Any impressive- and scientific-sounding, but ultimately nonsensical utterance.
Most common in Science Fiction (usually the softer kind), but military, medical and Police Procedural themed shows can also use it when they want the underlying technology to sound impressive.
Can be used to explain or justify plot developments or simply to add to the genre feel. Comes from the fact that scientific language, despite being meant to allow for easier understanding between scientists, sounds flashy and arcane to the untrained ear.
When technobabble is used to justify a plot development, it is Scotch Tape. When it is used to solve a problem, it is a Polarity Reversal. When it is used to add to the genre feel, it is Narrative Filigree. Due to its historical use and abuse by sci-fi writers, Technobabble is nowadays played more and more often for laughs or parodied in some way.
The difference between jargon and technobabble is that, while jargon may seem incomprehensible to anyone not part of that particular field, it does indeed make sense to anyone familiar with the terms involved, whereas technobabble means absolutely nothing. This part also applies to a good degree to non-science fields, where people may not know, for example, what a "1/4 flexible elbow" is, but if you're a plumber or A/C technician, you'd get it right away. Also, notice that technobabble is sometimes Truth in Television, as dishonest technicians sometimes resort to vague, senseless "technical" jargon to make up "serious problems" in the inner workings of a machine and offer to "fix" them for a high price. There is also an element of Reality Is Unrealistic in the concept of the trope: it is only to be expected, if you really think about it, that like all language scientific jargon will evolve over the course of a few centuries, with new words being coined and existing words changing their meaning. As a result, 24th century scientific lingo would naturally sound like complete nonsense to someone in the present in much the same way that modern day scientific lingo would no doubt sound to an inventor of the 1700's. The reverse is also true, if earlier science fictions are any guide.
Compare to Applied Phlebotinum and Green Rocks. When technobabble contradicts itself, well, A Wizard Did It. See also Blah Blah Blah and Technology Porn. Magi Babble for the fantasy version of this trope. Often the source of an Expo Speak Gag; may be Sophisticated as Hell. Particularly ridiculous technobabble may appear to someone with actual expertise as being a technical form of Delusions of Eloquence. Layman's Terms is the opposite trope.
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The latest commercials for Verizon FiOS TV/Internet service star a technician explaining the benefits of the service to a curious kid who spotted a weird light in his truck. The boy then repeats this technobabble to his dad (word for word!) to entice him to get the service.
How many times did you see an ad for a laundry detergent with "intelligent molecules"?
In the UK, there was a TV advert making a big deal over "perborate" — sounds advanced, but sodium perborate is such a common bleaching agent in detergents it's like making a fuss over caffeine in cola.
There's a commercial on in Canada selling some kind of laundry detergent that boasts about its "acti-lift technology".
Every commercial for shampoo, face creams, etc that make up any old scientific-sounding mumbo-jumbo to sound like they are terribly advanced and especially effective. Lampshaded in the shampoo commercial that points out "Here's the science bit."
Recent bottled water ads have been boasting its high pH level. Which is great, until you realize that lye has a pH of 13. (Pure water's pH is 7.)
Yuki Nagato: A localized, non-corrosive amalgamation of asynchronous space is independently occurring in restricted condition mode. Kyon: It almost sounds like you're flipping through a dictionary, pulling out words at random.
Combattler V had many blatant examples. In an episode, a court is judging Combattler is too dangerous to be controlled because it is made of super-alloy (chogokin) and powered with electro-magnetic energy.
In the manga version of the battle versus Jinray S1, Professor Yumi explains Jinray's electrical discharges generate an electro-magnetic field around Mazinger that disrupts the power feeding Mazinger and breaks down the Pilder's controls. He also warns that, should the electrical tension increase too much, Mazinger's mechanisms would melt.
In the episode in which Minerva-X appeared, Professor Yumi theorized that she was made of super-steel.
UFO Robo Grendizer: In an episode of the first season, the Vegans plot attacking during an eclipse and luring Duke to fight in the eclipse's umbra because the lack of solar waves will disrupt the flow of the Applied Phlebotinum that fuels Grendizer. Hence the Humongous Mecha will run out of power and will be rendered defenseless.
Kira Yamato: Take the calibration and reset the zero moment point and the CPG. Connect the control module to quasi-cortex molecular ion pump. Rebuild neural linkage network. Update meta-motor cortex parameters. Restart feed-forward control. Transfer functions, correct for Coriolis deviation... Online!
proceeds to shot out little exploding pellets that in no way affect Suzaku's oncoming Nightmare-frame.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is also infamous for its technobabble. It doesn't just feature babble about actual technology but about meta-physics as well, straight down to talking about things like "ego barriers."
Episode 20 had the best one when Shinji's been absorbed by Unit 01 and they're trying to get him out. Problem is, he doesn't want to come back.
Maya: The ego border is frozen in a loop.
Ritsuko: Irradiate the wave pattern from all directions... It won't work. The signals are trapped in Klein space.
Misato: What does that mean?
Ritsuko: It means we failed. Abort intervention, reverse tangent plug! Return additions to zero.
Aoba: Destrudo reaction in old area! Pattern sepia!
Hyuga: A change is confirmed on the core pulse too! + 0.3 confirmed!
Fuyutsuki and Gendo Ikari were experts in "metaphysical biology" (You got philosophy in my science! You got science in my philosophy!) before going military. In other words, the Eva universe had a field of science devoted to things like the Angels even before the Second Impact.
One of the most straightforward examples of this trope is in the fact that the MAGI must verify every Angel is "Blood Type BLUE" before the Evas can attack them. The fact that most Angels are several stories tall and shoot laser beams from their mouths isn't enough of a tip-off, apparently.
Subverted in episode 24 as Kaworu starts rattling off Expospeak until Shinji interrupts him with "I have no idea what you're talking about!"
Episode 13 is probably one of the best sources for this, as it focuses less on the pilots and more on the technicians, Bridge Bunnies, and Ritsuko. During the Angel's first attack sequence, we hear all kinds of Techno Babble, such as in this scene, just as the attack commences:
Shigeru Aoba: We've got an unidentified intruder! Someone's hacking the sub-computer! I'm tracing it!
Makoto Hyūga: Ah, not now, they're coming in C-Mode! We can't stop 'em!
Shigeru Aoba: We've got to unfreeze the barrier! Open a decoy entry!
