origin of "ansible"?

Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM
Mon Aug 16 16:27:38 UTC 1999

"Ansible" is a word first used in science fiction (according to all I've ever
seen said about it) by Ursula K. LeGuin, for a fictional communications device
that would function instantaneously and therefore would make conversations
feasible on an interstellar scale. Radio, laser, and all other currently known
or theorized media are subject to the lightspeed limit of 300,000 kps (186,000
miles/sec); if you sent a question to someone at the nearest star to Sol and
they replied at once, you'd have to wait nearly eight years to get your answer,
and proportionally longer for more distant stars. For many star systems that are
settled in LeGuin's Hainish stories, you'd be dead before the answer came.

The attached question was just asked in rec.arts.sf.written, although I have
wondered about it for quite a while, as have many sf readers. This is the first
I'd heard of the "talking-board" attribution. Until now my best guess, totally
unsubstantiated, was that she had coined the word as a deliberate reduction,
because it would allow you to ask questions that are "answerable" in your
lifetime. Can anyone substantiate or amplify the connection ascribed here, or
provide some etymological information?

-- Mark

     "Someone's sent out the New Australian Grammar to Malaya nearly a
      century before it was invented, and I'm going to be all day
      sorting it out."     -- Diana Wynne Jones, _A Tale of Time City_


From: kmaroney at crossover.com (Kevin J. Maroney)
Newsgroups: rec.arts.sf.written
Subject: Re: So... does any SF author get credit for the Internet?
Date: Fri, 13 Aug 1999 14:46:16 GMT

ross_presser at imtek.com (Ross Presser) wrote:

>Come to think of it, did Blish invent this?  U.K. Le Guin used the ansible
>in "The Word for World is Forest".  Blish had an instantaneous radio in the
>Cities in Flight books, but he called it the Dirac.

The ansible appears in most of Le Guin's Hainish stories, including
_The Left Hand of Darkness_ and is center stage in _The Dispossessed_.

As nearly as I can tell, she did not coin the term. I have been trying
for years to rediscover which dictionary I discovered the term in,
without success, but it originally referred to a "talking-board", a
slate covered with the letters of the alphabet. Mutes communicated
with non-mutes by spelling out letters with a pointer.

Kevin Maroney | kmaroney at crossover.com
Kitchen Staff Supervisor
The New York Review of Science Fiction

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