2

The Alien movie was released in 1979. If you walked up to the average person on the street in 1977 and asked them to think of an alien, what is the first thing that would come to mind: would it be 'a monster from outer space' or 'a foreigner in a sovereign land without proper visas'?

Another way of posing the question would be: was a title of Alien for a space monster movie novel and clever in 1979?

  • 4
    I don’t understand the question. “Alien” has never meant “space monster” specifically. The first recorded use of “alien” as a noun meaning “extraterrestrial” in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1931. Does that help at all? – Molag Bal Apr 27 '16 at 4:50
  • 1
    @anaranjada Good. And people who don't have access to the OED can findthat 1931 quotation at the Science Fiction Citations site. – user14111 Apr 27 '16 at 6:03
  • 1
    I don't understand the question, either: Indeed, a film title like "The Space Monster" might seem a little silly - which is why the 1979 film was not named "The Space Monster", but "Alien". And of course, as @anaranjada said, "alien" is not meant to mean "space monster, but simply "extraterrestrial". Are we maybe talking about at a translated title of the film that indeed means "space monster"? – O. R. Mapper Apr 27 '16 at 6:12
  • 4
    So... the real question should have been when did "alien" start to mean "extraterrestrial" rather than simply "foreign". – Mr Lister Apr 27 '16 at 8:14
  • 4
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about English language historical usage, not science fiction. – user31178 May 4 '16 at 4:20
7

"If you walked up to the average person on the street in 1977 and asked them to think of an alien, what is the first thing that would come to mind: would it be 'a monster from outer space' or 'a foreigner in a sovereign land without proper visas'?"

I was born in 1964, hence 13 in 1977. To me and all my contemporaries the word "alien" definitely meant "space alien". I distinctly remember being rather proud of myself for even knowing that the word also had an older meaning of "foreigner".

On the other hand, my Penguin English Dictionary first published in August 1965 defines the noun alien thus: "foreigner, esp one living in one's own country and not naturalized." Not a tentacle in sight.

Added later: I was 15 when the film "Alien" came out. It was X-rated so I couldn't go and see it, but I do recall a hearing a graphic second-hand description of the "chestburster" scene from a friend whose older brother had seen the film. I do not remember ever giving a thought to the title.

(Sorry for the late edit. That last bit was something I had to get off my chest.)

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Ah.. the days when X-rating meant something different (which is exactly the reason why the porn industry invented their own made-up rating of XXX) – slebetman May 13 '16 at 3:53
2

From the dictionary: Alien [...]

  • too different from something to be acceptable or suitable
  • a creature that comes from somewhere other than the planet Earth

Adding those two definition is not hard to turn this word into the synonym of "monster from outer space. And yes, the word "alien" was used in such context before, i.e. in the 1954 Killers from Space where you have rubber monsters attacking Earth and indeed called Aliens.

| improve this answer | |
  • google books lets you restrict the date range (after trying your search terms, you should see a bar with 'search tools', click that to filter by date), so you can restrict it to something prior to 1979 using search terms like "alien" and "monster", or "alien" and "creature", or "alien" and "planet", etc. (not just 'alien' alone though, as that will mainly gives books in which groups of people or their customs are referred to as alien). Here's an example from 1962, for example. – Hypnosifl Apr 27 '16 at 4:52
  • But that definition is from a contemporary dictionary. The contemporary meaning of alien is influenced by such movies as the one OP is referring to. I checked the 1913 dictionary, and there was no reference to extraterrestrials for the word. The best way to answer this question is to check a 1975 dictionary or encyclopedia for the word "alien". Your 1954 example is relevant, but it doesn't necesarrily mean that the word was commonly used that way at the time. – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Apr 27 '16 at 5:03
  • @Fiksdal The best way to answer this question is to check a historical dictionary, i.e., the Oxford English Dictionary. – user14111 Apr 27 '16 at 6:05
  • @user14111 Cool, I didn't know about this. I'll check it out right now. – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Apr 27 '16 at 6:07
  • Oxford dictionary also translates this word as "extraterrestrial" – Yasskier Apr 27 '16 at 9:01
2

The first place to look for expert answers to questions of first-use in English is the OED (£); it has the "An (intelligent) being from another planet; an extraterrestrial" meaning from 1931, with adjectival use from 1929.

So, to "was a title of Alien for a space monster movie novel ... in 1979?" the answer is definitely no.

I don't know about "clever".

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.