The word "taser" comes from an old racist science fiction novel


#1

[Read the post]


#2

Don’t worry, it’s a little know fact that Tom Swift suffers an horrible destiny while exploring the Mountains of Madness in the Antarctic region in 1925

He should not have underestimated that Nemo girl.


#3

I’m sure if Jack had just named it the Equal Opportunity Defibrillator we could have avoided all the breakdowns in LE/community relations.


#4

Don’t most words come from old racist sources?


#5

Voltage level is everything…


#6

Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle, a 1911 YA science fiction novel by Victor Appleton…

“Victor Appleton” is the collective nom de plume of the army of Stratemeyer writers that churned out these books, not an actual person.


#7

Just one problem. If you follow the link to Project Gutenberg and search the text for “taser” then you don’t find anything.
Which doesn’t really surprise me all that much - taser is a word playing on “laser” and they didn’t appear until the early 1960s.
So perhaps the concept stems from the book, though I’d not be especially surprised if there were other electric weapons out there in early science fiction, the word is new, and the backformation linking it to the novel seems spurious.


#8

Don’t go confusing facts with a good manufactured outrage.


#9

After all, if police and prisons are going to be the de-facto frontline of psychiatric care, why not expand the range of services offered?


#10

If you read the linked article:

The word Taser, though, didn’t start with the company: it’s actually a loose acronym of the book Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.

…and the NY Times obituary linked from the linked article:

He created an acronym from “Thomas Swift Electric Rifle,” adding the “A,” he explained to The Washington Post in 1976, “because we got tired of answering the phone ‘T.S.E.R.’ ”


#11

old racist science fiction novel

Isn’t that the rule rather than the exception?


#12

I’ve been thinking about this much lately. Why have I never heard the phrase “electric rifle” on the news? I think it would help relate how dangerous tasers can be.


#13

Not to be confused with “Victor Appleton II,” the purported author of a series of 1950’s and 60’s juvenile SF novels which featured the cold war, atomic age adventures of the child of the original series’s protagonist, “Tom Swift, Jr.”

I had an almost complete set of the “Jr” books when I was young, and loved them and re-read them until I got old enough to realize that they weren’t actually very good. They avoided being racist by the usual 50’s method of presenting a totally whitewashed, class-washed world, in which the only people who weren’t white and middle class were foreigners, usually up to no good and in the employ of the Russians (although for reasons that still make no sense to me, it was a nonexistent country with a made up name that stood in for the Soviet Union).

My father had a handful of the original, non-“Jr” books that he’d gotten from his father. I tried to read one once, and put it down only a chapter or so in, when the characters encountered a dialect-speaking “darky.”

Calling the original non-Jr books “racist” is completely true, but not very informative – they were mass market, turn-the-crank books, designed to be as bland and mainstream as possible. The racism in them tells us very little about the author or the editor of the series, but a great deal about American culture in the 10’s and 20’s.


#14

There are other electric weapons in early sci-fi(if memory serves, Captain Nemo used some sort of electrically-charged rounds to compensate for the very low muzzle velocities attainable underwater; which are actually conceptually much closer to how tasers work, though his were designed to be lethal); but the purported origin of the ‘taser’ name is not the story itself; but the acronym “Thomas A Smith’s Electric Rifle”.

Whether this is true, or a just-so story made up after the fact, I cannot say; but the claim is not, and has never been, that the device was named after the one in the story, or even particularly closely inspired by it; just that the inventor chose the name in homage to it.


#15

Nooooooo! How could Tom Swift be racist? I loved him when I was nine!

Also, while the Taser may be named for this book, I don’t think the books were all that technical. “Electric” in this context means a combination of modern and magic. I would have assumed it was a railgun - does the book describe elephants falling to their knees and convulsing?


#16

Didn’t Captain Nemo’s crew use electric rifles, underwater? OK… here they are:

ETA - @fuzzyfungus beat me to it.


#17

The story of naming the TASER after the acronym of the book’s title has pretty long legs. There’s not much else in the origin of the device to explain the name.


#18

Oh, Tom Swift suffers a horrible destiny at the Mountains of Madness, all right.

But he is not “exploring”.

He is a power-hungry mad scientist, willfully yielding himself to Evil.

He makes this perfectly plain in Tom Swift and His Elder Gods Communicizer.

For the love of all that is human and holy – what kind of man builds an Elder Gods Communicizer?


#19

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