Technician: Decoy entry has been avoided!
Shigeru: T minus 18 seconds 'til trace completed.
Technician 2: Spreading barrier.
Technician: Barrier has been penetrated!
Shigeru: Open a second false entry!
Technician: Opening another false entry!
Makoto: No human's capable of this!
Shigeru: Trace completed! The hackers are in this building! It's under B-Wing...IN THE PRIBNOW BOX!
Tenchi Muyo!: The infamous "Mihoshi's Fairy Tale" episode of the original OVAs,e in which Mihoshi claims the Big Bad in her story was stealing "ultra energy matter" for nefarious purposes. Scientist Washū demands to know just what the hell "ultra energy matter" is, and Mihoshi nervously handwaves it away with a Shaped Like Itself explanation that leaves Washū fuming.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann gets some in the second half with the bio-computer. The only person who can understand a word of it is Leeron, and then only half. The show doesn't even try taking it seriously-generally, the ultra-dense technobabble spouted by the bio-computer is either ignored or boils down to "All this I'm saying doesn't really matter because you're just going to break physics anyway, you jackasses."
To Aru Majutsu no Index is quite fond of this trope, including when Misaki's around and the main cast talk like this often, what with the Espers around...
In Liar Game, Akiyama uses this in the prelims to the fourth round to explain how he can tell who is "Infected" and who is "Normal". He's actually faking the entire thing, but he does it convincingly enough that everyone believes him, allowing him to proceed with his plan.
Guilty Crown takes after Evangelion in that it uses a lot of biology-themed Techno Babble, most of it misapplied or completely nonsensical (intron-RAM, anyone?). Unlike in Evangelion it's uncertain if the trope was being subverted or parodied or played entirely straight.
On The Firesign Theatre's comedy album, I Think Were All Bozos On This Bus'', the "Wall of Science" ride at the Future Fair is full of very silly technobabble, parodying science documentaries. For example, we learn about "Fudd's First Law of Opposition: If you push something hard enough, it will fall over", which is then used for a babblicious explanation of how a power plant works.
In the Firefly fanfic Forward, Kaylee actually uses technobabble to scare off a group of suspicious federal marshals who are poking around the ship's engine room, by warning them that poking or moving anything will result in a horrific death via painful-sounding technobabble. They eventually back off and leave.
Sherman: OK, this chip has an automatic upgrading system. It will use an intergalactic...
Calvin: Yeah, yeah, yeah... big complicated words. They're all the same!
Forbidden Planet is full of this. Lots of technical-sounding terms and explanations are mixed in with the frequently-wooden dialogue. Some of these might even seem vaguely reasonable in the context of the story, especially if you don't think about it too hard, but much of it seems unnecessary (Morbius might have sought a less dramatic way of assuring Commander Adams that Robby was a Three Laws Safe robot; talk about making a poor first impression).
Weir: Well, using Layman's Terms, you use an immensely powerful rotating magnetic field to focus a narrow beam of gravitons, which in turn fold-space time consistent with Weyl tensor dynamics until the space curvature becomes infinitely large and you produce a singularity. Now, the singularity... Miller:(exasperated) "Layman's terms"?... Cooper: Fuck "layman's terms", do you speak English?!
Weir then uses a convenient piece of (very attractive) paper to physically demonstrate folding two points of space together — once again making us wonder why he didn't just start with that one.
It was nice to give Hermann Weyl a Shout Out. Technobabble doesn't usually mention the name of a real mathematician. In fact, the Weyl tensor is a description of spacetime curvature used in general relativity, so its mention is entirely appropriate (even if what comes before and after it is impossible).
Subverted in Tomorrow Never Dies. When Elliot Carver comes in to ask his tech guy something, he stops him before he can go into a longwinded explanation. He even uses the trope name.
The infamous "flux capacitor" from Back to the Future. A capacitor is a circuit component that maintains a voltage through a charge differential: most simply, two plates of metal seperated at a small distance by an electrical insulator. Flux is the integral of a vector field over a surface. Unless the doctor is making up terms and the name itself means nothing, no amount of Fan Wank could possibly reconcile the two concepts
Sev Trek: Puss in Boots (an Australian CGI spoof of Star Trek: The Next Generation). Lt. Gaudy Regurge gives a highly-technical explanation of how they'll defeat the alien vessel. Captain Pinchhard gestures Commander Piker over and says quietly, "I didn't understand a word of that." Piker responds, "Sounds good to me!"
Red Dawn 1984. Colonel Tanner lays out a plan to attack a Cuban base using military terminology like "flanking manoeuvre" and "grazing fire on this defilade". Unfortunately none of the guerrillas, a group of civilian Child Soldiers, can understand what he's going on about, so he just mutters "I Need a Freaking Drink" and starts over.
Airport: Capt. Vernon Demerest, played by Dean Martin, stops a know-it-all kid from broadcasting the fact that the plane is turning around: "You have a young navigator here! Well, I'll tell you son... Due to a Cetcil wind, Dystor's vectored us into a 360-tarson of slow air traffic. Now we'll maintain this Borden hold until we get the Forta Magnus clearance from Melnics."
I, Robot had Susan Calvin talk about how robotic brains work using a lot of this.
The 2009 Star Trek movie, according to Word Of God, deliberately tries to avoid the technobabble tendencies of its predecessors, in order to make it more accessible for newcomers. On the other hand, we have also learned that Scotty was often using technobabble to intentionally confuse Kirk, and Bones once used medical technobabble to bluff his way past a security guard.
"What'd you say she had?"
And Sulu gets confused when Captain Pike doesn't use technobabble:
Pike: Is the parking brake on?
Sulu: Uh, no... I'll figure it out, I'm just...
Spock: Have you disengaged the external inertial dampener?
The Ghostbusters films have some of the best techno-babble ever. They lampshade it occasionally with the mayor remarking, "Does anybody here speak English?" or with Venkman's "important safety tip" line.
Wild World Of Batwoman: "Free the others. Use your magnetic electron device." (Judging by what happened immediately afterward, "magnetic electron device" is Batwoman-speak for "hands".)
