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using the Vulcan nerve
pinch on a doomed redshirt
In the fictional Star
Trek universe, the Vulcan nerve pinch is
a technique used mainly by Vulcans to render unconsciousness by
pinching a pressure point at the base of the
victim’s neck with all four
fingers opposing the thumb. Although usually used on humanoid
beings, in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Spock
successfully uses the nerve pinch on a horse-like creature.
Nimoy, who portrayed the Vulcan science officer Spock, conceived the maneuver in
the early days of the original Star Trek series.
The script for “The
Enemy Within” stated that Spock "kayoes" Captain Kirk’s duplicate, but
Nimoy felt that such an action would be undignified for a Vulcan —
he therefore invented an alternative. In Star Trek’s
scripts, the pinch is referred to as the FSNP, for
Famous Spock Nerve Pinch.
Since Spock, various other characters in the Star Trek spin-offs
use the technique, including non-Vulcans. The first non-Vulcan was
Noonien Singh, later
followed by others such as the android Data,
Odo, Voyager’s holographic Doctor,
and the humans Jean-Luc Picard, Seven of Nine,
(though Archer was carrying the katra of the ancient Vulcan
Surak at the time). In Carpenter
Street, T'Pol uses the
nerve pinch on the kidnapper Loomis to stop him escaping from his
apartment, and again later in the episode. She also uses it in the
4th episode of the first season on Travis Mayweather to calm him
Some humans, however, have been unable to use the nerve pinch.
Spock once commented that he tried but failed to teach it to James
Likewise, when Dr.
McCoy was in possession of Spock’s katra, he was unable to use
the nerve pinch.
The nerve pinch has been used on Vulcans and the vulcanoid Romulans
several times, showing that neither race is immune to the
References to the nerve pinch outside of Star Trek often show
characters attempting the nerve pinch while placing their hands in
the position of the Vulcan Salute. However, observation of
Spock in the episodes reveals that the nerve pinch is not done with
the same hand position as the salute.
Over the years, fans and Expanded
Universe writers have made a number of suggestions as to how it
The book The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E.
Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry offers a simple
explanation: the pinch blocks blood and nerve responses from reaching the brain, leading to unconsciousness.
How this might lead to instantaneous unconsciousness is not
explained. (Preventing all blood flow to the brain can result in
unconsciousness, but many seconds later.) In this earliest of
Star Trek reference books, the pinch is referred to as the
Another conjecture is that it can be done by applying strong and
surgically precise pressure over baroreceptors of the carotid sinus at
the base of the humanoid neck. The objective would be to elicit the
baroreceptor reflex as the receptors detect
an apparent high pressure state due to the externally applied force
and causes reflex bradycardia and/or hypotension, leading to decreased blood
supply to the brain and syncope.
A third conjecture
is paranormal rather
than medical: because of Vulcans’ telepathic nature and incredible control
over their own bodies, they are able to send a burst of neural
energy into another being and overload its nervous system,
rendering it unconscious, although the pinch does not work on all
species (Or all humans such as Gary Seven). This was supported by
the fact that Dr. McCoy could not use it in Star Trek III,
but it has been rendered moot by the fact that many non-telepathic
characters have used it in modern incarnations of Trek such as
Captain Jonathan Archer in Star Trek Enterprise, as well as
Lieutenant Commander Data, who is an android.
The canonical mechanism of the nerve pinch was finally offered
in the episode "Cathexis" of Star Trek: Voyager. There, the Doctor
inspects a crewmember who was found unconscious and observes an
extreme trauma to the trapezius neck bundle, "as though her nerve
fibers have been ruptured"; and it is later revealed that the
person was the victim of a nerve pinch.
The Star Trek episode “The
Enterprise Incident” includes a scene in which Spock
administers the so-called "Vulcan death grip" to Kirk to convince
apparently unfamiliar with Vulcan techniques, that Kirk had been
killed. In fact, Spock had merely used a particularly powerful
nerve pinch to put Kirk into a deep unconsciousness that closely
resembled death. Kirk awoke a short time later with head and neck
pain but no lasting injury. The "death grip" differs from the
"nerve pinch" on that the nerve pinch is administered to the neck
area and the death grip was administered to Kirk's face; the palm
directly over the nose and the fingers spread out over the rest of
the face. This also differs from the "Vulcan mind meld" grip which
is administered to only one side of the face.
