5 Fixes for Pop-Culture Pile-Ups
Alluding to science and technology, real and imagined, in lay publications or in references to popular culture is fraught with peril. You don’t know humiliation until you’ve been flamed by a science or tech geek or a sci-fi fanboy who castigates you for a misunderstanding about the way the universe works, or for perpetuating a misquote from a beloved movie, TV program, or other artifact of entertainment. Always verify the validity of such analogies or allusions as these:
1. “You don’t have to be the Man of Steel to open a Kryptonite bike lock.”
This failed attempt at pop-culture metaphor in discussion of a brand of bike lock called Kryptonite is illogical, because Superman (known also by the epithet the Man of Steel) was “allergic” to kryptonite, so a bike lock made of the (fictional) element would disable him; this fact renders the sentence nonsensical. To rescue it, a wholesale revision and expansion of the analogy is required: “The Kryptonite bike lock wouldn’t faze Superman, and it doesn’t deter thieves, either.”
2. “I’m reminded of Captain Kirk’s familiar request to the ship’s engineer: ‘Beam me up, Scotty.’”
There’s a bit of a problem with this reference to one of the most recognizable catchphrases in the pop-culture lexicon: It was never actually uttered by the television character associated with it. Always double-check even what appears to be the most airtight reference, and then, if it turns out to be inaccurate, slip that fact in: “I’m reminded of Captain Kirk’s apocryphal request to the ship’s engineer: ‘Beam me up, Scotty.’” (See also “I am your father, Luke” and “Elementary, my dear Watson.”)
3. “The huge tunnel-boring machine looks like an alien enemy of the starship Enterprise.”
This awkwardly worded allusion to the Star Trek oeuvre is easily smoothed out to refer to the program rather than the spacecraft it featured: “The huge tunnel-boring machine looks like an alien vessel out of Star Trek.”
4. “The trend has taken off like the starship Enterprise making the jump to hyperspeed.”
Hyperspeed is a technological convention in the Star Wars franchise; starships in the Star Trek canon, by contrast, achieve warp speed. Make sure you keep your fictional technologies in the correct universe: “The trend has taken off like the starship Enterprise boldly going at warp 9.”
5. “This agreement isn’t just a big step; it’s a quantum leap.”
A quantum leap is commonly misunderstood to refer to a massive change. However, the literal meaning is of instantaneous change of any magnitude. Revise to reflect that fact: “This agreement isn’t just a big step; it’s a momentous one that will have a world-changing impact.”
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