10

In A Wrinkle in Time, Meg's father calls her by two nicknames: "Megaparsec" (whose meaning she explains) and also the much more opaque "Megatron."

At last she turned to her father. "I'm—I'm sorry, Father."

He took both her hands in his, bent down to her with his short-sighted eyes. "Sorry for what, Megatron?"

Tears almost came to her eyes at the gentle use of the old nickname.

I read the book around the same time (circa 1985) that Transformers toys became hugely popular in the United States. At that time, the word megatron sounded perfectly natural to me at the time—much nicer than the longer megaparsec. However, today, megaparsec is an ordinary word that I use on a regular basis in my work as a scientist, while megatron is associated only with A Wrinkle in Time and the proper name of a Transformers villain.

So where did that word come from? The Oxford English Dictionary has no entry for it. Google N-grams shows "megatron" and capitalized "Megatron" first appearing in the 1940s, before picking up a great deal in the 1980s (as might be expected). However, another search suggests that a lot of early appearances of "Megatron" may be typos for "Megaton" (meaning the measure of explosive power).

So where did this name come from? Was L'Engle's first use of "Megatron" in 1962 essentially a mistake (and what Alexander Murry said really should have been "Megaton")? Or was there some other source for the word, from which A Wrinkle in Time (and probably the Transformers) drew?

6
  • 3
    It might also be a riff on the Metatron.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 0:29
  • 2
    I also suspect it could be a play on the angel מטטרון (Metatron). Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 1:04
  • 1
    The Megatron plasma betatron project was active around the time Wrinkle was written. I’d guess that was the inspiration. Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 3:27
  • "megatron is associated only with A Wrinkle in Time and the proper name of a Transformers villain" — heresy! Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 9:50
  • If this was about transformers I would say portmanteau of mega and electron. Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 19:46

1 Answer 1

9

The term 'megatron' has been in scientific use since at least the 1940s, applied as a nickname to a particular type of vacuum tube (mainly used in broadcast circuits) and latterly as a brand name for a plasma-producing apparatus manufactured by Megatron Ltd.

L'engle stated that she "studied physics" when she was writing A Wrinkle in Time, so it's likely that she would have come across these terms during her research.

I did, indeed, study physics while I was writing Wrinkle, but I’ve never taken a course in physics, and surely I could not have learned enough, reading on my own, to make my book useful to an astronaut.

Explore What You Know and Don't Know

Despite their disparate meanings the two words are found practically on top of each other in any reasonably detailed physics dictionary, such as an author might peruse when trying to come up with sciencey-sounding words starting with 'meg'.

enter image description here

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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