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What Does "Beam Me up, Scotty" Mean?

Ray Hawk
Ray Hawk

“Beam me up, Scotty," a phrase based on the popular 1960s science fiction television series known as Star Trek, is a reference to a phrase supposedly spoken by the captain on the show, James T. Kirk, to the chief engineer, lieutenant commander Montgomery Scott, known as "Scotty." After uttering the phrase, Scotty would initiate a form of teleportation that would return the captain and those with him to the ship, which was in orbit around a planet that they were on. In other circumstances, some people use the phrase to convey a desire for escape from unpleasant circumstances or to end the entanglement of local problems by beaming away from them.

The phrase is well-known to fans of the Star Trek television series. Like many idiomatic expressions whose origins are difficult to trace, the phrase itself was not used in any episode of the series in that exact form. It is often compared to another common phrase attributed to the series character of the chief medical officer, Doctor McCoy. McCoy was supposedly to have said many times upon examining a crewman who had died, “He's dead, Jim.” Though the two phrases weren't written into dialogue exactly as the idioms suggest, these derivatives of the original expressions have taken on a life of their own well-beyond the confines of science fiction.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Bumper stickers are one example of how the phrase has spread throughout popular culture. Such stickers often read: “Beam me up, Scotty. There's no intelligent life down here.” They are a reference to someone wanting to escape from his or her day-to-day problems and relationships.

The phrase has taken on such popularity that the actor who played Montgomery Scott in the Star Trek series, James Doohan, went on to write an autobiography that was published in 1996. It had a similar title, which was Beam Me Up, Scotty: Star Trek's Scotty — in His Own Words. Doohan relished the role and the fan base it generated, so the phrase was never one of which he contested the origins.

The meaning of idioms often take on a broader purpose. Fiction can influence the real world when phrases like this become widespread, as has happened in American culture. A US congressmen in the House of Representatives who served from 1985 to 2002 for the state of Ohio, James Traficant, often used the catch phrase as a closing line to his arguments on the House floor.

Discussion Comments


I watched a rerun of the original Star Trek series the other day, and I swear Captain Kirk said "Beam me up, Scotty!", exactly like the popular expression. I've heard people say that Kirk never actually said it that way, but I think he did. Sometimes he'd say variations, like "Scotty, beam me up!" or "Beam me up, Mr. Scott!", but I swear he also said "Beam me up, Scottie!".

I also saw an episode or two where Dr. McCoy really did say "He's dead, Jim". I don't know why the actors and producers like to pretend that these popular lines were never spoken on the show at all.


Star Trek came out when I was really young, so a lot of these things went right over my head. I did like the idea of being able to teleport from one place to another, though. Can you imagine how much easier life would be if we could just say "Beam me up, Scotty!" and go from the store to the bank and back home again? I was always afraid the teleporter would have a major malfunction and I would be trapped in the beam forever, though.

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