The maneuver, as performed in the various Star Trek visual
media, would not have the intended effect in reality. Simply
pinching a portion of a person's neck in such a manner can be
painful, but it will not result in unconsciousness.
An effect similar to the Vulcan nerve pinch can occur in
real-life through either internal or external stimulation of the vagus nerve (e.g. by
vomiting or a physical hit, respectively). By application of
pressure to the nerve, it is possible to lose consciousness. It is
an in-field treatment for people who experience tachycardia and
several other cardiac problems - stimulating the nerve by massage
or certain movement or internal pressure build-up (Valsalva
maneuver) decreases pulse frequency and corrects certain
cardiac arrythmias. However, in people with cardiac dysfunction,
violent hits to the vagus nerve can cause cardiac arrest.
- In the movie You Don't Mess with the
Sandler uses the grip to knock out a crying boy.
- On the song "Guerilla Monsoon Rap" on Talib Kweli's 2002 album "Quality",
rapper Black Thought raps the line "I hit these emcees with the
grip of death like I was a Vulcan"
- In an episode of the TV series Soap, Jodie Dallas (played by Billy Crystal) used
the nerve pinch successfully, to his surprise, in a confrontation
with several fighters at a martial arts studio.
- Scott Adams has
been known to mention to the nerve pinch in his comic strip Dilbert, where he often
(intentionally) refers to it incorrectly as the Vulcan death
- Page 140 of the webcomic
a character resembling Mr. Spock using the pinch on Parson, the
- Xena on the series Xena:
Warrior Princess has a lethal Death Pinch. (This gives the
victim 30 seconds to live unless the counter-strike is
- The Beastie
Boys’ song “Intergalactic” says the listener’s “knees’ll start
shaking and your fingers pop / Like a pinch on the neck from Mr.
- On an episode of Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, Kwai Chang
Caine uses the “Vulcan Nerve Punch” to defeat several
- In the Mel Brooks
comedy Spaceballs, Lone Starr (played by Bill Pullman)
attempts to knock out a Spaceball guard using the technique,
prompting the following dialogue:
- Guard: What the hell are you doing?
- Lone Starr: Uh… the Vulcan Neck Pinch?
- Guard: No, no, stupid. You’ve got it much too high. It’s down
here where the shoulder meets the neck.
- Lone Starr: Like this?
- Guard: Yeah! (faints)
- In the film Look Who’s Talking Now, Kirstie Alley’s
character loses her job and takes a temp job playing an elf in Santa’s Workshop in a mall. A bratty child
asks scornfully if she is an elf. She replies “No, I’m a Vulcan.
How would you like a little death grip?” in reference to Alley’s
role as Lieutenant Saavik in Star Trek II: The
Wrath of Khan.
- In the Kevin
Smith film Mallrats, Smith's Silent Bob character
performs the neck pinch using both hands, effectively knocking out
two mall security guards. Jason Lee's Brodie Bruce character remarks "Vulcan
nerve pinch?", to which Silent Bob nods.
- Pulp hero Doc
Savage uses a similar technique.
- “Vulcan nerve pinch” is also hacker slang for a keyboard
combination used to reboot or
otherwise interrupt a computer. A common example of this is Control-Alt-Delete for IBM PC
compatible computers (see also three-finger salute).
- The book The Action Hero’s Handbook gives instructions
for performing a nerve pinch.
- In The
Simpsons episode “Mayored to the Mob,” Homer uses the
Vulcan Nerve Pinch (or, as Marge thinks, a sleeper hold) to knock
out his children. He is then scolded by Marge and promptly repeats
the technique on her also. Realizing there is 30 minutes left until
supper he applies it to himself.
- In the Futurama episode “Where No Fan Has Gone
Before,” the Planet Express crew are forced into a fight to the
death with the cast of the original series. When Nimoy is fighting
Bender, he tries to “see if this actually
works” and attempts one on Bender, which could never work, since he
is a robot.
