). There's no specific evidence that this is the source of Gygax's *dweomer (Tolkien certainly never uses it in that spelling, or as a noun, or as a non-compounded word of any sort), but it certainly could be, given the influence of Tolkien's oeuvre on the concepts and settings of Dungeons and Dragons.
TL;DR "Dweomer" appears to be a Gygaxian invention, though the word "dweomercraeft" appears in an early middle-english text meaning sorcery or magic.
 

Aaron L

Adventurer
Regarding "dweomer" I found this article in a blog about obscure words...




TL;DR "Dweomer" appears to be a Gygaxian invention, though the word "dweomercraeft" appears in an early middle-english text meaning sorcery or magic.
Oh, totally; the article I linked to at the beginning goes into some details about dweomer as well, and how it was used by Tolkien in Lord of the Rings, where he spells it "dwimmer" (the way it is supposed to be pronounced.) As I recall, Eowyn even called the Witch-King of Angmar a "Dwimmerlaik."
 

Aaron L

Adventurer
Really what it comes down to is specific cultural experience. Old science fiction fans were probably familiar with psionics as early as its creation in 1951, and the concept as early as the 1930. Gamers might have become familiar with it during the rise of D&D, especially during the golden age of the 80s. I'd bet most D&D players probably aren't that familiar with the word, unless they played in Dark Sun or AD&D. It was part of 3E and 4E, but not heavily, and even in 2E it really wasn't that big outside of Dark Sun. Outside of these groups, I would doubt many people would even believe it's a word.

As for odd words that most people are unfamiliar with, I have read that the English language has degraded significantly over the centuries, with the average person's lexicon shrinking dramatically. I've tried to search the internet for a source, but have been unable to confirm this. Since I read this in high school, it's quite possible this trend has reversed due to the internet. In either case, certain words have changed or become disused, and since our particular hobby has a basis in various historical ages, this has allowed us to revive them for our use. For those outside of the hobby, these words are like Latin... a dead language.
I think the degradation of commonly spoken English is self-evident by just listening/reading to how people spoke even a hundred years ago, with people commonly using more poetic words and more eloquent sentence structures. Today's common speech, in comparison, can almost come across as simplistic grunting in a lot of cases.

I try to speak in a more refined and eloquent register, unfortunately a lot of the time I run into people who either mock me or become actually upset about my being "overly formal." And don't even bother trying to explain that you are speaking politely and eloquently in an attempt to show respect to the person with whom you are speaking instead of simply monosyllabically grunting at them, they will nevertheless almost always still interpret it as being condescending and supercilious. And then there are the (many) people who simply don't understand a word you are saying if they are comprised of more than two syllables... years ago, my former best friend and Dungeon Master, with whom I did almost everything with, got a new girlfriend, and he tried to encourage her to become friends with me by having me accompany the two of them on outings in the same way that I would accompany him and his former girlfriend all the time. It was almost comical the way he and I were discussing some kind of D&D-related philosophical subject during a certain car ride and she would interrupt us every other sentence to ask him "what the Hell did he just say?" And then he would have to rephrase what I had just said using simpler, elementary school level words, even though the language I had used had been far from difficult to understand. It would have been comical if it hadn't been so tragic; in the end, she "encouraged" him to stop associating with me and to instead become friends with other people who were more tolerable to her and never spoke about philosophy, nor science, nor anything else beyond the grasp of your average dull 5th-grader, and she barely tolerated his playing of D&D and love of fantasy and science fiction. There isn't really any bad blood between he and I and we still text message each other occasionally, but it is a bit strained and being able to hang out with him now is simply out of the question because she openly shows her disapproval. Losing him, and the rest of that group of friends who all moved away around the same time, essentially cut me off from having any social circle and I never was able to find any other friends to make up for it, and that was basically the end of my social life... all because she didn't like the way I speak and thought I was too much of a smarty-pants nerd.

(Yes, I am a bit of an intellectual elitist, and I make no apologies about it. I don't consider myself a genius nor do I go out of my way to make other people feel stupid or condescend to them, I don't insult anyone nor intentionally use "big words" to try to confuse them, but the anti-intellectual biase of American culture causes a whole lot of people to be actively hostile to anyone who speaks using any kind of eloquence or precision, or shows that they have a mind and take pride in using it and who take care in how they speak. I quite often find myself having to pause and intentionally "dumb down" the things I am about to say so as not to alienate people. The current political climate especially has made it acceptable among certain groups to attack anyone who shows any signs of having an intellect or education.)

