19

This term has a long history in Star Trek:
Star Trek: First Contact
ST:TNG episode "First Contact"
First Contact Day

Also:
Stargate: Atlantis episode "First Contact"

Does this term originate in Star Trek or was it used in previous sci-fi works or does it predate sci-fi in discussing initial contact between cultures.

0
30

Actually, the first use of this exact phrase, at least in printed works, was in 1875, according to Google's handy Ngram Viewer:

This was used in an astronomical sense, in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society :

But for usage in the desired sense of "initial contact between cultures", the very first appearance was in the (rather lengthy) title of the following book:

by W. Scoresby Routledge and Katherine Routledge, first published 1910.

These instances predate the term's first appearances in science fiction, i.e. Murray Leinster's 1935 novella Proxima Centauri and his 1945 novelette First Contact.

In the former, we have the passage

He had piloted the Adastra to its first contact with the civilization of another solar system...

which provides the first usage of the phrase in science fiction (in the desired sense).

(Thanks to @user14111 for the Proxima Centauri reference, and for pointing out that a 1916 instance reported in a prior version of this answer may not have been correct.)

9
  • @ThePopMachine The difference between this answer and the others is that these are examples of the phrase "first contact" being used in a non-sci-fi sense; they mean first contact between two human cultures. I assumed, since this is SF&F, you meant first contact with aliens :) – KutuluMike Jul 1 '15 at 2:16
  • 1
    @MichaelEdenfield: I think it's pretty clear from the original question what my intent was and why this answer is correct. A question about a term used commonly in SF where the answer might be "actually, this term predated SF" is totally in bounds. Just like the answer to some Star Trek questions is "the has it roots in naval tradition for hundreds of years". All that having been said, if someone wanted to synthesize the other answers into this one, it would make a more complete answer. – ThePopMachine Jul 1 '15 at 14:36
  • @ThePopMachine : I have synthesized the additional information from the other answers into this one, as requested. :-) – Praxis Jul 2 '15 at 8:40
  • An earlier non-SF use of the phrase can be seen in the Southern Quarterly Review, Volume 4 from July 1843, which speaks of "the results of the first contact of Roman and barbarian society". – Hypnosifl Aug 9 '20 at 19:22
  • Also, astronomical uses of the term for eclipses go back even further, see p. 1104 of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London from 1670. – Hypnosifl Aug 9 '20 at 19:32
9

According to the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction, the earliest known occurrence of the term first contact in the science-fictional sense of "[t]he first meeting between two different intelligent species" was in the novella "Proxima Centauri" by Murray Leinster (pseudonym of William F. Jenkins), which first appeared in the March 1935 Astounding Stories (available at the Internet Archive). The following quotation is from page 21,column 2, of the original magazine publication, or p. 669 of Isaac Asimov's anthology Before the Golden Age:

He had piloted the Adastra to its first contact with the civilization of another solar system.

7

As far as I know, the first use of this exact phrase was in 1945 (~20 years before Star Trek), in a short story by Murray Leinster called First Contact. This story has long been considered one of the best science fiction stories ever (it's in the "Hall of Fame", and is in a number of anthologies such as this one.)

In fact, the author's estate tried to sue Paramount for trademark infringement over Star Trek: First Contact. The court found that Leinster probably did coin the term, but in the interim decades, it had become too generic to trademark any more.

3
  • According to Wikipedia, that story is also the first appearance of a "universal translator." – Nerrolken Jun 30 '15 at 19:41
  • Murray Leinster's "First Contact" is a novelette (7500-17500 words), not a novel; it takes up 25 pages (559-583) in Groff Conklin's anthology The Best of Science Fiction – user14111 Jun 30 '15 at 19:54
  • I typed novel out of habit, my bad. I've seen the work described as both a "short novelette" and a "long short story" (the legal case calls it a short story). It's kinda right on the edge. – KutuluMike Jul 1 '15 at 2:17

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.