superpower n.

a superhuman ability, esp. as possessed by a superhero; an ability beyond what is possible based on scientific laws

It is not clear in quot. 1928 whether the ‘super powers’ referred to include ‘telepathy’, or merely indicates great abilities.

  • [1928 Leinster Leader 28 July 3/1

    It savoured of Telepathy as, with uncanny accuracy, the ball travelled from player to player, and was shot unfailing between or in close proximity to the opposite posts. One felt sympathy with the undoubtedly fine work of the Dublin men, which went for naught in the face of the agile white clad Kildare men who seemed possessed of super powers.]

  • 1932 Santa Cruz News 6 Aug. 3/3 (advt.) page image

    ‘SUPER POWERS OF YOGI CONCENTRATION AND TELEPATHY.’ Most marvelous demonstration of Mental Telepathy and other miraculous demonstrations, by Yogi Hamid Bey.

  • 1943 Las Vegas Review-Journal 3 Apr. 8

    SUPERMAN…I thought you had dedicated your super powers to battling the Axis?

  • 1944 ‘L. Padgett’ When the Bough Breaks in Astounding Science-Fiction Nov. 91/2 page image Henry Kuttner C. L. Moore bibliography

    ‘Look, it’s normal for a mother to want to hug her baby. But how can she do that if she expects him to throw her halfway across the room?’ Calderon was brooding. ‘Will he pick up more…more super powers as he goes along?’ [ellipsis in original]

  • 1945 Supersnipe Comics Apr. 36

    I heard what you were talkin' about, and I, the mighty Supersnipe - will use all my super-powers to stop you!

  • 1952 E. Hamilton in Superman May—June 1 (in figure) Edmond Hamilton

    Superman, mighty man of steel whose super-powers have conquered catastrophes and wrecked wrong-doers!

  • 1958 O. Binder in Adventure Apr. 1 (in figure)

    But don’t cheer too soon for the boy of steel, until you see what happens when he competes with three youngsters who have gained super-powers of their own!

  • 1959 Adventure Dec. 1 (in figure)

    Wow! Look at those three super-youths from the future, with only one super-power each, overpowering that rampaging monster!

  • 1963 R. Goulart Second Banana Superheroes in D. Lupoff & D. Thompson All In Color For Dime (1970) 240

    Miss Victory was in reality a Washington D.C., secretary. She, too, fought subversion at home and, not having any super powers, had to depend on a second-hand convertible for transportation.

  • 1966 A. Panshin in Riverside Quarterly Jan. 45 Alexei Panshin

    The story’s premises are not true: there are no Martians of the sort Heinlein writes of, and no super powers are available to those who think proper Martian thoughts.

  • 1971 L. Niven Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex in All Myriad Ways (1975) 77 Larry Niven

    All known forms of kryptonian life have super-powers.

  • 1979 J. Dee & J. Herman Villains & Vigilantes 1

    Players familiar with role-playing games will find most systems employed in these rules to be familiar. Due to the large number of super-powers and weapons they will find parts of the combat system unfamiliar.

  • 1979 J. Dee & J. Herman Villains & Vigilantes 18

    If a character has a super-power which raises any of his characteristics to a score of twenty or over, no amount of additional training will raise the rating in that category any further.

  • 1984 S. Burley & P. Haines Golden Heroes 50/1

    Freeform Shapechange, characters with this type of Shapechange can transform into any living creature that is approximately the size and shape of a human being. They do not gain any special characteristics or advantages from the change but keep their own normal Attributes (ie those of the original non-superpowered Basic Character), senses, Movement, attacks, etc., and retain no Superpower other than Shapechange, no matter what or who they change into.

  • 1992 Locus Aug. 51/2

    Comic sf novel about an editor who develops superpowers after exposure to radioactive water.

  • 2012 N. Hopkinson Chaos (2013) xii. 170 Nalo Hopkinson bibliography

    Now the man looked really mad. ‘What the hell? Are you making fun of me?’ I wasn’t. I was just using my superpower.

  • 2020 E. Bear Machine vi. 85 Elizabeth Bear bibliography

    So weird to think that a lot of people have superpowers all the time and don’t even know it.

Research requirements

antedating 1943

Research History
Jeff Wolfe submitted a 1987 cite from Victor Milan, from the anthology "Wild Cards" edited by George Martin.
Rex Smith submitted a 1984 cite from the players' manual for the game "Golden Heroes", and a 1979 cite from the rules for "Villains & Vigilantes".
Enoch Forrester submitted a cite from a 1975 reprint of Larry Niven's "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" from his collection "All the Myriad Ways".
Alexx Kay submitted a cite from Ron Goulart's article "The Second Banana Superheroes" from a 1997 reprint of Lupoff and Thompson's "All In Color For A Dime"; Malcolm Farmer verified the cite in the 1970 first edition.
Cory Panshin submitted a 1966 cite from an article by Alexei Panshin in Riverside Quarterly.
Jay Rudin submitted cites from the April 1958 and December 1959 issues of Adventure comics.
Jay Rudin submitted a 1952 cite from Superman Vol 1, #76.
Fred Galvin submitted a 1945 cite from Supersnipe Comics Vol 2, #8.
Jesse Sheidlower submitted a 1944 quote from Lewis Padgett.
Jonathan Lighter submitted a 1943 quote from a Superman newspaper comic.
Ben Ostrowsky submitted a 2020 cite from Elizabeth Bear.
Simon Koppel submitted 1928 and 1932 cites.

(There were no citations in OED2 for the SF sense, but OED3 added this sense in its 2012 update with the 1945 quot.)

Last modified 2021-04-09 11:18:56
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.