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Technobabble / Live-Action TV

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Technobabble in live-action TV.

  • "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.

  • 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.
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    • In another episode, some (cod-) programming is done on the fly and the code appears on the screen. A screenshot is at, 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.
  • 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.
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  • 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.
  • Battlestar Galactica: Ronald D Moore has gone on record several times saying that he hates using technobabblenote . 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 and is described as plainly as possible - ship-to-ship communications is "wireless", aka plain old radio, for instance. The Faster-Than-Light drive is simply called FTL and Artificial Gravity is present but completely unremarked-upon.
    • The series demonstrates its attitude to technobabble early when 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.
    • Battlestar Galactica's attitude to technobabble can be summed up by one particular incident in the season two episode "The Captain's Hand": the battlestar Pegasus' FTL is offline and engineer-turned-commander Barry Garner has to quickly fix it. Not by reversing the polarity of the neutron flow, but hitting a valve with a sledgehammer.
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    • 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.
    • The miniseries itself had a nice moment which established that the show would not rely on technobabble. After saving Colonial One, Apollo recounts how he used the hyperdrive to create an EMP that disabled the Cylon nukes while making it look like they detonated. The pilot of Colonial One is dumbfounded by this, and Laura Roslin replies "The lesson here is not to ask a follow-up question, but instead say 'Thank you, Captain Apollo, for saving our collective asses!'"
  • 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.
  • Quoth Castle, in an episode of, well, Castle, "Tory found some unscrambled artifacts in the registry to a service-set identifier. [beat] I don't know what that means either, but she got really excited about it." Amusingly, it actually almost makes sense if you think about it.
  • Particularly bad one in CSI: NY: Lindsay talks about making a GUI interface in Visual Basic in order to find an IP address. Exactly why you need to make a graphical user interface, which is basically a way to interact with a program using visuals rather than text commands, in order to track an IP address is anyone's guess. But it sounds fancy.
    • Det. Flack is forever calling the scientists out on this. Here's one from the 8th season premiere, "Indelible":
    Jo: That ring around the blood spot is called "skeletonization."
    Flack: Why don't they just call it a ring?
    Jo: Okay, that's it. Forget it. I give up.
    Flack: Sorry, it would be much more interesting if you guys used smaller words.
  • Doctor Who invented modern technobabble; to give every example would take years.
    • 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.
    • Phillip Hinchcliffe called it bafflegab.
    • Subverted in several Fourth Doctor episodes, primarily focusing on the reason for the change in dimensions inside the TARDIS. Usually goes something like this:
      "Why is the TARDIS bigger inside than outside?"
      "Because it's dimensionally transcendental."
      "What does that mean?"
      "It means that it's bigger inside than out."
      • In typically sardonic fashion, Tom Baker, who played the Fourth Doctor, said that sounding very sincere while babbling meaningless technical jargon was a part of the role that his former job — a Catholic monk — had strongly prepared him for.
    • In "The Girl in the Fireplace", the Doctor calls something a "spacio-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."
    • "Partners in Crime":
      • Miss Foster's jargon-laden explanation for how the Adipose pills work boils down to "It's absorbed by fat tissue then breaks the fat down." It turns out that the explanation is a wholesale fabrication.
      • Used dramatically when the Doctor starts to launch into one of his usual technobabble explanations, and then realizes he's speaking to an empty TARDIS, causing him to trail off and stare at the console.
    • Steven Moffat expressly hated technobabble, on the basis that only the kind of fan who has memorized the entire Star Trek Technical Manual would enjoy watching it. This is why there's a clear line between the original series and the revival one when it comes to the use of this trope; the Ninth Doctor onward will prefer Buffy Speak, a Lampshade Hanging like in "The Girl in the Fireplace", or even a reminder that the ancient Time Lord who's saved the universe a few dozen times knows what he's talking about, doesn't have time to try to explain to it all to Muggles who want to stand around demanding explanations, and if you want to survive you should really let "don't blink" or "when I say run, run" be the end of it. Under Steven Moffat in particular, the Doctor is portrayed as having a brain that outruns his mouth so he'll have a sentence or two of It Runs on Nonsensoleum where he's talking more to himself than anyone around him, and then tell you what needs to happen (just why that needs to happen may not follow) and quickly lose patience with anyone who is still standing around demanding detailed explanations when he's just told you what you need to do in the next ten seconds if you don't want to get exterminated/deleted/eaten/etc.
    • "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!"
      • Also, an example that is crossbred with Buffy Speak:
        "The TARDIS is uppy, downy stuff in a big blue box.”
    • "Let's Kill Hitler": Rory identifies a device that was just used on them as a "miniaturisation 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 were miniaturised.
    • The Twelfth Doctor continues Steven Moffat's general aversion to technobabble, such as in "Flatline", when he invents a gadget for dealing with a group of two-dimensional aliens that he names the "Two-dis" (a pun on TARDIS).
