Monday, February 6, 2012

Steampunk 101: The A-Z of Steampunkery

For the first time Steam-reader, the world of Steampunk can be full of lots of confusing or bewildering jargon. At times it can be overwhelming because of all the new and bizarre words. If you just jump in without knowing what the characters are talking about, you can very easily get lost, frustrated, or annoyed...and we don't want that! Most of the lingo is very simple once you know what you're talking about so I thought I would help those of you who are new to the genre out a bit by giving some definitions. Some things very by book, but others stay the same across the board, but regardless, all the lingo and jargon really help to create a unique and fun genre that is starkly different from anything else out there.

Aether-A very Victorian term. Created in the Victorian period by scientists who were trying to define what the world was made up of and what held everything together. Almost all steampunk novels use this term, whether it is to describe the atmosphere, electricity, or just the entire cosmos. I found one of the best definitions here: "Aether is the Fifth Element. It's the propagation of light and matter into another dimension. It's the thread that binds everything-humanity, the world, and the cosmos-together. It is energy ." (The Girl in the Steel Corset)

Aetherographer- Found in Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. It is a machine which transmits messages via the "Aether". Aether in this case referring to a combination of electricity and the different particles in the atmosphere. It is very similar to a fax machine, only much more complicated and bulky.

Automaton- A robot. Basically anything that is supposed to be flesh and blood, and is instead made of metal, gears, clockwork, etc. Sometimes they can be coated in living or dead flesh (yuk) so you don't know that they are machines. For some ungodly reason, a lot of books like automatonic spiders which never fails to give me the heeby-jeebies. Long John Silver on Disney's Treasure Planet was a partial automaton-and he's creepy as HELL.

Blunderbuss-A weapon of considerable strength. Again, it varies book to book, but for the most part it is a hand-held muzzle-loading shot gun or occasionally a modified, portable clockwork cannon. A blunderbuss was actually used during the 1800's so it makes a great addition to the realism of what can be a totally unrealistic genre. It just adds a bit of stability so those of you used to reading regency romances may already be familiar with this delightful firearm.

Corset- A woman's undergarments...much like a bra and spanks combined. They were a male invention designed to restrict their women and make it impossible for them to breathe. Corsets are also undeniably sexy. For us...I wonder if real Victorians thought so as well...Fortunately for guys today, corsets are now worn on the outside and as a single article of clothing rather than under a dress...I bet real Victorian women would be properly scandalized with how we chose to dress...

Cravat- Some article of clothing that men wore around the neck in the Victorian times. It's kind of like a necktie but shorter. Or it  could be tied in a seems that men's cravats styles were as differring and important as hairstyles were to women....Personally, anything other than a tie makes them look a tad feminine...but hey, these boys make bows look good.

Dirigible-Also known as an airship. These are typically made of wood, canvas, steam, and steel. Airships are one of the most iconic images of the Steampunk genre. They combine the majesty of ships on the sea with the wonder of flying to those who had never before done-so. They also give homes to my favorite of all steampunk characters...Airship Pirates :) Now that's what I want to see Captain Jack Sparrow do next...airships!

Eloi-One of two races of Humaniod creatures in H.G. Well's the time machine. The Eloi are the most human-like of the two and look relatively the same as we do today. They are brainwashed, mindless servants of the other race of Humanoids (See Morlock). They have the mental capacities of todays herd cattle...terrifying no? Sometimes they are referenced in more recent books when talking about slaves, psychological damage, etc.

Kraken-The terrible monstrous beastie that haunted our Victorian ancestors. Since it was a time when the boundaries of the earth and it's seas were undefined, this left a lot of mystery regarding the creatures of the deep. The Kraken was one of the most terrible. I mean, who wouldn't be terrified of a creature bigger than any ship and capable tearing said ships to shreads? The Kraken may be based on fact (Giant Squids are known to reach up to 50-60 feet long) and since we still haven't explored every inch of the untapped ocean, the Kraken could be out there, sleeping, waiting to come terrorize us once more. Muahahahahah.

Glim- Similar to Aether, though it tends to have a luminescent glow that aether doesn't have. It can be used as a battery, as a weapon, a lantern, or many many other things. My favorite was in Devon Monk's Dead Iron where it powered a clockwork dragonfly that could bring a man back from the dead. It's more common in the Western Steampunk novels for whatever reasons, but I have seen it across the board.

Morlock- The other of the two races of Huminoid creatures that exist 800,000 years in the future in H.G.Well's The Time Machine. They are furry, yeti-looking things that are actually quite terrifying. The Morlocks chose to survive the end of the world by retreating into the caves, and by some means became the dominant of the two races. The Morlocks raise Eloi to breed and then eat.

Octopus- Usually made of brass. Debated as being a nod to H.P. Lovecraft, but that is unconfirmed. Often a symbol associated with steampunk for whatever reason. It could link back to 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or give a nod to the Kraken (see above). However it originated, you can barely read a punk novel without some addition of the eight legged friend in some capacity.

Parasol- (1)A ladies device to shield her delicate countenance from the sun.(2) A deadly weapon used to emit sleeping gas, shoot poisonous darts, or just generally wreak havoc on poor, unsuspecting males as you bash it upside their heads. Most commonly seen in the Parasol Protectorate series.

The Time Machine- (1) A machine that travels through time...duh (2) A novel written by H.G. Wells. Many argue that Steampunk began with Well's Time Machine and Jeter's Infernal Devices. I was surprized with the movie from 1960. It actually kept my interest, sure it was kind of cheesy and the "future" suits of shiny silver metal were kind of hilarious, but for it's time, it was pretty good. The same can't be said for the 2002 version starring Guy Pearce...bleh...The actual machine from the 1960 movie is pretty cool for it's time. People will probably recognize it from The Big Bang Theory. It's still awesome.

Velocycle-a bicycle...on steroids. Depending on what book or movie you are reading/watching, these can come in many different styles and versions. Most commonly, they are a bicycle with some kind of steam powered engine that makes it go crazy fast. You will probably have to wear goggles or die because you will be moving at about the speed of a jet-plane in some cases and that really plays hell on your tear-ducts.  They appear both in Wild Wild West and in The Girl with the Steel Corset.

So, that's just a few pieces of lingo from the world of Steampunk. Believe me, there are definitely lots of other Steam-punky terms and uses, but those ones are some of the most common or interesting. If you have any other terms and definitions let me know! I'll add it and make the A-Z that much more complete! I hope this helps some of you when reading your first Steamers! I sure wish I had a steam dictionary when I first started!
This post qualifies as an entry into the Grand Prize Let's Get Steamy giveaway! Just leave a comment below for your entry!


  1. Very interesting, I learned a few new things. Thnx 4 sharing.

    ctymice at gmail dot com

  2. I just finished Girl in the Steel Corset a week or so ago and I loved it's definition of Aether. I also loved the velocycles. :)

    Great post, I am glad I have this as I delve into more steampunkery.

  3. thank you - that's just what i needed. i am totally interested in the genre, but haven't tried it yet.

  4. Thanks for the explanations, some I already knew but then there were those that I never would've guessed what they meant.

  5. Hi Andra what a cool and informative post. Loved all your photos!

  6. Thank you for the interesting post! I didn't know what Eloi and Morlock were. I have to admit I haven't read the Time Machine, though I have had it on my wishlist for a long time. >-<

  7. I haven't heard of like...all of these! And here I thought I had a handle on this steampunk stuff! I <3 your reference to the parasol Protectorate in the parasol definition!

  8. I love this! My goggles almost fell off!