Where did the meaning "To remove a clone from its chamber, vat, or artificial womb" (wiktionary) for the word decant originate? The wiktionary entry does not cite an usage and the OED entry it references only contains other (related) meanings.

I noticed this use in the Foundation TV Series but from the context I do not expect Asimov's books to be the source. In any case the word decant does not seem to appear in Forward the Foundation. Google provides a mix of results, partially obscured by the use of clone in winemaking (?). In particular I see a reference to clone troopers being decanted but it's not clear that that's where the use originates.

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    I hope this question is on topic. I debated between here and English Language and Usage but decided it was more likely to be answered via science-fiction-specific knowledge. Also not sure I've found the best tags, please amend if necessary.
    – ronno
    Feb 3, 2023 at 12:10
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    Never been around wine or brandy "decanters?"
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Feb 3, 2023 at 12:10
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    @ZeissIkon I appreciate how suitable the choice of word is, and that's precisely why am curious about who came up with it.
    – ronno
    Feb 3, 2023 at 12:13
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    Decanting is simply removing something from its bottle. Once you have the concept of a 'test-tube baby', the idea of a 'bottle' being where you grow a clone isn't at all far away, and then you're done.
    – AakashM
    Feb 3, 2023 at 13:50
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    I always pictured this as draining the liquid from the tank, leaving the clone high and dry.
    – Davislor
    Feb 3, 2023 at 21:09

3 Answers 3


In Huxley's 1932 Brave New World the term "decant" is used. In fact, in that society, the nursery rhyme "Bye baby Bunting" is altered to "Bye baby Banting, soon you'll need decanting."

Given how early this book is and how well-known, it seems likely that this metaphoric use of "decant" (to "pour out" a clone as if it were a drink) originates from and became popular due to, this book.

Note that while the children that are produced in Brave New Worlds are not duplicates of particular adults (the modern SF meaning of "clones"), they are duplicates (clones) of an original zygote:

One egg, one embryo, one adult — normality. But a bokanov­skified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide. From eight to ninety-six buds, and every bud will grow into a perfectly formed embryo, and every embryo into a full-sized adult. Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress.

‘Ninety-six identical twins working ninety-six identical machines!’ The voice was almost tremulous with enthusiasm. ‘You really know where you are. For the first time in history.’ He quoted the planetary motto. ‘Community, Identity, Stability.’ Grand words. ‘If we could bokanovskify indefi­nitely the whole problem would be solved.’

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    They aren't actually clones in Brave New World, but this is still the best answer.
    – Spencer
    Feb 3, 2023 at 23:14
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    Thanks for that point - I made an edit in response.
    – Andrew
    Feb 4, 2023 at 1:05
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    Strictly, decanting (of wine etc.) is used to separate the liquid (drinkable) part and the solid (non-drinkable) part. I'm pretty sure that I've come across the word describing a similar careful separation in other contexts. Feb 5, 2023 at 21:48

Aldous Huxley uses the word in "Brave New World", which was published in 1932. This is about industrial-scaled in vitro fertilization rather than cloning in the strict sense (1), but the process described is pretty similar to how industrial cloning is described later - removing grown people from vats - so this seems applicable.

"We decant our babies as socialized human beings, as Alphas or Epsilons, as future sewage workers or future …"

(1) The novel describes a fictional process to divide a fertilized egg into genetically identical embryos, so maybe this counts as a crude form on cloning.


The first reference I recall to "decant" in reference to a human wasn't directly relative to cloning. In Heinlein's Time Enough for Love (1973) that word is used in reference to an in vitro gestated fetus being removed from the tank (equivalent to "born") -- both for zygotes derived from actual sex cells and for clones.

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