Mark Peters, the genius behind the blog Wordlustitude in addition to being a Contributing Editor for Verbatim: The Language Quarterly, and a language columnist for Babble, and the author of Yada, Yada, Doh!: 111 TV Words That Made the Leap from the Screen to Society is our guest blogger this week. Check out his past OUPblog posts here. In the post below Peters explores the word “cylon”.
When I was an innocent Catholic schoolboy, I had several favorite diversions: Reading X-men comics… Counting nuns… Confessing sins, such as gluttonous, Pagan worship of Count Chocula…
And playing good guys and Cylons.
Yep, though the original Battlestar Galactica didn’t irrevocably imprint my psyche quite like Chewbacca or Mr. Furley (of Three’s Company fame, for those too youthful to know the bug-eyed landlord), the show was sufficiently on my radar to inspire a game or two of nun-adjacent pretend shoot ‘em up. Blam blam! Zzzzzzzzzzzzft! Aaaiiieee!
But what about the word Cylon? That lexical item drifted out of my vocabulary for the next 25-or-so years of my life, but it must have started taking fertility pills, because it’s been bountiful as of late, spurred on by the super-terrific reimagining of Battlestar Galactica that began in 2003 and will end next year. Words like Cylontific, Cylonette, Cylonify, and Humlon won’t help you much with The New York Times crossword—and they will get you laughed out of the room during Scrabble—but they’re all real words found on Battlestar Galactica message boards, where fans of cult shows do more than squee, squawk, and theorize: they prolifically come up with creative new words.
BSG’s frak gets all the attention, and deservedly so: it’s the most successful f-word substitute since Christ was a crouton, appearing in other popular shows (Scrubs, 30 Rock, Veronica Mars, etc.) while inspiring variations aplenty (absofrakinglutely, clusterfrak, fraktastic, fraktacular, mindfrak, metric frakload, ratfrak, unfrakingbelievable, raza-frakkin, holy frakmoley, mind-forever-frakked-upedness). But even if discussing Cylons is never as popular as dropping F-bombs, attention must be paid to this productive and profoundly neato word, which is taking it’s place alongside Borg, Ewok, Hobbit, Klingon, Vulcan, Wookie, and other famously fictional races.
For the uninitiated, Cylon may be just as meaningful as ferpwap, so you should know that Cylons are robots created by humans—either in the far-flung future or past—to perform unenviable tasks such as teaching gym class and scrubbing those hard-to-reach spots. Understandably, the bots rebelled and made war, and not just war—they wiped out 99-point-something percent of the human race, the remains of which fled in the Battlestar Galactica (thus the show’s name) and a few civilian ships. The first use of the term was in the original series’ pilot episode “Saga of a Star World” (written by Glen A. Larson, Sept. 17, 1978) when President Adar of the colonies said, pre-attack, “Noble delegates, I realize you are all anxious to get back to your ships before our rendezvous with the Cylons.”
On the new show, the toaster-looking evil robots remain, and the Cyloncaust is repeated, but now some of the Cylons look human; some even look like supermodels (see: Tricia Helfer,). These are the humlons—as named by fans on sites like Television Without Pity—and their human appearance makes them swell infiltrators for despicable, diabolical, double-agent deeds. When humlons are killed, they download to a resurrection ship, where they wake up in an identical body, writhing in a tub of goo from which they arise—fresh for more evil, mwah-hah-hah-y-type activities. And if you ever feel the need to insult a Cylon, the Humlons are known as skinjobs—a term borrowed from Blade Runner—while the tin-plated models are toasters.
The new and covert type of Cylon has led the word to be used as a term for any kind of undercover, not-obvious-to-the-eye potential varmint. An article on The Office offers some surprising revelations: “Press play above, and then keep reading to find out the latest on Creed and huge spoilers from actor/producer B.J. Novak (Ryan), including that Dwight Is a Cylon…”. In a post titled “You too could be a Cylon,” a blogger writes, “It would explain a lot. How I never fit in. My hyper developed mental and physical acuities. Being able to work with machines better than people. The fact many males in my family look so much alike”. The word is making a similar journey as Star Trek’s Borg, which is fitting, since Cylon and Borg are, unshockingly, derived from the two halves of cyborg.
