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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

James Davis Nicoll (born March 18, 1961[1]) of Kitchener, Ontario is a former role-playing game store owner, a freelance game and speculative fiction reviewer and also works as a first reader for the Science Fiction Book Club.[2] As a Usenet personality, Nicoll is known for writing a widely quoted epigram on the English language, as well as for his accounts of suffering a high number of accidents, which he has narrated over the years in Usenet groups like rec.arts.sf.written and rec.arts.sf.fandom.

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Influence on SF genre

In addition to his influence as a first reader for the Science Fiction Book Club[3], Nicoll often offers ideas and concepts to other writers, primarily through the medium of Usenet. After winning the 2006 Locus Award for his novella Missile Gap, Charles Stross thanked him, writing that Nicoll "came up with the original insane setting[4] — then kindly gave me permission to take his idea and run with it."[5]

"The Purity of the English Language"

In 1990, in the Usenet group rec.arts.sf-lovers, Nicoll wrote the following epigram on the English language:

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.[6]

(The original post had "riffle" for "rifle"; however, a followup acknowledged that this had been a spelling error.[7])

Over the years it has spread over the internet, often misattributed to other individuals including Booker T. Washington and a nineteenth-century painter also named James Nicoll. In recent years however the epigram has also been quoted, with proper attribution, in books by professor of rhetoric and communication design Randy Harris.[8] Amateur linguists Jeremy Smith,[9] Richard Lederer,[10] and Anu Garg[11] have also referenced Nicoll's quote.

Professional linguists who have referenced the quote online include Professor of Linguistics Mark Liberman of the University of Pennsylvania and Language Log;[12] Associate Professor of Linguistics Suzanne Kemmer of Rice University,[13] who also posted her research into the quote at the LINGUIST mailing list;[14] and Second Language Acquisition Ph.D. student Rong Liu.[15] There are also amateur philologists who have used the quote, including Garg of the English language site,[16] journalist Suw Charman,[17] and journalist Vale White.[18]

'Nicoll Events'

Nicoll relates a number of life-and-or-limb-threatening accidents that have happened to him, which he has told and retold on various science fiction fandom related newsgroups. Over the years these stories have also been collected into Cally Soukup's List of Nicoll events.

Inspired by Nicoll's collection of accidents, as well as his tendency to take in any stray cat that comes knocking, fantasy author Jo Walton wrote him a poem in 2002, available at her Livejournal.

"Brain eater"

A post on soc.history.what-if credits Nicoll with coining the phrase "brain eater"[19] which is supposed to "get" certain writers such as Poul Anderson[20] and James P. Hogan.[21] Nicoll claims the 'brain eater' has affected Hogan, because of Hogan's expressions of belief in Immanuel Velikovsky's version of catastrophism,[22] and his advocacy of the hypothesis that AIDS is caused by pharmaceutical use rather than HIV (see AIDS denialism).[23] The term has been adopted by other Usenet posters,[24] [25][26] as well as elsewhere on the Internet ([1], [2], [3]) and use of the term within Usenet has been criticised.[27][4]

Nicoll-Dyson Laser

Nicoll proposed the Nicoll-Dyson Laser concept where the satellites of a Dyson Swarm act as a phased array laser emitter capable of delivering their energy to a planet-sized target at a range of millions of light years.[28]

E. E. Smith first used the general idea of concentrating the sun's energy in a weapon in the Lensman series when the Galactic Patrol developed the sunbeam (in Second Stage Lensmen), however his concept did not extend to the details of the Nicoll-Dyson Laser.


