In "The Big Goodbye", when Picard is describing his experience to the crew:

Picard: And from the window, I could see an entire...(makes large rectangle shapes with his arms)

Data: City Block.

Picard: Yes that's right!

But in shots of Earth, we see plenty of cities that still exist in 'modern time'. Why would Picard not know what a city block is?

  • 9
    Picard most likely knows exactly what a city block is, he simply wasn't sure of the correct term for it that was in use during that particular time period.
    – Chahk
    Apr 23 '14 at 15:13
  • 7
    Or maybe his mind just blanked. Happens to all of us. :)
    – Shamshiel
    Apr 23 '14 at 15:25
  • I sometimes forget what the meaning of "is" is..., and have looked at my writing the word "of" and thought it was misspelt.
    – wbogacz
    Apr 23 '14 at 15:32
  • 1
    Also entirely possible that Patrick Stewart forgot his line, and Brent covered for it in character. As it worked, they didn't spend an extra hour reshooting the scene. Hallmarks of two very good actors.
    – paul
    Oct 4 '14 at 2:24

The exchange seems to be designed to show that while Picard may have a superficial grasp of Mid-20th Century American terminology (mostly from his reading of pulp magazine detective stories), his genuine understanding is actually quite poor, as the earlier part of the exchange shows;

PICARD: And when I looked down into the street, I actually saw automobiles!

WORF: Automobiles?

DATA: An ancient Earth device used primarily for transportation.

As well as using marginally inappropriate language, he fails to recognise a reference to baseball (by then a dead sport) and also misunderstands fairly common expressions;

VENDOR: Hey Dix. How's tricks?

PICARD: Oh, she's fine, fine.

Ultimately he decides to bring an expert along (Professor Whalen) to help him enjoy the program more fully.

The fact that he doesn't know the specific term for a "city block" isn't that uncommon. It's a peculiarly American term and one that only arose in the 1800s. It's quite reasonable to assume by the year c2400AD the expression would have become obsolete, especially given that the Earth of the future is a paradise with little overcrowding.

FYI, In the original script, the line was slightly different;

PICARD : I saw an entire city block from that window.

BEVERLY : It sounds wonderful.

  • 5
    As a Brit who's spent time in France and the States, I can tell you that saying that something is so many "blocks" away would instantly mark you out as American.
    – Valorum
    Apr 23 '14 at 17:17
  • 2
    baseball (by then a dead sport) - False. Memory Alpha quite correctly covers its prominence in Deep Space Nine, and although it was no longer played professionally - since professional sport doesn't seem to fit into the culture of the time - it was still well-known. Although his enthusiasm does make Sisko a bit of a nerd, doesn't it?
    – Tom W
    Apr 23 '14 at 17:24
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    @TomW - It's so rare in the Federation that Sisko is astounded to discover that there's a small local league on Cassidy's home planet.
    – Valorum
    Apr 23 '14 at 17:26
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    @Tom W: It sure doesn't appear to be well known outside of people who've been exposed to it by Sisko/Jake (esp. compared to Parrises squares). Going from being "America's pastime" with professional leagues in 18 countries to being a sport with popularity on par with Ōllamaliztli qualifies as being dead. Even the Buck Bokai alien talked about the death of baseball. It's similar to Hellenistic religions being considered dead even though it's still known and studied by many, and there are even attempts at reviving it in Greece. Apr 23 '14 at 22:59
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    Richard - The vendor may have used "tricks" because it rhymes with Dix, but "How's tricks?" is a slang expression for "how are you", "how are things going". Some suggest the expression may be derived from a greeting to prostitutes asking how their "tricks" are going. Aug 26 '15 at 6:02

In the absence of a canonical answer, although this is just speculation, it could be intended to highlight that Picard is both French, and from the 23rd century, and therefore wouldn't necessarily know the specific 20th century American term "city block".

  • 1
    Have a look at Besançon, which appears to be the city nearest Picard's hometown of La Barre. There's not anything really resembling a grid layout there, and without that, the term "city block" doesn't make a whole lot of sense and thus wouldn't be used.
    – Compro01
    Apr 24 '14 at 14:23
  • @Compro01: German cities rarely feature a rectangular grid, either, and yet, the term "Häuserblock" - literally "block of houses" - is a very common word over here. As English WP defines nicely, "A city block is the smallest area [in a city] that is surrounded by streets.", and further down, mentions New York as an example of "random sized and either curvilinear or non-orthogonal blocks". Hence, there doesn't seem to be any inherent connection between city blocks and a grid layout. Aug 23 '15 at 15:55

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