An old electrical engineering joke is a fictional device called the "Turboencabulator". Here's a portion of its description:
"The original machine had a base-plate of prefabulated amulite, surmounted by a malleable logarithmic casing in such a way that the two spurving bearings were in a direct line with the pentametric fan, the latter consisted simply of six hydrocoptic marzelvanes, so fitted to the ambifacient lunar vaneshaft that side fumbling was effectively prevented. The main winding was of the normal lotus-o-delta type placed in panendermic semi-boloid slots in the stator, every seventh conductor being connected by a nonreversible trem'e pipe to the differential girdlespring on the 'up' end of the grammeters."
The French equivalent of this would be the sketch "Le Schmilblick" by humorist Pierre Dac.
On Steve Martin's Let's Get Small album, he announces that he's written a joke for the plumbers in the audience:
"This lawn supervisor was out on a sprinkler maintenance job, and he started working on a Findlay sprinkler head with a Langstrom seven-inch gangly wrench. Just then this little apprentice leaned over and said, 'You can't work on a Findlay sprinkler head with a Langstrom seven-inch wrench.' Well, this infuriated the supervisor, so he went and got Volume 14 of the Kinsley manual, and he reads to him and says, 'The Langstrom seven-inch wrench can be used with the Findlay sprocket.' Just then the little apprentice leaned over and says, 'It says sprocket, not socket!'"
Played with in Life, the Universe and Everything: Ford murmurs portentously about detecting "eddies in the space-time continuum," and Arthur, not understanding at all, asks, "Who is Eddy then, exactly?"
"And that's his sofa, is it?"
Also played with in the first book and radio series:
Trillian: Zaphod, can we stabilise X zero zero five four seven by splitting our flight path tangentially across the summate vector of nine G X seven eight with a five degree inertial correction? Zaphod: Where did you learn a stunt like that, Trillian? Trillian: Going 'round Hyde Park Corner on a moped.
Isaac Asimov's resubliminated Thiotimoline. Essentially, he wrote a short story which was one long piece of technobabble, as a parody of a paper as might be found in any peer-reviewed scientific journal.
What makes it especially amusing is that it's actually a perfect imitation of a peer-reviewed science paper, since Asimov wrote it as a warm-up exercise for getting back into academics. The only thing about it that marks it as a parody is that it's about a chemical substance that behaves in a completely impossible manner (specifically, a type of carbon molecule that is so soluble that it begins to dissolve before you pour water on it because it's so dense that some of its bonds get crowded out of normal three-dimensional space and into the future).
Thursday: We're in the middle of an isolated high-coincidental localized entropic field decreasement. Wilbur: We're in a what? Thursday: We're in a pseudoscientific technobabble. Wilbur: Ah! One of those.
Further lampshaded in One Of Our Thursdays Is Missing, which reveals that any technological object in the Bookworld more advanced than a toaster is built by Techno Babble Industries.
The Head of the Alchemists' Guild speaks like this in the Discworld novel Reaper Man, which is appropriate given the Alchemists are like early Discworld scientists.
Also seen with the Smoking GNU in Going Postal, who are to the mechanical telegraph system known as the "clacks" what RL hackers are to the Internet. When Moist listens to their explanation of ...the Woodpecker, about the only words he recognizes are things like "chain", "disengage", and "the".
One of EE Doc Smith's Lensman books, Galactic Patrol, includes a very amusing technobabble explanation for the unlikely properties of one of his favorite inventions, Duodecpylatimate, AKA Duodec, the ultimate chemical explosive, though you do have to understand scientific notation to figure out the joke. Duodecpylatimate is described as "the quintessence of atomic destruction," whose power is second only than a nuclear explosion and has few of the drawbacks of atomics. No radiation danger, easy to handle, simple to use, powerful and easy to detonate. "Duodec" is a solid chemical explosive composed of 324 atoms of heptavalent nitrogen combined in 12 linked molecules of 27 atoms each.
Parodied in Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger series, where wizards incorporate technical terms from science and engineering into their arcane rituals. Lampshaded in that Jon-Tom immediately spots the connection, but turtle wizard Clothahump merely comments that the wizards in his (our) world must simply use comparable formulae for their spells.
The titular Bastard Operator from Hell is a master of coming up with what an informed reader can tell is nonsense, but which the boss will consider to be very impressive.
Dan Brown, in Angels And Demons, describes a battery charger that would make anyone with the slightest knowledge of electronics cringe; its over-elaborate design includes servo-coils, the part of a disc drive which moves the heads. And this from a character who's supposed to be a physicist? Why didn't she use a simple constant-current source like everyone else?
In the classical novel by Alessandro Manzoni "The Betrothed" it is used by don Abbondio, a clergyman. He's just trying to find an excuse to convince the young Renzo to postpone his marriage (he has been threatened by the henchmen of a local noble to do that) and starts sprouting nonsense in Latin to impress him. Renzo, although, doesn't fall for it and just roars "Enough of your Latinorum!".
Copious amounts can be found in Deep Storm, although half the time it's simplified by Dr. Crane's exposition parroting.
The Star Wars Expanded Universe combines this with Hold Your Hippogriffs. Constantly. A joke about lightbulbs becomes one about stormtroopers changing glowpanels. (And for the record, it just takes one blonde to change a glowpanel, but he doesn't even have to touch it.)
Lampshaded by Q in the Star Trek book I, Q. Q is visiting the Q Continuum, which is in a state of utter chaos. He describes it in technobabble, true to the tradition of Star Trek. After his lengthy, jargon-ny description of what the heck's going on, he proceeds to hang the lampshade:
Q: This must sound like a lot of technobabble to you. In layman's terms: The shit had hit the fan.
Stephen Maturin invokes this trope, due to the highly technical nature of running large sailing ships: "Your mariner is a splendid fellow, none better, but he is sadly given to jargon."
Destination: Void by Frank Herbert is largely filled with this.
Live Action TV
Popular in all incarnations of Star Trek. Dubbed "Treknobabble", stalwarts include such things as "Running a Level 3 Diagnostic" and "Compensating for minor ging-gangs in the starboard warp transgobbler". "Reversing the Polarity" was a catch-all cure that the writers commonly employed. Throwing in physics terms that have already entered pop science usage is strongly encouraged, which is why Geordi spends every second episode of Next Generation babbling about neutrino flux.
Dax: The magnetic deflection of a runabout's hull is extremely weak. The probes will never be able to detect it. O'Brien: They will if I outfit them with a differential magnetomer. Dax: A differential magnetomer? O'Brien: Mm-hmm. Dax: I've never heard of a differential magnetomer. How does it work? O'Brien: I'll let you know as soon as I finish making one.
