Just a heads-up that I’ll be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati’s Rookwood Pavilion tomorrow, January 26th at 7:00 PM, to sign and discuss Star Trek: The Original Series — The Face of the Unknown and my Analog novelette “Twilight’s Captives.” Here are directions.
A while back, I noticed something interesting about the history of Star Trek terminology. We’ve all come to think of “mind meld” as the standard term for the telepathic contact used by the Vulcans, and it’s been used consistently and near-exclusively in most Trek productions over the decades. But in fact, it was never used in the original series until the third season, and then only twice. TOS was quite inconsistent in its terminology — as with so many things, they made it up as they went and it took time for the concept to settle down. Here’s a list of the terms they used, and how they were depicted (originally posted in a thread on Tor.com, and put together with the help of the Star Trek Script Search app):
- Dagger of the Mind: “an ancient Vulcan technique to probe into Van Gelder’s tortured mind” — The template for the mind meld as we know it.
- Devil in the Dark: “the Vulcan technique of the joining of two minds” — Also a very deep fusion and blending of identities.
- The Changeling: “mind probe” — Ditto.
- By Any Other Name: “mind probe” and “mind touch” to refer to the telepathic suggestion used with the Eminian guard and Kelinda, much less of a connection than we’ve seen before.
- Patterns of Force: “mind probe” to refer to Spock reaching Gill’s mind, but we didn’t see how deep it went.
- Spectre of the Gun: Debut of the term “mind meld,” to refer to what was basically hypnotic suggestion.
- Elaan of Troyius: “mind meld” suggested but not used as an interrogation technique.
- The Paradise Syndrome: “mind fusion” used for a full “our minds are one” joining.
- Is There in Truth No Beauty?: “mind link” to refer to the full union of two minds.
- One of Our Planets is Missing: “mind touch” for Spock allowing the cloud creature to see and speak through him, much like his “link” with Kollos.
- The Infinite Vulcan: “mind touch” to refer to a full transfer of mind/memory from giant Spock to original Spock.
So that’s “Vulcan technique” in season 1; “mind probe” and “mind touch” in season 2; “mind meld,” “mind link,” and “mind fusion” in season 3; and “mind touch exclusively in the animated series. The usage was all over the place, and “mind meld” was the third-most common term after “mind touch” and “mind probe.” And the writers’ bible for TOS refers only to Spock’s “strange Vulcan ‘ESP’ ability to merge his mind with another intelligence.” In the first major Trek reference book, The Star Trek Concordance by Bjo Trimble, the version that gets the longest lexicon entry (29 lines) is “Vulcan mind touch,” with “mind link” (non-Vulcan) getting six lines, “Vulcan mind fusion” five lines, and “Vulcan mind meld” only four, the shortest entry (though no “mind probe” anywhere in sight). I always used to have the sense that “mind touch” referred to a shallower, more basic telepathic communication while the “meld” or “fusion” was a deeper, more complete blending, but as you can see above, the terms were used more interchangeably than that.
And yet the 1977 writers’ bible for Phase II, the TV revival project that later turned into Star Trek: The Motion Picture, did use the term “mind-meld” for Vulcan mental abilities. The term was then used in onscreen dialogue in TMP itself, for the contact between Spock and V’Ger’s memory crystal. It was also used in The Search for Spock (referring retroactively to Spock’s katra transfer to McCoy in TWOK) and The Voyage Home (for Spock’s mental communication with the whales). And it’s been the exclusive term in every subsequent Star Trek production. (“Mind probe” was used twice, in The Next Generation‘s “Menage a Troi” and Deep Space Nine‘s “Extreme Measures,” to refer to mind-scanning technologies akin to the Klingon mind sifter, but never for Vulcan telepathy.) So sometime between TAS and the movies, the term became standardized.
It also occurred to me to check into the tie-in fiction that came out between TOS and TMP. 1970’s Spock Must Die! by James Blish used yet another unique term, “mind-lock.” But the next original Bantam publication, the 1976 anthology Star Trek: The New Voyages (which was mostly reprinting earlier fanfiction stories, though newly revised for the anthology), uses “mind-meld” consistently in multiple stories. As far as I can tell, it was pretty standard in Bantam’s books from then on (though I don’t have them all in my possession). So in both screen and prose Trek, the term “mind meld” somehow became the default by the late 1970s — but how? Why that term, when it was so infrequently used in TOS and never in TAS?
When I checked my nonfiction text sources, I found that The Making of Star Trek, written by Stephen Edward Poe (as Stephen E. Whitfield) and Gene Roddenberry during season 2 of TOS and released shortly before the premiere of season 3, refers to Spock’s ability as “mind-melding” — making it the earliest public use of the term. It’s possible Poe/Whitfield got it from the scripts to “Spock’s Brain” and “Elaan of Troyius,” though, depending on how early they were written. Or maybe it’s just the term Roddenberry had decided on, and so it got around behind the scenes.
People today often don’t realize it, but TMoST was the definitive ST reference book in its day, the source of a number of things that became conventional fan wisdom even though they were never stated onscreen, such as Kirk being the youngest starship captain, McCoy’s divorce backstory (proposed by DeForest Kelley for the second-season writers’ bible but first publicized by TMoST), and the Romulan-Klingon alliance (from development notes for “The Enterprise Incident” to explain the Romulan use of Klingon ships, which seems to confirm that Poe had access to early third-season scripts). Not to mention technical details that weren’t canonized until later, like the idea of the forward parabolic dish being a navigational deflector. TMoST was also the second work to establish a 23rd-century setting for TOS, preceded by James Blish’s “Space Seed” adaptation in the collection Star Trek 2 seven months earlier.
So if all these things became conventional wisdom because they were in The Making of Star Trek, it follows that TMoST’s use of the term “mind-melding” is the reason that term became standardized later on. And it does seem that it used the term because it was written around the same time as the two TOS episodes that did use it. If it had been written a few months earlier, we might’ve ended up talking about “Vulcan mind probes” for all these years.