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I'm curious as to when the term "redshirt" is first known to have been used. Just in case anyone needs the background, from Wikipedia:

A "redshirt" is a stock character in fiction who dies soon after being introduced. The term originates from the original Star Trek (NBC, 1966–69) television series in which the red-shirted security personnel frequently die during episodes. Redshirt deaths are often used to dramatize the potential peril that the main characters face.

I'm wondering how early this trope was recognized and given its name. Did "redshirt" exist during the original series' run? Did it originate in online communities? Somewhere in between?

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  • By the way, there is a cool redshirt reference in this puzzle, which I find to be pretty cool ;)
    – Mr Pie
    Aug 20, 2018 at 23:43
  • Possible dupe of scifi.stackexchange.com/q/139502/26522
    – RoboKaren
    Aug 21, 2018 at 0:10
  • Aaagh the 1980's internet history hole! There was a joke about Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, and Ensign Liebowitz beaming down to a planet with the punch line "who's not coming back?" , which I could have sworn was told by Steven Wright on SNL, but I can't locate an actual citation, only a mention in a Reddut thread.
    – Spencer
    Jan 6, 2023 at 23:12

1 Answer 1

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The word "redshirt" has other meanings in athletic and political contexts, but your question is about the Star Trek sense. The earliest known use of "redshirt" in this sense seems to be in the 1985 thread "A Major Inconsistancy" [sic] in the Usenet newsgroup net.startrek. (This is the earliest use of "redshirt" recorded in Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, edited by Jeff Prucher.)

The following message was posted by Mike Stalnaker on 5/28/85:

I was watching The City on the Edge of Forever last night, and found a major inconsistancy. At the end of the episode, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, and TWO REDSHIRTS beam back up to the Enterprise. Count the total number of bodies there.. Can anybody think of any other episodes where more than 6 were beamed at once? How about possible explainations.???

From Kevin Chu's reply of 5/29/85:

You're right, Redshirts are never allowed to survive an episode. The transporter engineer should have beamed them into rock, or something. :-)

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  • Now I'm curious about why Mike thought it was an inconsistency. Did they ever state in TOS that there was a five person limit? Aug 18, 2018 at 15:16
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    @TenthJustice I have to assume it's the physical layout of the pads and lenses. I'd have to look up the TOS-era set to be sure, but most of them have a layout with six prominent pads, and people/groups are usually beamed directly onto them, which makes it simple to assume that six is the limit. (Cargo, however, has always been able to use the whole surface IIRC, so it's not surprising that it could in fact fit a seventh person somewhere.)
    – Cadence
    Aug 18, 2018 at 15:18
  • @TenthJustice Sounds like the seed of a new question.
    – T.J.L.
    Aug 19, 2018 at 5:21
  • Indeed, I recently rewatched TOS and spotted the same "inconsistency". I think it is an inconsistency, in that I don't recall it happening any other time; but there were non-humans, and large objects occasionally transported, so it's also unlikely that it was intended that the transporter be limited to things fitting in the pads. Even if it were, there'd be room for a seventh in the middle of the circle, so there... Aug 20, 2018 at 3:13

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