Another Deep Space Nine episode, "Q-Less", plays it more blatantly. As they're busily attempting to solve the cause of repeating (and intensifying) power drains and graviton bursts, Q is harassing the crew, and pops in with the statement, "Picard and his lackeys would've solved all this technobabble hours ago!"
(Warning beeps) EMH2: Doctor, some... thing just went off line. EMH: ... Specifically? EMH2: The secondary gyrodyne relays in the propulsion field intermatrix have depolarised. EMH:(rolling eyes) In English! EMH2: I'm just reading what it says here!
For all its overuse of technobabble generally, Voyager did manage to have fun with this at times. From the season 3 finale:
B'elanna:Perhaps I can [beam Chakotay, Tuvok and Kim] out if I get a skeletal lock on them... Janeway: A "skeletal lock"? B'elanna: You know, lock on to the mineral concentration in their bones. Janeway: ... I didn't know you could do that. B'elanna: I... came up with it just now.
And then, there is the episode "Rascals", where Riker plays with this trope in a very interesting way. He reads verbatim from the Real LifeTNG Technical Manual to distract a hostile Ferengi while he secretly taps out a coded message. Just watch this clip from 2:00 onwards.
The same episode also has examples of "archeology babble" and "biology babble" in the beginning.
The TNG episode "Where No One Has Gone Before" involves Kosinski, a warp drive "expert" who applies nonsensical adjustments (Riker describes his paper as gibberish) to the warp engines of star ships; they only appear to work because his "assistant" is secretly a Traveller who in some way manipulates warp fields with his mind. It is clear from the start that Kosinski does not know what he is talking about because he mostly brags about his excellence instead of speaking fluid technobabble. When he does attempt technobabble, his audience appears unimpressed (and are utterly baffled, at first, that the in-universe gibberish he's spouting seems to work anyway).
Lampshaded and parodied in all incarnations by the Trek-themed Voltaire filk "U.S.S. Make Shit Up".
TNG also loved to use the "inverse tachyon pulse" routed through the "main deflector dish" which managed to do completely contradictory things like work as a sensor and be an unstoppable death ray.
Funnily enough, this was usually avoided in TOS, which rarely explained things beyond "Some part of the ship is damaged/malfunctioning, Scotty and/or Spock have to fix it, and then they do in the nick of time." An example of a technobabble-heavy episode by TOS standards is "The Doomsday Machine", which throws around terms like "anti-proton" and "inverse phasing", but in execution is still very straightforward when compared to the more modern Trek shows.
In its first two or three seasons, TNG also avoided technobabble. It didn't turn into the quantum-phase-modulating-fest we all know and love until two things happened: (1) Gene Roddenberry stepped down, and (2) the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual was published, which contained more technobabble than you could shake a 9-Cochrane warp nacelle at.
Andromeda actually averts this most of the time, using particles, materials and weapons that exist in "hard" sci-fi, with the exception of the Slipstream Drive and the Energy Beings in later episodes.
Fred on Angel is wonderful in her technobabble speak.
Samantha Carter from Stargate SG-1 rarely gets to finish her technobabble, since she's cut off by her superior, Jack O'Neill, whenever he can.note Impressively, Amanda Tapping actually broke down all of Carter's technobabble and put it into terms she could understand. She understands every word she's saying - well, as well as anyone who doesn't have a degree in astrophysics can, anyway.
Daniel tends to do this as well, with Jack cutting in a second in to stop him. Which is good since he has been shown to rant.
Lampshading of this has happened a few times, typically consisting of another character getting aroused and asking Carter to repeat what she just said for their own ends.
As O'Neill once noted, "You want to be careful about using the word 'how' around her."
Once O'Neill moves to Washington, Carter gets to ramble on a bit more than she's used to. The episode "Ripple Effect" has an impressive technobabble monologue that lasts at least 45 seconds during which a few characters glance at Daniel who just shakes his head as if to say "No, you aren't supposed to understand what she's saying, don't worry about it."
Inverted wonderfully with
Daniel: "Ok, let me put that a different way...."
Carter: "No, Daniel, you're right. You can't actually see it. Not the singularity itself. It's so massive not even light can escape it. But during the eclipse we should be able to see matter spiralling towards it."
O'Neill: "Actually, it's called the Accretion Disk."
Daniel: "Well, I guess it's easy to understand why the local population would be afraid of something like that...what did you just say?" (stunned)
O'Neill: "It's just an astronomical term."
Carter: "You didn't think the Colonel had a telescope on his roof just to look at the neighbors, did you?"
O'Neill (to Teal'c after the two had walked ahead): "Not initially."
In the time loop episode "Window of Opportunity," after a few loops it is O'Neill's use of technobabble that helps convince Carter and Hammond that he knows what's going on.
Hammond: What do you make of all this?
Carter: Well sir, when was the last time you heard Colonel O'Neill use terms like "subspace field" and "geomagnetic storm?"
Hammond: Good point.
Carter: And he actually used them correctly...for the most part.
Parodied in Stargate Atlantis episode 38 Minutes when Kavanagh states that they "Can't rule out a catastrophic feedback in the drive manifold!" Doctor Weir replies with "Without the technobabble please"
Used in Firefly, usually by Kaylee — whose technobabble is more "mechanic's shop-talk" than "high-end physics."
Also subverted in Ariel - Simon teaches Mal, Zoe and Jayne some scripted medical jargon (with difficulty) to get them into a hospital. When it turns out they don't need it, Jayne decides to spout it anyway rather than let his efforts go to waste.
Doctor Who invented modern technobabble; to give every example would take years. In "The Girl in the Fireplace," the Doctor calls something a "spacio-spatial temporal hyperlink". He then admits he made the term up because he didn't want to say "magic door".
Inverted in a later episode, "Blink", of the famed Timey Wimey Ball line, by the same writer as "The Girl in the Fireplace". The Doctor names a machine he builds "the timey-wimey detector" and describes its operation as "goes 'ding' when there's stuff."
Steven Moffat expressly hates technobabble, on the basis that only anoraks would enjoy watching it.
Also subverted in several Fourth Doctor episodes, primarily focusing on the reason for the change in dimensions inside the TARDIS. Usually goes something like this:
Jon Pertwee (Third Doctor) had trouble dealing with technical talk of any sort so eventually the writers threw in the towel and had everything come out "Reverse the polarity". Only one time did he include 'of the neutron flow' ... the Master was suitably shocked at the suggestion. Perhaps he had no idea what it was, either.
