Message List Emails

There’s a frequent poster to the SFRA email list that I’ll call “Nutjob.” He usually sends emails that are off topic in the same way that talking about moose bites are off topic at astrophysics conferences. He also sends out emails that don’t make a lot of sense in that he isn’t really asking a question, and one point doesn’t necessarily link to the next in a coherent manner. For example, he recently sent this to the list:

“Live long and prosper.”

– Mr Spock (c. 1965)?

No!!! That particular quote is actually from a line
in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” play from 1595.

The astronomers also say that, at one time, there
was a planet closer to the Sun than Mercury, but it
got destroyed in a solar flare up or whatever. And
they term it “Vulcan” (after the ancient Roman god
of fire).

I realize that this can never make up for the removal
of Pluto as a planet, but perhaps all of the oncoming
Global Warming will. It’s ALWAYS a mystery!



Unlike some other folks on the list, I chose not to respond to his email, because I don’t want to encourage his asinine emails. However, I was curious about the origins of the Vulcan Salute and the planet Vulcan, so I did a little research and typed up this email to Nutjob that was never sent.


Hi Nutjob,

It would be interesting to find out the history and origin of one of American SF’s most easily recognizable phrases. However, I don’t believe that Shakespeare is the definitive source for the quote.

First, Leonard Nimoy improvised the Vulcan Salute and the farewell, “Live long and prosper” during the filming of “Amok Time” (the second season opener, air date: 15 September 1967). Several sources online, drawing from Nimoy’s autobiographies, indicate that he drew his inspiration for the salute and farewell from Jewish ceremonies he had seen as a child. Additionally, the origin of the salute and saying go back millennia. More on this here:

Second, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet contains a variation of the saying in Act V, Scene 3 when Romeo takes his leave of his servant Balthasar:

So shalt thou show me friendship. Take thou that.
Live, and be prosperous; and farewell, good fellow.

However, I believe that this might have antecedents in other literature or in oral culture. The reason for this is that the phrase, “live long and prosper” is commonly used in prayer and toasts in many varied sources from the nineteenth and early twentieth century as evidenced by an advanced search on Many of these are unattributed or given to anonymous authors. This implies a history of the phrase passed through word of mouth, which may originate with Shakespeare as introducing the phrase into English, but it may also have arrived from a source predating Shakespeare. Some of the sources that include the phrase that are online and in the public domain include:

Burnand, Francis, 1836-1917 [Editor]
Punch, or the London Charivari, Volume 103, December 3, 1892

Cody, William Frederick, 1846-1917
The Life of Hon. William F. Cody
Known as Buffalo Bill the Famous Hunter, Scout and Guide

Dell, Floyd, 1887-1969
King Arthur’s Socks and Other Village Plays
Human nature — The chaste adventures of Joseph — The angel intrudes — Legend — Sweet-and-twenty — A long time ago — Enigma — Ibsen revisited — King Arthur’s socks — The rim of the world — Poor Harold.

Dixon, Thomas, 1864-1946
The Foolish Virgin

Edmund, Peggy [Compiler]
Williams, Harold W. [Compiler]
Toaster’s Handbook
Jokes, Stories, and Quotations

Lee, Jennette Barbour Perry, 1860-1951
Mr. Achilles

McCabe, James Dabney, 1842-1883
Great Fortunes, and How They Were Made

Pierce, Ray Vaughn, 1840-1914
The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser in Plain English
or, Medicine Simplified, 54th ed., One Million, Six Hundred
and Fifty Thousand

Plaatje, Sol (Solomon Tshekisho), 1876-1932
Native Life in South Africa

Ray, Anna Chapin, 1865-1945
Phebe, Her Profession
A Sequel to Teddy: Her Book

Fulton, Robert I. [Editor]
Trueblood, Edwin P. [Editor]
Trueblood, Thomas C. [Editor]
Standard Selections
A Collection and Adaptation of Superior Productions From
Best Authors For Use in Class Room and on the Platform

Interestingly, one online source pointed to Rip Van Winkle as the source for “live long and prosper,” but this isn’t so. For one, that wasn’t Nimoy’s inspiration, and also, “live long and prosper” is in the play adaptation of Washinton Irving’s Rip Van Winkle by A.P. Burbank.

I’m confident that further work on this bit of SF trivia would turn up further points upon which a vector for the phrase’s trajectory in to the modern vernacular could be established. However, I don’t see the connection between this phrase, the hypothesized planet Vulcan and its relationship with the then unexplained orbit of Mercury (that was later explained by the theory of general relativity), and global warming. In all honesty, this and many of your other emails to the SFRA list are a mystery best left unexplored (except perhaps by a psychoanalyst).


Besides email writing, I’ve emersed myself in reading anything related to steampunk. I finished The Difference Engine the other day, and I completed Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights tonight. Next up: Christopher Priest’s The Space Machine, Jeter’s Morlock Night, and Paul Di Filippo’s The Steampunk Triology.

Tomorrow is Christian’s 24th birthday, so Jean, Ardy, and I are going to cook cupcakes and dinner on Sunday evening. I’ll prepare steak stir fry for us using my Mom’s recipe. Hopefully I won’t screw it up!
Photo above: Construction work next to the Metropolitan Cathedral on Brownlow Hill.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.