      • In "The Girl Who Died", he confirms a long-held fan suspicion that the phrase "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow" is indeed meaningless.
    • "Demons of the Punjab" has the Doctor lampshade the convoluted explanation she gives for how the TARDIS can track the old, broken watch Yaz got from her grandmother along its timeline by forewarning the companions that the explanation will be complicated.
    • The trope was spoofed by comedian Lenny Henry in a skit where he becomes the latest Doctor.
      The Doctor: Now, it looks like the proto-anodysing discorporators have short circuited the molecular quark overload.
      Companion: Is that difficult to fix?
      The Doctor: No, but it's very difficult to say!
      • And then:
        The 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]
  • Generous helpings of technobabble are prevalent in every episode of the Sci-Fi Channel series Eureka, where the down-to-earth Sheriff Carter often finds himself bewildered by the advanced thinking of virtually everyone else in the town of super-geniuses where he resides. This often leads to scenes in which other characters rattle off long, pseudo-scientific explanations of things before having to stop and translate everything into layman's terms for Carter. Carter often lampshades the situation by wondering aloud why no one ever starts with the explanation that makes sense.
    • From Unpredictable
      Dr. Steven Whiticus: It's and extremely dangerous confluence of meteorological events.
      Dr. Henry Deacon: [looks at Jack] Umm, A Perfect Storm.
      Dr. Whiticus: It's a spinning vortex of instability.
      Henry: Uh... Ice Funnel of Death
      Sheriff Jack Carter: Got it! Why can't you people just say 'Ice Funnel of Death'?
    • Jack loves to parody the technobabble with his own sometimes.
      Sheriff Carter: What do we got? Black hole, time warp, random quantum...
      [Allison Blake glares at Jack]
      Carter: [looks at General Mansfield] Uhh... not that that ever happens...
  • 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 lampshaded and name-dropped more than once, but is even deconstructed by John Crichton.
  • Used in Firefly, usually by Kaylee — whose technobabble is more "mechanic's shop-talk" than "high-end physics" (her having almost no formal training). Mal tells her to put in "Captain dummy-talk".
    • 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.
  • In The Hardy Boys Nancy Drew Mysteries, there's a painful example in the episode "Search for Atlantis". The Hardys are introduced to university archeologists at a dig to find Atlantis. At one point, the site manager asks Frank and Joe how much they know about archeology. Frank starts off innocently enough with "Petrie's system of excavation", a reference to William Petrie, who was responsible for setting standards for archeological work in the 1900s, but did not invent any specific "excavation system". Then Frank babbles on about the lack of "pulse induction readings" and "flux gates", with the site manager commenting that the "volcanic activity" in the area has ruled them out. Considering that "pulse induction" is a metal detector and a "flux gate" is a magnetometer (used to measure magnetism on objects), nothing volcanic would rule out the use of that equipment; Frank further compounds the babble by using the terms as if they were techniques, not equipment. The site manager makes it even worse with a spiel about "plate activity" jumbling the readings...which wouldn't stop any decent archeological team, who would know how to read soil & rock levels despite ancient earthquake activity. About the only thing Frank gets right is a later reference to "Fiorelli's technique", used at Pompeii to make molds of corpses under the volcanic rock.
  • Hogan's Heroes: In the episode "Klink vs. the Gonculator", Hogan and Kinch use a bunch of this to convince Schultz, and later Klink, that Carter's rabbit trap is actually a Gonculator, a device so vital and secret that none of the Germans will admit they have no idea what it actually is.
  • How I Met Your Mother: Deliberately invoked by Barney who is pretending to be a future version of himself to get a girl.
    "I have to get back to the reality accelerator before the vortex closes!"
  • Look Around You spoofs the wealth of jargon found in the world of science by making up a host of new words, including fictitious chemicals ("bumcivilian", "segnomin"), laboratory equipment ("Besselheim plate", "gribbin"), units of measurement ("billigram", "quorums per second") and many more.
  • Subverted in the Season 5 M*A*S*H episode "The Nurses" when Captains Pierce and Hunnicut claim that the patient they quarantined in Major Houlihan's tent (without explanation) has Schistosomiasis. Maj. Houlihan accuses them of throwing together nonsense medical-sounding syllables. Colonel Potter informs her that no, Schistosomiasis is a real disease... which would be impossible to catch in Korea.
  • 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...
    • Frequently Lampshaded by Gibbs:
      McGee: [technical talk]
      Gibbs: McGee, less talk, more of the... computer chip doo-dah.
      McGee: Making with the doo-dah, boss.
      Fornell: "Doo-dah"?
      Gibbs: Yeah, it's a technical term, Tobias.
    • And lampshaded again with Tony's help:
      McGee: I think I know what happened.
      Tony: Twenty bucks says McGee's about to say something nobody understands again!