Playeed with in The Doctor's Wife:
"Well actually, it's because the Time Lords discovered that if you take an eleventh-dimensional matrix and fold it into a mechanical then..." *Rory touches two wires together and they spark* "Yes, it's spacey-wacey!"
"The TARDIS is uppy, downy stuff in a big blue box.”
Subverted once more by Rory when he identifies a device that was just used on them as a "miniaturization ray." Since he spent the last season reading scientific journals, Amy assumes that he's figured out how the machine works — but nope, he's just going by the fact that someone used a ray on them, and then they ere miniaturized.
Doctor: Now, it looks like the proto-anodysing discorporators have short circuited the molecular quark overload.
Companion: Is that difficult to fix?
Doctor: No, but it's very difficult to say!
Doctor: No good. I'll have to use the dimorphic inertia system. (Companion hands over a car crank, which he accepts, while baffled that she knew what he was on about.)
"The scransoms above your head are now ready to flange. Please unfasten your safety belts and press the emergency photoscamps on the back of the seats behind you." John Cleese is a great pilot.
The new Battlestar Galactica subverts this in one episode where Col. Tigh disapproves, in so many words, of Dr. Baltar's "weaselly technobabble".
Baltar had previously used reams of technobabble on Tigh to demonstrate his fake Amazing Cylon Detector. Lucky that his hapless victim turned out to be a real Cylon. Ironically, the equally-technobabbly but functional detector later built by Baltar is currently considered fake.
Ronald D. Moore has gone on record several times saying that he hates using technobabble. In fact, the avoidance level is so high that it takes four seasons to show the Galactica's engine room. Most of the basic tech remains a Black Box.
That said, some of BG's aversion to technobabble goes a little bit too far to the point where sometimes you just don't know how anything works, and it ends up becoming more A Wizard Did It. Especially when it comes to suddenly moving through vast reaches of space with no explanation (and no, I'm not talking about the FTL drive).
It really came back to bite them when the writers actually came up with a real scientific explanation for why stem cells from the human/Cylon hybrid Hera would cure cancer. Moore was worried that it would just sound like gibberish, and the final episode largely glosses over why it works (something about some blood cells being square while others are hexagonal, as far as we can tell). And the end result was many viewers upset that such a huge game-changing moment was given no real explanation.
Very common in 24, where most of Chloe O'Brien's lines involve nothing but meaningless technobabble, including incredible abuse of the word "subnet".
An episode in the third season of the series involved Nina Myers transmitting a virus code via cell phone to the headquarters of CTU, and the rest of the episode is dedicated to fix it, by having Chloe O'Brien stating nonsensical technobabble. The creators (Joel Surnow and Howard Gordon) even admitted they made all the tech dialogue up on the spot when they shot the episode.
In another episode, some (cod-) programming is done on the fly and the code appears on the screen. A screenshot is at http://www.technovelty.org/humor/24.html, where forum users note that the code almost makes sense but despite the emergency of the situation Edgar Stiles still found time to embed comments in it. That's dedication to good programming practice, that is.
In fact, the technobabble is so complicated in 24 that numerous actors gave up trying to learn particularly tricky, technobabble-filled lines, and instead read off sticky notes that were pasted on their screen.
If technobabble is used in Red Dwarf, it's a fair bet that it'll be subverted. If Holly uses it, (s)he's just making it up to hide the fact (s)he's no idea what's going on (Rimmer sometimes does this as well); if Kryten or Kochanski use it, no-one will understand a word. Meanwhile, the Cat considers himself an expert on "Swirly Energy Thingies".
Episode "Stasis Leak": The Cat asks "What is it?" when confronted with a doorway into the past. Rimmer and Lister both blurt out technobabble of varying thicknesses before The Cat simply replies, "Oh! A Magic Door! Why didn't you say so?"
From Tikka To Ride:
Rimmer: Do you think it's because the subspace conduits have locked with the transponder calibrations and caused a major tachyon surge that has overloaded the time matrix?
Kryten: Ah, no, sir. I've just been jabbing it too hard.
Gwen: So what's that supposed to do? Jack: I'm using satellite tracking data to determine the intra-trajectory of the meteorite. Toshiko: He means he's trying to find out where it's come from. Jack: Hey! Sometimes a little technobabble is good for the soul.
Anytime Angela's doing her job on Bones, expect prolific amounts of this. And all of it will be made-up. Which is, itself, an inversion, as she's the artist in a cast of geeks.
In The Weird Al Show, The Hooded Avenger uses technobabble to explain why Hanson taking flash photography of giant Harvey will make him go back to his normal size.
The Hooded Avenger: No, no, stop! The flash effect from those cameras may displace neurons in Harvey's radioactive aura, damaging his neo-electrical field resulting in a complete and immediate growth reversal! (Harvey shrinks) See? Told ya.
Two characters in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers were devoted to Techno Babble. Billy (the Blue Ranger and resident Genius who built a Flying Car simply because he could) would rattle off big sounding words leaving the rest of the team to wait for him to finish speaking so they could turn Trini, the Yellow Ranger, who used nice bite sized words to explain everything.
Billy stopped using technobabble in season 2. Apparently none of the new Rangers could understand him. But they still have The Smart Guy use it regularly.
NCIS: Perky Goth Abby frequently has to shoot out ten-syllable words without the slightest break in her speech. During an interview, Pauley Perrette said that just learning all the words is the hardest part about playing Abby. Then we have Timothy McGee...
Subverted on 30 Rock when Liz and Pete make their presentation about taking the team to Miami — Liz just says a few Buzz Words and nothing else while Pete holds up a sign that says "Miami = Synergy." Jack says it's the best presentation he's ever seen.
The Farscape episode "Nerve" name-drops this trope.
Gilina Renaez: "This should bypass the grid, and hook us directly with main control."
Chiana: "Spare me the Techno Babble, Gadget Girl, let's just get on with it."
Like most other things in Farscape technobabble is not only lamp-shaded and name-dropped more than once, but is even deconstructed by Genre Savvy John Crichton.
Shake it Up gave us "Did you use open-source software to save time and the virus was hidden inside it?" Since this actually is meaningful, the Internet was not pleased.
