15

Bat'leths are generally referred to as swords.

Bat'leth translates as "sword of honor". And, for example, Kahless's bat'leth is called the Sword of Kahless

Yet here is a generic definition of sword:

a weapon having various forms but consisting typically of a long, straight or slightly curved blade, sharp-edged on one or both sides, with one end pointed and the other fixed in a hilt or handle.

Some Bat'lethsSwords

So there's some artistic license at work.

What are the in- and out-of-universe explanations for describing bat'leths as "swords" even though they are so unswordlike? How did the use of the term "sword" in this context come to be?

  • 1
    The Klingon definition of the word sword might just differ from the Earth one? Bat'leth is just a translation, as you said, so if the Klingon define a sword that way, maybe the universal translators (or Hoshi before they/she invented it) just translated the word literally, disregarding the Earth definition? – BMWurm Oct 27 '15 at 7:29
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    @BMWurm That doesn't make sense, since it can't possibly have a "literal" translation other than what it actually means. If the Klingons define a Bat'leth that way, then clearly it doesn't actually mean sword. They've never used nor heard of the word sword before contact with humans. – Random832 Oct 27 '15 at 16:40
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    Your dictionary definition is flawed. A sword always has 2 edges, never one. Swords with a single edge are long knives (the distinction being made because peasants were allowed to carry the latter but not the former). – Damon Oct 27 '15 at 18:04
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    @Damon Whose rule for whose peasants? There wasn't exactly the UN back then. Scimitars, sabres, katanas and any curved sword can have one edge. I'd hardly call them knives. You can argue it with the samurai while they're cutting you in half. – Schwern Oct 27 '15 at 18:33
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    @BMWurm, all this aside, I'm also asking about out of universe where you can't deny the term used is "sword" – ThePopMachine Oct 28 '15 at 1:29
21

Bat'leths were modelled upon Chinese fighting crescents.

According to its designer, Dan Curry, the bat'leth...

"...was modelled after a Chinese fighting crescent. Now it's become one of the icons associated with the show [TNG]."

(Source)

Here is his original sketch:

enter image description here

As a fighting crescent is actually a type of knife, it might be better to classify the bat'leth as a large knife than as a sword.

As the reason for calling the weapon a "sword" is addressed neither in-universe nor out-of-universe, all we can say is that it seems to be a liberty that is being taken with the terminology.

There is, however, a relevant remark in the bat'leth entry at the official Star Trek web site:

The traditional "sword of honor" preferred by Klingon warriors adept at the martial arts. About a meter long and shaped as a double-semicircle with four points (resembling a two-ended scimitar), the bat'leth is carried along the inside of the arm and wielded using two handholds on the outside edge of the weapon.

(Source)

This suggests that the sword-like quality of the bat'leth might come from its relationship to the scimitar.

But all in all, "Sword of Kahless" sounds more epic than "Knife of Kahless".

  • 4
    I bet the authors were thinking: "lets create something looking absolutely bad-ass and that is absolutely impractical at the same time". – Yasskier Oct 27 '15 at 6:36
  • @Yasskier, it might actually make sense if you're strong and your opponent is armored. And no one has ranged weapons. – ThePopMachine Oct 27 '15 at 7:17
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    To be fair, a large knife is pretty similar in form to a sword. – David Z Oct 27 '15 at 14:20
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    @DavidZ In fact, saying "a large knife intended for combat" as the definition of "sword" is a pretty good one. If this was based off a smaller crescent knife weapon, and is larger, and intended for combat, it would then fall under the word "sword". – Yakk Oct 27 '15 at 15:15
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    Saying that this does not fit the definition of sword is like digging up an old dictionary that defines "weight [n] the force attracting a body to the Earth" and then asking how we should call the force that attracted Armstrong et al. to the Moon. – Hagen von Eitzen Jun 9 '16 at 12:46
10

The Memory Alpha section on the design out-of-universe is very detailed about it and has some interesting things to say.