      McGee: [technical talk]
      Gibbs: I'm starting to think you can't help yourself, McGee.
  • In "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow" from The Orville, the explanation for Past Kelly appearing on the Orville, that when the ship encountered a gravitational wave it amplified the field in an experiment that John and Isaac were working on, and brought her back because Present Kelly was passing by and happened to be thinking about her and Ed's first date. Though, as one reviewer noted, it's kept to a minimum as opposed to "modifying the dilithium incubator to trigger an ongoing cascade of energy within the crystal by combining it with dark energy, which will replicate the power of a supernova."
  • Patriot: Secret agent John Tavener must pass himself off as an industrial piping professional, but this proves to be surprisingly difficult given that all the experts in the field speak in an impenetrable string of technical jargon: "Using a field of half-C sprats and brass-fitted nickel slits, our bracketed caps and splay-flexed brace columns vent dampers to dampening hatch depths of 1/2 meter from the damper crown to the spurv plinth. How? Well, we bolster 12 husk nuts to each girdle jerry, while flex-tandems press a task apparatus of ten vertically composited patch hamplers, then pin flam-fastened pan traps at both maiden apexes of the jimjoints."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Korean Medical Series Sign is about forensic scientists and medical examiners, so any reasonable CSI-esque term is used.
  • 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 
    • 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.
    • And in "2001" O'Neill warns another character not to ask Carter a question starting with the word "how", as the answer will contain technobabble.
    • In "200", we get the following exchange.
      Carter: We're running another diagnostic, but right now we're stumped. The power's getting through to the capacitors, but for some reason the charge isn't holding. That's causing the control crystal to send feedback into the interface and reset the programming code of the base computer's dialing protocol.
      Martin Lloyd: Whoa! That was awesome! Say that again.
      Carter: [annoyed] No!
      Martin: Oh. Uh, ev-everybody, take five. I've got to get that down before I forget it. The power getting to the flux capacitor but feedback is not feeding back into the feedback face... This is gold!
  • 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."
    • And in "The Eye" Weir tells McKay to use technobabble to confuse their captors and stall for time.
      Weir: Well, find another problem with it! I—tell him that the power-loop interface isn't jiving with your walkabout! Something!
      McKay: [incredulous] Isn't jiving?!
  • In the Star Trek franchise, the technobabble started with Star Trek: The Next Generation and hasn't stopped since, with later installments in the franchise making it progressively more and more common, as well as more absurd. Eventually, the various bits of jargon became standardized to the point of being repetitious, with such things as "Running a Level 3 Diagnostic", and "Realign the Phase Inverters" becoming stock phrases for the introduction of almost any new plot device. Reversing the Polarity" was little more than an excuse for arbitrarily fixing any device.
    • 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 note 
    • Humorously Lampshaded and subverted in the TNG episode "Clues", where Data, trying to lie through his teeth for the safety of the ship, tries to use technobabble to explain away why some moss growth proved the crew was out for far longer than the couple of seconds he claims they were. After he left, Picard asked Geordi if he believed the explanation; turns out, he didn't, and was even shocked that Data would try to bluff them like that.
    • Lampshaded in the TNG episode "Rascals", when Riker makes up a bunch of technobabble to confuse a Ferengi engineer trying to take control of the ships, in a way that's pretty indistinguishable from the show's standard technobabble.
    • Lampshaded in the following exchange from the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Battle Lines":
      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!"
    • Parodied on Star Trek: Voyager "Message in a Bottle".
      (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.
    • In the Star Trek: Enterprise two-parter "Shockwave", Captain Archer comes back from a time-trip with instructions on how to build a quantum beacon that can see through a Suliban Invisibility Cloak. Trip — The Engineer, mind you, who helped design the engine that powers Enterprise — is visibly struggling to keep up with Archer.
      Archer: Take a look at the dispersal curve here and here. You'll have to isolate the sub-assembly tolerances from the emitter algorithms.
      Trip: Whoa, hold on a minute. You're saying the assembly's independent of the emitters?
      Archer: Exactly.
      Trip: That's impossible.
      Archer: Not if you generate a stable flux between the positron conductors. Then all you'll have to do is renormalize the tertiary wave functions.
    • Star Trek: Picard: Executive producer Akiva Goldsman freely admits in this featurette that "fractal neuronic cloning" is a complete fabrication.
  • Torchwood hangs a lampshade on it to the extent of even using the word:
    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.
    • In the first episode, Jack explains how the Perception Filter causes them and the elevator to be unnoticed by passersby.
      Gwen: How does it work?
      Jack: No idea. We know how to use it, but not how it happens. But if I had to guess, I would say there was once a dimensionally transcendental chameleon circuit placed right on this spot, which welded its perception properties to a spatio-temporal rift. But that sounds kind of ridiculous. "Invisible lift" has got more a ring to it, don't you think?
  • 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 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.


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