Parodied in Trailer Park Boys while the title characters play around with a model rocket and Ricky puts his own... unique spin on the concept.
"Breaker, breaker, this is rocket ship 27, come in Earth. Aliens fucked with the carbonator in engine four. I'm gunna try and refuckulate it and land on Juniper. Hope you got some space-weed. Over."
In one Dilbert strip, the Pointy-Haired Boss asks Dilbert, "Did you know that twenty percent of all microfleems are subradiante?" He keeps telling Dilbert to consider the implications of this until Dilbert submits to his superior knowledge of technological facts. He doesn't actually know what a microfleem is.
Subverted in a The Far Side comic, where one scientist makes the mistake of uttering "The 'T' Word" in a lab. "Hey, could you hand me the... the... the thingy?"
McQuasar: No, Professor Nebulous, you're talking nonsense! Nebulous: Honestly, McQuasar, which part of anti-veritaneous actuality inversion don't you understand?
The Firefly Tabletop RPG featured a table that allowed the GM to randomly generate damage to the players' ship. It had two columns, one for technobabble, and one for what this actually meant. They were rolled separately, and therefore one had no correlation to each other whatsoever.
The technobabble column itself came in three parts: the part prefix (Primary/Hydraulic/etc), the part (Stabilizer/Vent/Feed/etc) and what happened to it (Cracked/Jammed/Exploded/etc) requiring three rolls to describe what went wrong when all anyone wants to know is the fourth, which is what it means.
The Adeptus Mechanicus of Warhammer 40000 has Lingua Technis, a language devoted to Techno Babble. It lets them maintain their monopoly on technical knowledge.
Genius The Transgression: Actually represented in the rules, and known as Jabir. A Genius who tries to talk about any kind of science will find that they have suddenly stopped making sense.
Spirit Of The Century allows players to make declarations about scientific facts their characters know which can help in whatever situation they find themselves in. Since Spirit Of The Century runs on the rules of pulp narrative, both players and Game Masters are encouraged to make such situations less about "realistic science" and more about "impressive sounding technobabble."
Paranoia has a recommendation for the GM about this trope: talk fast. If any of the players ask for clarification, tell them that said information is beyond their security clearance. The Paranoia XP rulebook also had a table at the back to randomly generate technobabble-esque medication names
The Fudge Factor Article Building A Better Space Ship states "Unless your players are more scientifically adept then usual, don't be afraid to simply take some cool sounding word and putting it in" on names. Their example is a Phased Ion Rifle.
In Magic: The Gathering, a card from the Future Sight set modified how the player assembles contraptions. Contraptions don't exist. You can't assemble them. There are no rules pertaining to 'assembling' or 'contraptions' anywhere in the game.
This is actually a reference to a past card, Great Wall, which made it possible to block creatures with plainswalk even if you had a plains; at the time, only one creature with plainswalk existed, and even today, with over a hundred thousand cards, less than twenty have or grant plainswalk.
In The Rainmaker, Starbuck first tries to explain how he can bring rain in terms of Techno Babble. Since Lizzie isn't buying it, he quickly changes his approach:
Starbuck: Sodium chloride!—pitch it up high—right up to the clouds! Electrify the cold front! Neutralize the warm front! Barometricize the tropopause! Magnetize occlusions in the sky! Lizzie: In other words—bunk! Starbuck: Lady, you're right! You know why that sounds like bunk? Because it is bunk! Bunk and hokey pokey! And I tell you, I'd be ashamed to use any of those methods!
In Ben Jonson's "The Alchemists", a couple of con artists are trying to fool some rubes into thinking they're alchemists. Part of the show includes a long, babbling speech about the state of the Philosopher's Stone.
Advent Rising: The descriptions for all the weapons are full of techno babble. Quark mind-drives, entropic energy waves, and grav-shielded singularity cores, just to name a few terms.
Molecularly, Tiberium is a non-carbon-based element, that appears to have strong ferrous qualities, with non-resonating reversible energy! Which has a tendency to disrupt carbon-based molecular structures, with inconsequential and unequal positrons orbiting on the first, second and ninth quadrings!
For Command and Conquer 3, EA took things up a notch and commissioned scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to "provide a white paper describing the biophysics of Tiberium, its atomic structure, its method of transmutation, the form of the radiation that it emits, and the way to harness it for powering machinery and weapons — giving it the same treatment as would be suitable for a scientific journal article on a real substance." Actually, an interesting read.
Dr. Judith Mossman in Half-Life 2 has the tendency to speak in technobabble which your character is supposed to understand, and likely does. You however, are not, and likely don't.
Dr. Kleiner is practically a walking encyclopedia of technobabble when he's busy at work or making public announcements.
Parodied in the Half Life 1 expansion Opposing Force, when Shephard finds an armed nuclear bomb, with instructions for turning it on. (However, Shephard only needs to press a button to turn it off.)
1. Indispose the gravitronic rev limiter to 11. 2. Rotate red knob to the on position. 3. Press button labeled B.
This is an actual Skill in Guild Wars, which you earn from the technologically advanced civilization of the Asura. It damages and dazed your opponent.
Similarly, in Final Fantasy Tactics, Orators have a skill called Mimic Daravon that puts enemies to sleep. Daravon is the person who explains the mechanics of the game in the optional tutorial.
Tales Of The Abyss likes explaining the exact mechanics behind its magic system, and its explanations can turn into this. When you're discussing the game and it becomes necessary to explain that it wasn't obvious that a character's fonon frequency was 3.14159 because having the ability to channel a fonon through one's fon slots does not necessarily mean that one is isofonic to said fonon's aggregate sentience... yeah.
Mocked by the blueprints of your ship in Cosmic Osmo, which point out the Aero-ether Quanto-particulate Detecto Rings and a triple-loop Polar Yagi Recepto-Wod, among other features.
The presenter in High Voltage's tech demo for their Quantum3 Engine spoke out so much technobabble, it made the E3 2004 tech demo of Unreal Engine 3 look tame in comparison. Terms include "Camera space RGB gloss maps", "tangent space gloss map", "standard tangent space bump maps", and roughly 20 seconds of showing a feature list of about 100+ features..
Portal: The 1500 Megawatt Aperture Science Heavy Duty Supercolliding Super Button is, quite simply, a big red button that opens doors.
also, the Aperture Science Material Emancipation Grill. It dissolves all unauthorized material, including, on semi-rare occasions, dental fillings, crowns, tooth enamel, and teeth.