The creative use of language is one of the reasons why I appreciate writers like Joss Whedon, who is known for breaking conventional language rules with "Buffy-Speak," but in such a way that makes it evident that it's being done not because he doesn't know any better or doesn't understand how to use language properly, but rather as a creative expression from someone who thoroughly does understand the rules well enough to bend and break them creatively and well. You cannot break the rules so well if you don't understand them properly in the first place.
 
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LordEntrails

Adventurer
Well, if the article (as stated) claims that Gygax and D&D popularized 'teleport' then I have no faith in the accuracy of any other statement made in the article.

'Star Trek' had teleporters on nationally syndicated television in 1966. I'm sorry folks, ST has had a much bigger impact on society than D&D has, and it started earlier.

So, if the article can't get teleport right, then I have no faith it has any other statements correct either. I would credit it as an article from a Gygax fan wishing to impart importance that is not justified.
 

Salthorae

Imperial Mountain Dew Taster
Pretty good history of the word on its wiki page


As it doesn't appear in either Oxford English Dictionary or the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, wiki is one of the better sources for the history here.

It appears earlier than More than Human but not much earlier.
 

Aaron L

Adventurer
I think the degradation of commonly spoken English is self-evident by just listening/reading to how people spoke even a hundred years ago, with people commonly using more poetic words and more eloquent sentence structures. Today's common speech, in comparison, can almost come across as simplistic grunting in a lot of cases.

Which is one of the reasons why I appreciate writers like Joss Whedon who are known for breaking conventional language rules, as with "Buffy-Speak," but in such a way that makes it evident it's being done not because he doesn't know any better or doesn't understand how to use language properly, but rather as a creative expression from someone who thoroughly does understand the rules, well enough to break them creatively and well. You cannot break the rules so well if you don't understand them properly in the first place.
Well, if the article (as stated) claims that Gygax and D&D popularized 'teleport' then I have no faith in the accuracy of any other statement made in the article.

'Star Trek' had teleporters on nationally syndicated television in 1966. I'm sorry folks, ST has had a much bigger impact on society than D&D has, and it started earlier.

So, if the article can't get teleport right, then I have no faith it has any other statements correct either. I would credit it as an article from a Gygax fan wishing to impart importance that is not justified.
I can't agree with this; I cannot recall them ever actually using the word "teleport" nor "teleporter" in Star Trek; the teleportation device used in Star Trek has always been called a "Transporter" for as long as I can remember, from the original Star Trek to The Next Generation to Deep Space Nine and beyond (Deep Space Nine was the last Star Trek series I could stand to watch; I absolutely loved DS9 but Voyager was horrendous in my opinion, and Enterprise not much better til the last season. Throwing in busty women in clingy catsuits as main cast members while everyone else wears practical clothing, in a jarringly blatant attempt to attract ogling male viewers, is never a sign of quality in a Star Trek series. Having attractive women is fine (the actress of Jadzia Dax was originally a model, although I actually thought Ezri was much cuter) but let them wear normal uniforms like the rest of the cast rather than skin-tight spandex, for Roddenberry's sake.

I was talking about the actual term "teleport", not the concept of teleportation itself.
 
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Aaron L

Adventurer
Pretty good history of the word on its wiki page


As it doesn't appear in either Oxford English Dictionary or the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, wiki is one of the better sources for the history here.

It appears earlier than More than Human but not much earlier.
Yeah I had read that, I was just wondering if anyone had any personal recollections of the term's early use, or could recall noticing that it had become more prevalent. :)
 
I'd bet most D&D players probably aren't that familiar with the word, unless they played in Dark Sun or AD&D. It was part of 3E and 4E, but not heavily, and even in 2E it really wasn't that big outside of Dark Sun. Outside of these groups, I would doubt many people would even believe it's a word.
Psionics was back in AD&D I have never played or even looked at Dark Sun or 3E or 4E for that matter but we tried Psionics when playing in the early/mid 80s and using AD&D. So I am pretty sure players of that vintage would be aware of Psionics well before Dark Sun came along.
 

Azzy

Cyclone Ranger
Psionics was back in AD&D I have never played or even looked at Dark Sun or 3E or 4E for that matter but we tried Psionics when playing in the early/mid 80s and using AD&D. So I am pretty sure players of that vintage would be aware of Psionics well before Dark Sun came along.
Psionics were also in the original D&D game, in one of its expansions (Eldritch Wizardry, I think).
 