  1. ^ Silver, Steven. "SF Birthday Calendar: March". Retrieved 2007-05-15.  
  2. ^ Wheeler, Andrew (2006-11-20). "SFBC's Top 50 Books List Goes Walkabout". Science Fiction Book Club. Retrieved 2007-05-20.  
  3. ^ Wheeler, Andrew (2006-11-20). "SFBC's Top 50 Books List Goes Walkabout". Science Fiction Book Club. Retrieved 2007-05-20.  
  4. ^ soc.history.what-if December 2000, Life on the Disc
  5. ^ Stross, Charles (2007-06-17). "Brief Announcement".  
  6. ^ Nicoll, James (1990-05-15). "The King's English". rec.arts.sf-lovers. (Web link).
  7. ^ Nicoll, James (1990-05-20). "The King's English". rec.arts.sf-lovers. (Web link).
  8. ^ Harris, Randy (2004). Voice Interaction Design: Crafting the New Conversational Speech Systems. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann. p. 55. ISBN 1558607684.  
  9. ^ Smith, Jeremy (2005). Bum Bags and Fanny Packs: A British-American, American-British Dictionary. New York: Carrol & Graf. p. 164. ISBN 0786717025.  
  10. ^ Lederer, Richard (2003). A Man of My Words: Reflections on the English Language. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 266. ISBN 0312317859.  
  11. ^ Garg, Anu (2005). Another Word A Day: An All-New Romp through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English. New York: Wiley. p. 111. ISBN 0471718459.  
  12. ^ Liberman, Mark (2005-10-24). "The wordiness of English". Language Log.  ; "88 English words from snow". Language Log. 2003-12-07. Retrieved 2007-05-17.  
  13. ^ Kemmer, Suzanne (2001-10-23). "The English Language: Past and Present". Rice University.   "Words in English: Structure, History, Use (course Web site for Linguistics/English 215)". Rice University. 2006-02-28. Retrieved 2007-05-17.  
  14. ^ Kemmer, Suzanne (2002-02-20). "James D. Nicoll quote - mystery solved". LINGUIST list. Retrieved 2007-05-17.  
  15. ^ Liu, Mike (2005-10-03). "Presentation on Morphology, for the course INDV 101-Language" (Microsoft PowerPoint). University of Arizona. Retrieved 2007-05-17.  
  16. ^ Garg, Anu (1999-12-06). "A.Word.A.Day archives, see Tabula Rasa". A.Word.A.Day.  ; "A.Word.A.Day archives, see Cumshaw". 2002-11-04. Retrieved 2007-05-17.  
  17. ^ Charman, Suw (2005-01-03). "Re: The purity of the English language". Chocolate and Vodka. Retrieved 2007-05-17.  
  18. ^ White, Vale (2004-10-13). "Words, words, words depurify". Southern Utah University Journal. Retrieved 2007-05-17.  
  19. ^ Wilson, Gareth (2002-08-14). "Quick thought on the collapse of the Roman Empire". soc.history.what-if. (Web link).
  20. ^ Nicoll, James (1997-09-12). "Fire Upon the Deep and Way Station". rec.arts.sf.written. (Web link).
  21. ^ Nicoll, James (1999-09-02). "Genetic Engineering?". rec.arts.sf.written. (Web link).
  22. ^ Hogan, James P.. "The Case for Taking Velikovsky Seriously". Retrieved 2006-06-18.  
  23. ^ Hogan, James P.. "Bulletin Board: AIDS Skepticism". Retrieved 2007-02-01.  
  24. ^ McCutchen, Pete (1999-12-10). "Re: A Great New Sci-Fi Novel! (CRIT)". rec.arts.sf.composition. (Web link).
  25. ^ Palmer, David M. (2006-01-21). "Orson Scott Card: The brain eater takes another bite--Intelligent Design". rec.arts.sf.written. (Web link).
  26. ^ Bradshaw, Simon (1999-11-14). "NASA and SF". rec.arts.sf.written. (Web link).
  27. ^ M., Omega (2007-06-05). ""Brain eater": A phrase I hate". Hatrack River Forum.;f=2;t=048816;p=1#000000. Retrieved 2007-10-30.  
  28. ^ Nicoll, James (2005-03-20). "Re: A Moon base is too far; an asteroid ship better alternative:)". (Web link).

See also


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to James Nicoll article)

From Wikiquote

James Davis Nicoll (b. 1961) is a Canadian freelance game and SF reviewer.