Portal2: The Aerial Faith Plate(a catapult platform), the Excursion Funnel(a blue funnel that pulls you in the direction it's facing), and the Thermal Discouragement Beam(a laser). Faith, Excursion, and Discouragement are licensed tradmarks of Aperture science.
Unreal Tournament mixes technobabble with a generous measure of Gun Porn in most weapon and item descriptions, so even if bits of it go over your head, you can still be confident of the power it's packing.
Ratchet & Clank lampshades this in the first game, in Metropolis, when the duo enter Big Al's Roboshack. Al babbles for some time, then we get this gem:
Ratchet: Um, Clank, you speak Nerd...
Fallout 3 has you take the Generalized Occupational Aptitude Test as sort of a way to set up what kind of character you'll be playing with. The first question reads: You are approached by a frenzied Vault scientist, who yells, "I'm going to put my quantum harmonizer in your photonic resonation chamber!" What's your response?
One of your responses can be: "But doctor, wouldn't that cause a parabolic destabilization of the fission singularity?"
Or you can just say "Yeah? Up yours too, buddy!"
Ghostbusters: The Video Game is even worse with the technobabble than the movies that inspired it. "Charged nucleon jackets" and "fermion absorption rings" are but two examples.
Subverted in Kid Radd, where the otherwise brilliant Mad Scientist has a huge blind spot for technobabble. "The sensors are picking up some stuff!"
Intragalactic did a parody of technobabble in a footnote here: "It wouldn't seem like you could chart space on a two-dimensional screen like this. Until you remember that at large distances space functions as a flat surface due to the exponentially increasing effects of gravity as we near the Planck time. Subspace anomaly nanoprobes wormhole."
Also in Muertitos by the same author here: "The trauma has rendered her catatonic, clinically vegetative, and medicine saline doctor viral!"
Lampshade firmly hung in Keychain of Creation with the character of Nova, an Alchemical Exalt. Specifically, in her fight with Misho here. Misho's usually the go-to guy for Magi Babble about Magitek, but Nova's particularly bad about it, especially since her stuff is more "tek" than "magi."
Lampshaded in thisFreefall strip, among many others (if it includes Florence there's a chance technobabble is going to appear sooner or later. Oh, and this strip proves that the robots aren't above it either.
Surprisingly, the second example is just Jargon, although it is mixing religion and quantum mechanics, which is always a bad idea.
freefall is rather good with avoiding technobabble atleast when florance is involved (to date everything techy she has said has had scientific basis)
Parodied in Homestuck: while most of the characters are more likely to use Buffy Speak for anything technical, the Sburb installation screen includes such interesting phrases as "Realigning Cartesian mandrills".
The Whateley Universe runs on Technobabble, since it's a universe of mutant superheroes and supervillains, with a Cosmic Horror Story backstory. All the major power classifications have their own Technobabble for how they work. There are even rival Technobabble factions: most Psi researchers think that "magic" is just a form of psionics; most magical adepts think that "psi" is just a form of magic; etc.
One mutant power in particular literally runs on Technobabble: so-called "devisors" make up a Technobabble explanation on how the piece of wondertech they're building would work, and then impose new physical laws on the device so that it actually does work.
Amy: These readings are all weird, because we seem to be stuck in the time-space Nerf Gun continuum, and the only way out is if we make a pyramid out of-
Artemis: I think this bitch is just making shit up now.
Amy:: You guys never listen to me anyway!
Sci Fi Debris repeatedly calls these out in his Star Trek reviews. He goes one step further in his review of the Voyager episode "Prototype", where he explains the method by which Technobabble is created: take two unrelated, scientific-sounding terms, and stick them together. He proceeds to demonstrate it by creating some examples, with captions giving a possible explanation of what the complete term would mean, including:
Volume Symbiosis: A biological link between two different shapes.
Temporal Osmosis: The mechanism by which the movement of water controls the passage of time.
Quantum Test Tube: A special kind of test tube whose contents can only be known by looking at it.
Simian Beta-Decay: The mechanism by which an ape will break down into a number of smaller monkeys by emitting a high-speed electron.
Orbital Mitosis: The act of a planet splitting and forming two smaller planets that share the same path around a sun.
Schizophrenic Thermodynamics: The mechanisms behind energy-transfer found in the environment around batshit-crazy lunatics.
Relativistic Gentrification: The economic phenomenon associated with the re-vitalization of inner city neighborhoods as those neighborhoods approach the speed of light.
Explored in an episode of Extra Credits in a decidedly non-gaming-related episode. Daniel Floyd points out the issues inherent in justifying The Force with midi-chlorian count.
What I'm saying is that you can't lend credibility to your story just by using science-words. Using real science, and allowing that to be the floor that helps you ground your universe in an internal logical constancy; that's why Science Fiction works, not just because it sounds science-y. Once you've got that underpinning, you can explore all the interesting things that shake out of it, which is what makes science fiction so great, and on the flip-side the limitless freedom that technology provides futurefantasy is what allows it to deliver such compelling stories and explore such a wealth of ideas. Don't hamstring it by entangling it in a web of techo-jargon. So yes, that is why technobabble sucks.
Code Lyoko is also chock full of it. Suffice to say it's never a good idea to let Jérémie explain how his newest program works. Or let Aelita answer questions about simple mathematic concepts.
One of the most famous examples is the line uttered by the Comic Book Guy in The Simpsons in the episode "Das Bus". Notable for being actually clear, logical and transparent to a trained networking engineer: in layman terms, he has a dial-up modem, he wants broadband access, and in order to do that, he needs a router that can fit inside his private network. Here's the full quote:
Comic Book Guy: I'm interested in upgrading my 28.8 kbps internet connection to a 1.5 Mbps fiber-optic T-1 line. Will you be able to provide an IP router that's compatible with my token ring ethernet LAN configuration?
Megas XLR has a running gag of having Future Badass Kiva saying some sort of technobabble, only to have it shrugged off by lazy bum Coop.
Kiva: What's the big deal on drinking a Slushie anyway? Coop: What do you drink in the future to freshen up? Kiva: We drink a balanced electrolytic hydrating fluid. Coop: ... That must be some grim future you have!