Like Cyborg, both halves of Cylon can be used to make a new word. Humlon is probably the most successful of the fan coinages using the –lon suffix, but others include Dylons (the Final Four Cylons whose inner toaster was awakened by an odd, stoner-pleasing rendition of All Along the Watchtower), Tighlon (the unlikeliest of the Dylan Four, Colonel Tigh), and Xenalon (Lucy Lawless’s character), plus Fleetlon, Adamalon, Karalon, and Doglon. The first half of Cylon is minimally productive, but it can influence words like cybrid and, as I mentioned last month, the rather nonromantic nano-cylo-std, which, sources say, can be cured by slamming your modem in the window.
But the largest category of Cylonistic words use Cylon as an unbirfurcated root, a la Cylonistic. The destruction of the colonies is known as the Cyloncaust and Cylongeddon, while the essential Cylon essence is named in words like Cylonitude, Cylonhoodness, Cyloniness, Cylonishness, and Cylontific. Cylontologist is a nifty term playing on the similar-sounding Scientologist. A Cylongasm is more of a fan joy than an evil-robot joy, and a Cylonarchy is rule by Cylons, which does occasionally seem preferable to rule by meatbags. Two three-part compounds strike my fancy as particularly nifty: Cylons-non-grata and un-Cylon-like.
Why so much frakin’ cylo-creativity? Sarah Bunting (a.k.a. Television Without Pity co-founder Sars) says, “My sense, on the TWoP boards, was that playing with language, or trying to get a humorous effect from it, had two motivations: to prove the author’s bona fides as an expert on the show/movie in question; and to carve out some territory for the author in a discussion where the speed and the level of discourse could make some people feel like their comments might get lost otherwise.”
On TWoP and other boards, Buffy the Vampire Slayer addicts kicked off much of the now ever-present wordplay. Michael Adams—author of Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon and the forthcoming Slang: The People’s Poetry—collected and discussed Buffy-propelled words such as commandery, lunchable, crack whore-free, spookables, and unchipperness. Of words like Cylongasm, Adams says, “these forms are often more than markers of in-group identity: they’re flirting. Usually these flirts are free of romantic or sexual interest, but they are showing off, exercises in skill and imagination meant to impress and induce approval. As with all flirts, sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t; it’s easy to overdo it, it’s rewarding to hit the style on the head in one word.”
And even if Cyloniness is no truthiness, that lexical head-hittitude of making just the right nonce word is a real pleasure, not unlike a full stack of Swedish pancakes. So while you’re wondering if your spouses and co-workers are Cylons—hint: if they can be plugged into the wall without an adapter, that could be a bad sign—here are some of the many nonce-y ways Cylon has been used.
The list is only intended for entertainment purposes: please, no Cylonicides. They are so hard to get out of the carpet.
“And does Adama’s mechanical trudge to the river suggest an Adamalon (Cylold Man?) is in the works?”
(July 23, 2005, Television Without Pity)
“So, wait, Chief has a kid – isn’t it a Cybrid like Hera?”
(March 26, 2007, Cracked)
“A Battlestar Galactica-like galaxy where humans fight against a Cylonarchy? Been there, seen that, not worth the retread.”
(March 6, 2007, Blame the Patriarchy)
“Granted, escapecar, as you and many others have already stated it would have led to some painful follow-up questions, but where is my Papadama willing to take responsibility? That would have been a great opportunity to give Adama something real to be angsty and torn instead of putting the blame about the cyloncaust on his shoulders alone.”
(March 20, 2007, Television Without Pity)
“What’s so very interesting is Six (the invisible Cylonette) being such a preacher toward Baltar, her both spiritual and personal need to be understood and loved, and how quickly she flashes into punishment mode when Baltar either mocks or balks at her pronouncements.”
(May 1, 2005, unbossed.com)
“Here are two blog posts by Pierre Drolet, a fellow Quebecois I suspect, who redesigned the Cylons for Razor, the Mini-plot movie between season 3 and 4 of Battlestar Galactica. Great articles and AWESOME PICTURES of his concept work. Total Cylongasm.”
(May 13, 2008, Darkly Dreaming David)
“I have a hard time thinking of either Cain or Gina as ‘okay.’ Even before the whole rapefest; Cain was apparently messed up even before the Cylongeddon, and Gina is unlikely to have been much more ‘okay’ than Caprica 6. We’re not talking role models, here.”
(June 20, 2007, Ain’t It Cool News)
“While the idea of a Cylon civil war might be a bit too far out to land on the BSG writers’ dradus, I suspect the idea of a Cylon actually completely killing another Cylon isn’t. Considering how big a deal the rock-to-the-head became, how will they respond to a real Cylonicide?”