Aaron L

Adventurer
Psionics was back in AD&D I have never played or even looked at Dark Sun or 3E or 4E for that matter but we tried Psionics when playing in the early/mid 80s and using AD&D. So I am pretty sure players of that vintage would be aware of Psionics well before Dark Sun came along.
Yes, the psionics rules were right there from the PHB in 1st Edition AD&D, and as I recall from a thread on another 1E focused website one of the early AD&D writers stated that their inclusion was influenced by Dr. Strange comic books, which is just fascinating to me. Dr. Strange as a D&D character would have a mix of Wizard, Sorcerer, Cleric, and Psionicist abilities (learned Wizardly powers, training in innate gifts of Sorcery, magic channeled from Cosmic Beings like the Vishanti, and learned Psionic skills like Telepathy and Astral Projection. Dr. Strange has telepathic abilities the same as Professor Xavier or Jean Grey, but while Xavier's and Grey's abilities are natural expressions of their mutant abilities and manifested regardless of any training (indeed, they need training in order to suppress the ability and inadvertently read everyone's mind without meaning to) Dr. Strange had to undergo intense mental training to learn to tap into the parts of his mind to activate those abilities.)
 

Aaron L

Adventurer
Psionics were also in the original D&D game, in one of its expansions (Eldritch Wizardry, I think).
Yup; comic books, and Dr. Strange in particular, were apparently quite popular among the early TSR staff, as evienced by panels from Dr. Strange comics being used as covers for early D&D booklets. The psionics rules were apprently inspired in part by their use by Dr. Strange; Strange's psionic mental abilities are a separate set of mystical/supernatural abilities he learned alongside his magical powers, and I assume the idea of making the D&D psionics rules to be a distinct element apart from the system for magical spells was inspired by that fact. There are overlaps of course, the Telepathy and Teleportation spells alongside the psionic disciplines of Telepathy and Teleportation, but I have always assumed that those spells used magic to activate the psionic centers of the caster's mind to achieve the effects. When a Magic-User cast a Teleport spell, the spell actually activated the psionic areas of his mind to manifest the psionic Teleportation effect.

Either that, or the spells simply use magic to achieve the same results, and perhaps the spells were inspired by early Magic-Users seeking to duplicate the "natural" psionic abilities they had witnessed being manifested by psionically-active individuals. (I assume naturally occurring psionic abilities among certain individuals existed before mortals learned to use magic.) But I prefer the idea that the spells actually activate the psionic effects. :) I like a nice blending of magic and psionic powers like that. Either way makes no actual difference in the game.
 

LordEntrails

Adventurer
I can't agree with this; I cannot recall them ever actually using the word "teleport" nor "teleporter" in Star Trek; the teleportation device used in Star Trek has always been called a "Transporter" for as long as I can remember, ...
I was talking about the actual term "teleport", not the concept of teleportation itself.
Correct, the formal ST term has always been "matter-energy transporter". Which a definition of is "A transporter is a fictional teleportation machine used in the Star Trek universe."

I think cutting the difference between transporter and teleporter in common culture is a lot like arguing the difference between a "Kleenex" and a "tissue". Sure, they are different, but to the common person they are interchangeable.
 
I quite often find myself having to pause and intentionally "dumb down" the things I am about to say so as not to alienate people.
I often have to clarify words I use with my wife, but she takes no offense. She's aware of her intellectual limitations, and that I am more educated and well read. When she reads her romance novels and comes across a word she's unfamiliar with, she has no qualms about asking me for clarification.

Of course, she's aware that she possesses FAR more common sense than I, so we balance each other out quite nicely ;)
 

Aebir-Toril

Is lukewarm on the Forgotten Realms
I often have to clarify words I use with my wife, but she takes no offense. She's aware of her intellectual limitations, and that I am more educated and well read. When she reads her romance novels and comes across a word she's unfamiliar with, she has no qualms about asking me for clarification.

Of course, she's aware that she possesses FAR more common sense than I, so we balance each other out quite nicely ;)
Dear god, I do hope that this is a joke.
 

Bohandas

Explorer
IIRC the term "Teleport" was originally coined by the early 20th century paranormal investigator Charles Fort

EDIT:
I think the phrase "wild talent" was also coined by Fort
 

Tonguez

Adventurer
The elevation of Psionics into a nerd vocabulary can be attributed to John W Campbell editor of “Astounding Stories of Super-Science” as a portmanteau of psychic electronics (as it was about quantifying units of psychic energy). It followed Radionics and preceeded Bionics and Cryonics.

Astounding Stories and similar pulp sci-fi of the 50’s claim the role of establishing Psionics

as for Teleport, I’d say it was Star Treks Beam me up Scotty
 

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