Alternately played straight and played with in Teen Titans. You have five teenagers living/fighting crime together. Cyborg is a half-robot and thus knows a lot about computers and machines, despite not finishing high school; Raven grew up meditating and reading ancient magical scrolls; Starfire is an alien with substantial knowledge of science and her own world's culture but will ultimately be stumped if you ask her a question about Earth's history, culture, and language; Robin is a Bad Ass Normal raised by Batman who makes all of his own toys; and Beast Boy, as Raven so artfully put it, learned his history from a cereal box — and the rest from TV. Get this group together and you're in for some pretty interesting conversations.
In one episode of Justice League Unlimited, Supergirl finds herself in the future. Being from a similarly advanced civilization herself, she slips into technobabble (for our ears) at least once.
In the first episode of the Thanagarian invasion Justice League Unlimited, one of the Thanagarian's suggests to the Martian Manhunter that he wouldn't understand the technology they are using. He replies with a burst of technobabble indicating a deeper understanding of what's going on that she obviously expected.
Superman: How can we stop it? J'onn J'onzz: There is one possibility. To halt the process, we would need to create an Einstein-Rosen bridge to drain off the infecting anti-fusion matter. Flash: Create a what to do what? Hawkgirl: Make a wormhole to suck away the bad stuff.
In Dave The Barbarian, this is parodied in an episode in which Dave suggests solving the problem with convenient technobabble. Candy responds that convenient technobabble levels are dangerously low.
Also seen in one opening of Family Guy where Peter is watching TV and a stand up comedian (Dennis Miller) comes on and delivers this line: "I don't want to go on a rant here, but America's foreign policy makes about as much sense as Beowulf having sex with Robert Fulton at the first Battle of Antietam. I mean, when a neo-conservative defenestrates, it's like Raskolnikov filibustered deoxymonohydroxinate." Which in turn leaves Peter with the amazing comment "What the hell does "rant" mean?"
A Bugs Bunny cartoon featured this with Marvin's "illudium Q-35 explosive space modulator", to blow up the earth because it obstructs his view of Venus.
Princess Bubblegum in Adventure Time uses this when describing her scientific work. In one episode, a romantic rival to Finn is just as conversant in Techno Babble as she is.
Essentially every product or idea sold on the basis of the word "quantum", or to put it another way, the entire woo-woo industry. Woo which predates quantum mechanics — homeopathy, for example — has been retooled to include a lot of convincing-sounding, but utterly nonsensical, jibber-jabber about superposition and parallel dimensions. To make yourself an idea, watch the second half of What the <BLEEP> Do We Know.
Attempts to use technobabble to lend a veneer of plausibility to pseudoscience often have the opposite effect on people who actually know anything about the scientific disciplines being abused. One hilarious example — apparently the ills of the world are caused by the bond angle in water changing; not only would this not happen without a change in the fundamental constants of the universe, but it's something everyone would notice because it would affect the freezing and boiling points of water. The same people then go on to talk about how boiling water drives off the electrons because its natural state is electrically charged, at which point anyone who hasn't completely forgotten GCSE chemistry and physics should smell the bullshit clearly and anyone who actually has a degree in either subject will be laughing uncontrollably, facepalming or both. Most people don't, which is why it's so popular to use.
Here's a challenge: try to find any New Agey pseudoscience or fakery which the charlatan behind it at no point ever describes or explains using meaningless misapplications of the words "energy" or "vibration".
in fact, any common material can be made to sound dangerous if you know its IUPAC name. IUPAC nomenclature, the standard for naming chemical compounds, has a certain air of danger around it, which of course was played up in the DHMO hoax.
The ICAO Accident Prevention Manual mentions an incident where a private pilot once wrote the authorities asking if he could save money by mixing kerosene with his aircraft fuel. They sent back a letter stating: Utilization of motor fuel involves major uncertainties/probabilities respecting shaft output and metal longevity where application pertains to aeronautical internal combustion power plants. Pilot's reply: "Thanks for the information. Will start using kerosene next week." Answering by cable this time, the authorities responded: Regrettably decision involves uncertainties. Kerosene utilization consequences questionable, with respect to metalloferrous components and power production. Cable reply from the pilot: "Thanks again. It will sure cut my fuel bill." Response by telex within the hour: DON'T USE KEROSENE. IT COULD KILL THE ENGINE, AND YOU TOO!
A great example of why you should avoid uselessly long words. (Regrettably decision involves uncertainties -> Actually, we're not sure about that decision.)
Also, at no time until the very last one was the answer "no", or was it even suggested that the effect on shaft horsepower might be "reduced to zero midflight" and that the effect on metal components may be "cause them to fail". This therefore also serves as a warning against Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness and Delusions of Eloquence.
If the aircraft in question is turbine powered, such as a jet, its normal fuel is made up almost entirely of kerosene anyway.
Aviation likes to use technobabble, and if you talk to a pilot about their daily flying routines, they will play this trope up to the hilt. For example, a pilot might tell you they need to check the OAT in order to find their Density Altitude in order to turn currently indicated KIAS into a KTAS value, on an E6B, in order to accurately report their ETA to the nearest FIC in order to remain legal based upon guidelines set forth by the ICAO and detailed in the AIM and FARs/CARs. All they're doing is calculating their airspeed in order to see if they'll get to where they want to be in time.
Many troll posts found on various Internet forums have a good dose of this. One of the most famous is the legendary FLAC vs. MP3 copypasta from /mu/:
Hearing the difference now isn't the reason to encode to FLAC. FLAC uses lossless compression, while MP3 is 'lossy'. What this means is that for each year the MP3 sits on your hard drive, it will lose roughly 12kbps, assuming you have SATA - it's about 15kbps on IDE, but only 7 kbps on SCSI, due to rotational velocidensity. You don't want to know how much worse it is on CD-ROM or other optical media.
I started collecting MP3s in about 2001, and if I try to play any of the tracks I downloaded back then, even the stuff I grabbed at 320kbps, they just sound like crap. The bass is terrible, the midrange...well don't get me started. Some of those albums have degraded down to 32 or even 16kbps. FLAC rips from the same period still sound great, even if they weren't stored correctly, in a cool, dry place. Seriously, stick to FLAC, you may not be able to hear the difference now, but in a year or two, you'll be glad you did.
Physicist Alan Sokal wrote an article in the journal Social Text that was essentially this, emphasis on "babble". He did so to prove that the humanities division would accept anything.