  • The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.
  • Romeo and Juliet *died*. I always liked that in a teen romance story.
  • [F]olks would better off dipping their heads in a bucket of liquid [nitrogen] and battering them against a tree very very hard than reading Baxter's Titan. It would not surprise me if reading that book causes birth defects.
  • This is the sort of book that justifies fatwahs. If WWIII occurred right now, we could die happy knowing Baxter would never write again. If a dinosaur killing asteroid was headed for Earth and I knew Baxter had another book coming up, I would campaign for letting the rock hit, since it is obviously the work of a benovelent deity trying to save us from another Titan.
  • I can't help but notice that everytime I fly somewhere, other people's planes fall out of the sky.
  • A lot of my stories end with "And when I regained consciousness, there was a crowd standing around looking at me."
  • You may have trouble getting permission to aero or lithobrake asteroids on Earth.
  • Before it exploded one night, I went to a four grade, two room schoolhouse and we had textbooks from the 1940s.
  • John Barnes is incredibly variable. Pete's Rule (Never buy a Barnes with sodomy in it) is a good one but unfortunately the publisher does not put that kind of stuff on the cover.
  • About Genellan: Planetfall by Scott Gier: Aha! The Alien Planet Canada series, where the planet the characters are marooned on seems to be Manitoba. Bad bad world building.
    • ibid.
  • I have hated every Kress I read, especially this one, but the Bear is a standard Bear and if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll like.
Compare "People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like." (attributed to w:Abraham Lincoln). [1]
  • After enough concussions the head injuries blur together.
Usenet article <aqrko2$8hi$> (2002)
  • Hell, Chuck Yeager could do it in his sleep while on fire, I'm sure.
  • I find this varies considerably from near-death experience to near-death experience. For example, having a wandering loonie break down the door of my game store to look for women was so funny the entire concussion and pools of blood thing was a minor footnote. Being sucked out into the Atlantic by an undertow was deeply irritating. Having a snowba[n]k collapse on me was alarming because of the claustrophobia issue. The car wreck was over almost before I had time to realise what was happening.
Don't get the wrong idea here, people. Even for James that was a busy day.
  • I think once you start eating people you should stop claiming to be a vegetarian, even if you only eat bad people.
  • My grandfather for example only died twice, once during the war and once in the 1980s.
  • About James Clemens's Wit'ch Storm: "Nothin'g sa'ys q'uality fantas'y l'ike misuse'd apos'tro'phes."
  • All gone. Zelazny was one of the first times I looked at something I had had familiarity with to find the spot where the memory should have been empty, replaced by a scrawled "Moved South for the Fishing" sign. Calculus was another loss. It was quite upsetting to reach for a skill and find nothing.
  • About First Landing by Robert Zubrin: Someday I'd like to read a story about competent people on Mars.
  • About Antrax by Terry Brooks: I wonder if he's planning a book called SRS? Or F'lu?
    • ibid.
  • Yes, I was suprised how easy it was to cut the door off my cat.
  • In point of fact, the meteor was something like 30 km when it exploded. It was over north Waterloo and I was north of St Agatha. Two spherical clouds, and two explosions. Unfortunately, I was dealing with a goat that was trying to eat an oil truck's fuel line, goats having this optimistic 'Well, maybe it has become edible since they last time I tried this' worldview, and I missed seeing the explosions.
  • As I've often said, I'm a fan of hard SF. No, it's more like I am addicted to it, even the stepped-on 20 times and cut with powered milk and rat-poison sort of hard SF. This gets us to Stephen Baxter's Mayflower II, published last year in a limited edition from PS Publishing. In one of the great tragedies of publishing, it was not a limited enough edition and so I have read it.
  • It's true that the average human in the Xeelee universe can't eat Jell-O with a straw without accidently removing an eye but these particular humans start off no stupider than than any other human of their era and proceed to breed themselves into imbecility. Well, farther into imbecility.
  • We discovered at one point that the brick wall of the pillar would hold up a sock pretty well. This led to sorting socks by putting them on the wall, which in turn led to mosaics built entirely of socks. Mission drift is a hazard in all pursuits, including doing the laundry.
