Probably one of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s most famous episodes was an episode called “Darmok”. It is lauded by TV critics, academics*, and fans alike for its creative take on aliens and language.
The episode has a simple premise: Captain Picard gets stuck on a planet with a Tamarian and they have to survive. Only, the universal translator doesn’t work on this particular race because they speak symbolically. So, when they do speak, the words are all words Captain Picard understands, but he doesn’t understand the meaning of the full phrase. “Shaka, when the walls fell”, for example, refers to a famous story in their past that illustrates failure. So, when the Tamarian says “Shaka when the walls fell”, he’s trying to say they are really sucking at life.
It occurs to me, though, that the Tamarian language isn’t really as foreign as we think it is. Especially if you, like me, are heavily steeped in pop culture.
Half the things I say are Darmok moments. Hell, even saying it’s a Darmok moment is itself a Darmok moment. It’s like Darmok-ception. (That’s another Darmok moment, actually….)
So, when I do something a little more over the top than expected, I comment, “That’s wizard’s chess.”
When I want to cheer someone on, I yell, “RUFIO RUFIO RUFIO RU FI OOOOOOOOO!”
When I eat too much of anything, I groan, “I eat too many pizza.”
When something fucks up my plans, I mutter, “That all changed when the Fire Nation attacked.”
And finally, when I call someone expecting them to know who I am even without caller id? I say, “Mulder, it’s me.”
Unfortunately, I tend to say these things a lot. Even more unfortunately, when I do, it may as well be a foreign language if you don’t watch the same television shows I do. But, the thing is, my fellow Tamarians (read: pop culture people) get it. They know exactly what emotion I’m referring to because we have a shared cultural experience. When I’m at the bar shouting “Rufio” to a person chugging a Pangalactic Snargleblaster, they know that it’s more than a call to “chug”; it’s admiration for how cool they are. Because let’s face it, Rufio is badass.
Now think back on your life. What phrases do you use? When you don’t let someone pass you, do you say you “Gandalfed them”? When you’re trying to divert someone’s attention, do you wave your hand and say “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”?
You may not use those specific ones, but you know you do it in some way or another.
So, I think congrats are in order for us science fiction fans. I think we are actually living a Star Trek episode. It’s like we’ve always dreamed.