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Pronounced /ˈsaɪbɔːɡ/Help with pronunciation

You might not know the name, but you’ve seen these creations in so many SF action movies: pumped-up individuals with prosthetic implants, built-in armaments, extended sight and hearing, and other physical enhancements. TV exploiters of the idea — described by a couple of academics in 1960 as an “exogenously extended organizational complex functioning as an integrated homeostatic system” — include Dr Who’s Daleks, the Six Million Dollar Man (based on the novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin) and its spin-off, the Bionic Woman.

SF writing has explored people-machine hybrids for much of its history, featuring mechanical devices that are powered by human brains (up to and including starships), people who have been enhanced by mechanical means so they can operate in alien environments, and people who have been modified so that they can plug into computers (a central theme of the cyberpunk novels of the 1980s). We have since extended the concept to any augmented creature:

Scientists have developed a cockroach mind control technique that promises to turn the much-maligned insect into a disaster-relief tool. ... Dr Hong Liang, from Texas A&M University, said her intention was to show that insect cyborgs had the potential to do more than either robots or insects could achieve alone.

The Times, 4 Mar. 2015.

If all this brings to mind those baddies in Star Trek called the Borg, that is hardly accidental, since their name was borrowed from its second element. The word was invented in 1960 as a truncated blend of cybernetic with organism; the first word is the adjective from cybernetics, the study of the control of and communication with machines, which was created in 1947 by Norbert Wiener from the Greek word kubernetes, a steersman.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 10 Nov. 2001
Last updated: 4 Mar. 2015

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-cyb1.htm
Last modified: 4 March 2015.