  • It's partially Dorn's fault: the article explains that Dorn wanted a weapon that had connotations of martial arts rather than barbarians, so there was a bit of a push for a samurai-inspired design. One of the distinctive things about the samurai sword is that it is slightly curved (Star Trek: Communicator issue 114, p. 59)
  • It's also partially because they wanted something unique:

    You know, there was this desire to have a particular, cool Klingon sword for Worf to use, that would become his, sort of, signature weapon,

    So this desire for some sort of 'sword' which was quite distinct is also part of the reason out-of-universe. My guess would be that the term 'sword' was ingrained in the producers' minds and so they kept with that term, even though the Bat'leth technically wasn't a sword.

  • The sources of inspiration, Dan Curry tells us included (emphasis mine):

    I'd been imagining a curved weapon partially influenced by Himalayan weapons like the kukri [the wickedly curved knife of the Gurkhas of Nepal, arguably the most renowned fighting knife in the world]. I was also thinking about the Chinese double ax, Chinese fighting crescents, and the Tai Chi sword. I combined elements of all those things in order to come up with an ergonomically sound weapon." (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 178) It was also important to Curry that the bat'leth could be held with either two hands or one hand. "He wanted a weapon that you could hold, you know, in a variety of ways," offered Ron Moore, "and have some interesting angles, on camera." ("Reunion" audio commentary, TNG Season 4 Blu-ray)

Now, for probably the most important part as to why this was called a sword (in my opinion at least) is the following quote:

The final draft of the "Reunion" script describes the weapon by saying, "It is [a] semi-circular curved blade that branches to four points. It is about three feet wide. There is a terrible beauty about the blade [....] The bat'telh is held by two handles on the mid-exterior of the blade [....] The bat'telh can be used as either shield or sword." (Memory Alpha sources this)

But, these are all out-of-universe accounts; as for the in-universe reason, we all know the tale of how Khaless forged his 'sword' which became known as the Bat'leth. I'm inclined to agree with @Praxis that the in-universe reason is that 'The Sword of Khaless' sounds far more warrior like than 'The Blade of Khaless'!

6

That's the generic definition of sword from an Earth dictionary.

The Klingon dictionary defines it differently, and is of course superior.

enter image description here
A large blade, more than an arm length long, with a hand grip along the back or on one end.

  • 2
    Have you got a reference for this definition? – Rand al'Thor Oct 27 '15 at 17:55
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    Presumably, this is the definition of a Klingon word. Why is this specific Klingon word equated with "sword" in English? – Praxis Oct 27 '15 at 18:01
4

Because that's what we do with new, unfamiliar concepts that are reasonably similar to something much more familiar. The Spanish explorers in the New World called llamas and alpacas "goats". The English colonists in North America called bison "buffalo". The human explorers who first encountered Klingon warriors and saw them using long-bladed martial weapons in close combat called them "swords."

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    This seems very opinion-based, not least because in-universe the translator is involved. – Valorum Oct 27 '15 at 19:25
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    @Richard Maybe I missed something. Why do you find it inaccurate to talk about the way humans translate new concepts when dealing with a machine that is programmed to translate new concepts for humans? – Mason Wheeler Oct 27 '15 at 20:03
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    I downvoted because you've made no attempt to explain why you think that your answer is right. You've just said "I'm right because I'm right". Good answers show references. – Valorum Oct 27 '15 at 20:25
1

It's a two handed weapon with a long curved blade you slash and thrust with. What else would you call it?

I think the translators went through a list of premodern combat weapons, couldn't find anything that matched, and decided "sword" was the closest thing and easiest to understand.

"Sickle" sort of comes close, but they're intended to cut inward toward the body.

  • This is essentially the same as @MasonWheeler's answer. You've expressed an opinion. This is merely a reasonable conjecture without evidence. Plus it doesn't answer the out of universe aspect. – ThePopMachine Oct 28 '15 at 6:21
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    @ThePopMachine I didn't see anyone else make this point (MasonWheeler answered after me). The out of universe answers have already been well-handled, no sense repeating them. Yes, it's a reasonable in-universe conjecture you may not have thought of; if you're only looking for answers supported by canon be sure to say so. – Schwern Oct 28 '15 at 6:48
  • @Schwern: I didn't mean to imply anything about the order of answering, just that the comments that apply there apply here too. – ThePopMachine Oct 28 '15 at 15:05

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