  • Tor is the hard one. They employ a lot of editors, whose tastes vary. They don't always indicate who has edited what (on the choice of the editor, I think) so editor stalking can be more difficult with Tor. Ear-tagging works but is rather surprisingly illegal.
  • Manitoba… Not sure what to do about them. Restock the province with megafauna and encourage tourism, I think. How quickly can we breed back the saber-toothed cats?
  • Ben Bova seems to work very hard at working in new discoveries into his Glum Future but alas, his future is glum and not that well written.
  • I don't mind hidden depths but I insist that there be a surface.
  • Until recently baby production was largely dependent on slave labour; as soon as women are allowed to answer the question "Would you like to squeeze as many objects the size of a watermelon out of your body as it takes to kill you?" they generally answer "No, thank you." This leads to falling birthrates everywhere women are not kept enslaved and ignorant of the alternatives.
  • Most of my scars are not fire-related and I no longer say "I know what I am doing" at critical moments.
  • If there's a stack [of novels to review], the unpromising stuff goes at the top and the promising stuff goes at the bottom. That way, I am eager to finish Overwrought Romantic Mary Sue Fantasy because I know that will let me read Niche Product That Only the Author, James and Some Guy at JPL Likes.
  • [H]umans hate to admit error even as they stand there, black and smoldering, with the stub of a cigarette in one hand, in the middle of a wide crater containing them and the remains of a sign that once read 'DANGER: VOLATILE EXPLOSIVES'
  • It would let me protect the Earth from asteroids. In fact, for a small fee I would protect the Earth on a monthly basis, locating rocks that could be steered into the Earth and then not doing it if the cheque didn't bounce.
We could finally commodify sunlight. A large solar collector at the Earth Sun L1 would block all the light that otherwise falls on the unworthy and could be sold to those that deserve it (Litmus test is the same as with Operation Nice Planet You Have, Shame If Anything Were To Happen To It).
  • Call me an extremist but killing a few hundred million people seems like the sort of method that might have unintended consequences.
  • Goodkind is noted for subtle allegories the same way Mt Kilimanjaro is known for floating weightlessly.
  • Let's step back and think about the likely outcome of a scenario that involves the words "James Nicoll", "a box of sharp needles" and "possibly without ever having achieved full consciousness" for a moment, shall we?
  • [The cat] and I have an agreement: I leave her alone and don't make sudden moves when I wake up to find her perched on my chest, staring with an unblinking hostile gaze at my face and in return she rarely mutilates me.
  • It's bad to wake up and see a large cat in mid-leap from the rough vicinity of the ceiling.
  • Deadly nightshade is the only plant I have ever been able to get to grow for me.
  • I believe that I have now experienced the lifetime maximum exposure to bottom spanking in fantasy novels.
  • "Gun-wielding recluse gunned down by local police" isn't the epitaph I want. I am hoping for "Witnesses reported the sound up to two hundred kilometers away" or "Last body part finally located".
  • The number of times I have been declared dead is statistically insignificant,although admittedly non-zero.
  • My father once discovered that one cannot "walk off" gangrene.
  • Never bring a gun to a fight where the other guy has a time-machine and tomorrow's newspapers.
  • [Elizabeth Moon's] antagonists are always evil moustache-twirlers. She could write a book about a golf open and the main rival to the hero would turn out to have clubs made from compressed kittens.
  • It takes a courageous Mormon to turn to archaeology to support their argument

About Nicoll

  • Nah, that's just the morphic field of the local environment compensating for a Nicoll Event. Do you recall having a mishap just before any of these sightings?
  • The point is that there isn't a canonical James Nicoll tale. The point is that whenever a discussion turns to some manner in which a human being can be menaced, injured, or potentially killed, it will turn out that James has already had it happen to him. No matter how funny, unlikely, wierd (sic)), or pedestrian. He hasn't said he has a scar on his arm from being attacked by aliens with laser swords, but I would be only mildly surprised if he did. And I'd believe him.

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