There are a lot of terms that you can expect to hear frequently if you choose to delve into the seamy underbelly of the unknown, the unclassified, the undocumented, and the paranormal. Those terms all started somewhere, and the people who coined them have some fascinating stories to tell.
10. Vincent Gaddis
The ‘Bermuda Triangle’
The Bermuda Triangle is one of the most famous supposedly mysterious spots on the planet, and its history goes back pretty far, long before the ill-fated Flight 19 left Florida and disappeared into the mysterious waters of the triangle. Even Christopher Columbus made notes about the strange lights and even stranger compass readings that he was getting within the confines of what would be called the Bermuda Triangle much later.
The term itself only dates back to 1964, when it was used by the writer Vincent Gaddis in an article for Argosy magazine. The story of the missing Flight 19 was on the cover, and Gaddis’s dubbing of the area as “the Bermuda Triangle” gave the myth a different sort of life. In the article, Gaddis recounted some of the most famous disappearances of the area, including the tanker Marine Sulphur Queen in 1963 and two KC-135 Air Force tanker jets the same year. He went on to say that more than 1,000 people had disappeared there over the course of the previous two decades, with the US military publicly claiming that they were “baffled.” Gaddis wrote, “The Bermuda Triangle underlines the fact that despite swift wings and the voice of radio, we still have a world large enough so that men and their machines and ships can disappear without a trace.”
Part of the problem with the travel conditions in the Bermuda Triangle is not just the weather, but the fact that it really is the center of some sort of natural phenomenon, being one of the few places where true north and magnetic north sync up, which can affect compass readings. But when Gaddis used the term “Bermuda Triangle” alongside words like “menace” and a mysterious weather abnormality he called “a hole in the sky,” the name elevated the area into something more ominous, even though the area doesn’t actually have more disappearances than any other heavily traveled ocean areas.
9. Charles Richet
Ectoplasm is essentially the stuff that ghosts are made of. During the Victorian era, seances were all the rage. With a little deft sleight-of-hand, a good medium could convince the audience that they were channeling spirits in a very physical form. Everyday materials like cheesecloth (and some not-so-everyday ones like bits of animals) doubled for a mysterious, otherworldly substance that Charles Richet first called “ectoplasm.”
Before anyone condemns the idea as mystic nonsense, it’s important to note that Richet had serious scientific credentials. The winner of a Nobel Prize for his work on anaphylaxis and allergens (not to mention some pioneering work on the nervous system and anesthesia), his interest in ectoplasm was scientific. Scientists already knew, after all, that living cells had plasma in them. It didn’t seem too far-fetched, then, to believe that there were other types of plasma making up other parts of the universe.
The idea of ectoplasm had been well documented in seances dating back to at least the 1870s, but Richet didn’t officially coin the term until his 1923 book, Thirty Years of Psychical Research: Being a Treatise on Metaphysics. He described it as a tentacle-like, filament-like substance that came from somewhere on the medium’s body but didn’t have to remain connected to the person. He also noted that it was a very personal thing and was a substance that seemed to reach out to feel its way around an unfamiliar, mortal world.
Richet didn’t make the word up, either; it had a legitimate scientific usage before it came to be associated with the presence of spirits. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it first showed up in 1883, in reference to a description of the jelly-like body of the amoeba.