(Oct. 11, 2006, Galactica Watercooler)
“Large pressurised areas for Humaniform Cylons to live, plan and Cylonify.”
(Feb. 14, 2004, MediaBlvd Forums)
“I don’t think there’s any reason to doubt that the four we’ve been introduced to are in fact four of the five. At the very least, we literally shown Anders’ cyloniness in his up close and personal communication with the cylon raider.”
(April 8, 2008, Mafiascum)
“Reed’s contention that the show ‘morphed’ in its current season is chowderheaded: all along, it’s been complex, challenging, humanistic (and sometimes, um, Cylonistic), and staunchly resistant to stroking the conventional wisdom of either side of the political spectrum.”
(Oct. 28, 2006, Tapped: The Group Blog of The American Prospect)
“As far as Sharons go, the Gal. model also demonstrated free will, right up to the point where her mission programming kicked in. It would be safe to assume that the Cap model has a different mission, rather than assume it is traitorous to Cylonitude.”
(Aug. 28, 2005, Television Without Pity)
“I am also endlessly amused by the way the Dylan Four freeze and get all shifty-eyed whenever someone says something that could possibly, maybe, if you squint, be alluding to their Cylonhood…ness. They WISH they were as stealthy as the Gaiussiah.”
(May 3, 2008, Television Without Pity)
“Well, Leoben’s a 2, and he’s probably the most emotional Cylon out there. I do wish we could learn more about Doral and Simon, though. They are practically cylons-non-grata. Which brings me to my main concern that I had last week. Teaming up the Good Cylons with the humans to go against the Bad Cylons to we have real villians to root against seems like a major cop-out, and I really hope they don’t go that route.”
(May 10, 2008, Television Without Pity)
“In fact, it’s interesting that rather than end the teaser on a cliffhanger, they actually resolve the crisis and have the ‘tease’ be the question of whether there was anything Cylontific in Tigh’s decision to hold fire, which of course will go forever unanswered. As it was (especially seeing it all alone as the promo Friday afternoon), it felt a bit like it’s own complete really intense little self-contained mini-story.”
(May 17, 2008, Television Without Pity)
“Regarding other points – Baltar somehow managed to be skeevier than ever, especially with his new Cylontologist cult… and yet, when Connor and goon attacked, he was yelling for them not to hurt his new minion. Interesting change.”
(April 4, 2008, Television Without Pity)
“And New Caprica wasn’t exactly Boca Raton. They couldn’t trot off to the nearest Home Depot for the best shade of eggshell to paint their family rooms. They slapped up hideous tents and shivered in the cold. Why would Earth necessarily be any different? If that geiger counter had found extreme radiation, they’d have shrieked like little girls and run back to the ships, wouldn’t they? [P] Suck it up, fleetlons. We never promised you a rose garden.”
(June 14, 2008, Sci Fi Forums)
“I thought the Cylon sympathisers, however, were ludicrous. The entire human race is down to @50k, and you want to make peace with the group that just wiped out 12 planets? Like they’ll come to terms. It’s more reasonable once we discover Gina’s in charge; Humlons are good at manipulating.”
(Jan. 21, 2006, Democratic Underground)
“Preznit McCylon? [P] Do Not Want! [P] Up until now the Frighteningly Striking Similarities between the wholly-fictional Colonel Saul Tigh (XO, Battlestar Galactica) and the largely-fictional Senator John McSame (Commodore, Ship of Fools) have been merely amusing…”
(July 11, 2008, Driftglass)
“Oooo, you’re creeping me out here. A cylon STD. Or a nano-cylo-std, or sumthin? Anyway, I kinda like it. Of course if Six gave it to Baltar before the first attacks, he’s probably already spread it all over the colonies anyway. Slut. ;)”
(March 8, 2007, Television Without Pity)
“They’re there to greet Six and ease her re-entry into a new Number Six body. As Six tries to adjust to her shocking resurrection, she creates the faux pas of showing concern for Gaius Baltar, who was with her at the destruction. That very un-Cylon-like concern worries the other Cylons.”
(Feb. 27, 2006, Tubular)
“Here goes: the humlons were created off-colonies, sometime between the original cylon war and the attack, just as in canon. At some point a few years before the attack, the twelve ur-humlons, newly-born and not yet multiplied, gathered together to figure out what to do next with respect to the human race.”
(May 19, 2007, Television Without Pity)
“The title Hero is clearly a reference to Baltar, because that is what he is to me after his apparent threesome with Xenalon and supermodel Six.”
(Nov. 19, 2006, TVaus.com.au)