- In the video game Space Quest 6,
The Vulger Neck Pinch uses the same placement of the fingers, but
requires the person to also speak lines from Tango and Cash or Hudson Hawk, the
combination of the pinch and dialogue from the two movies causing
neural overload. Roger
Wilco uses this to incapacitate a guard so that he can steal a
- In the Cartoon Network animated series
Codename: Kids Next Door, the character Kuki Sanban
attempted to use the Vulcan nerve pinch unsuccessfully in one
- In the story, Savage Shadow, written by The Shadow’s
creator Maxwell Grant the character Doc Fauve (which is French for
Savage) in a drunken haze applies the nerve pinch to his newfound
pal, writer Kenneth Robeson.
- In the pilot episode of Heroes
(“Genesis”), after Hiro Nakamura makes
the claim that he is able to bend space and time, making references
to Spock and Star Trek, and is
dragged back to his cubicle by his manager, his friend Ando Masahashi
shouts to him that he should use his “death grip.”
- In The
Amanda Show, Penelope Taynt more
often than not uses the Vulcan Nerve Pinch on those who see
- In another Dan
Schneider program, Zoey 101, Quinn Pensky often pinches
people's elbows to knock them out.
- In an episode of A Different
World, Sinbad’s character Walter Oakes used the
Vulcan Nerve Pinch on two dangerous cocaine dealers after the gang
accidentally discovered their stash during a Spring Break vacation
in Miami just in the nick of time and, a little later on, to
silence a talkative Whitley Gilbert.
- In the Space Ghost Coast to
Coast episode “Freak Show,” Commander Andy (Andy Merrill) tells
Space Ghost, “If I
was in the same room with you right now I would give you the Vulcan
Nerve Pinch and knock you out.”
- In the non-canon Star
Trek/X-Men crossover by Marvel Comics Spock
used the nerve pinch on Wolverine. Wolverine surprised Spock
by almost immediately recovering due to his healing factor.
- In an episode of My Name Is Earl, "Early Release",
Darnell uses a Vulcan nerve pinch to incapacitate a prison guard
while assisting Earl in an escape attempt.
- In Police Academy 5, Nick Lassard places
his hand on a perp's shoulder, who promptly faints. Officer Conklin
and Sgt. Jones are dumbfounded by this, after which Lassard gives
the Vulcan salute and shows an empty syringe on his other
- In the novelization of X-Men: The Last Stand, the
Pryde uses the Vulcan nerve pinch to defeat three attackers in
the final battle at Alcatraz.
- In an episode of Fresh Prince of
Bel-Air, Jazz referenced the "volcan Death Grip"
while trying to calm down Carlton.
- In an episode of the Disney Channel cartoon hit Phineas and
Ferb, Ferb was threatened by Buford and nonchalantly
pinched his neck, knocking him out.
- In the Totally Spies! episode "Evil
Heiress Much?", Clover used the Vulcan Nerve Pinch to knock down an
- In a Season 1 episode of The O.C. while Seth attempts to massage
Summer's neck she cries out, "Ow, what's up with the Vulcan Nerve
- In the Stephen
King novella The Langoliers, airplane passenger
Nick Hopewell threatens to incapacitate the psychotic Craig Toomey
with what he refers to as the "Vulcan sleeper hold."
- In Buffy the Vampire
Slayer, during the episode "Homecoming", Cordelia Chase
states (to get more votes) that she's been practicing The Vulcan
Death Grip since she was a kid.
- In the video for Eminem's
song "We Made You" Eminem,
masquerading as Spock, is seen
using the vulcan nerve pinch.
- In the comedy sci-fi series Red Dwarf, Kryten once attempts to convince Rimmer he can
painlessly render him unconscious using the 'Ionian nerve grip.'
After gripping Rimmer's shoulder in a manner similar to the neck
pinch, he then smashes a vase over Rimmer's head. When the angry
(still conscious) Rimmer points this out, Kryten exclaims "there's
no such thing as an 'Ionian nerve grip'!"