ray gun n.

a (typically) hand-held device that emits rays, esp. destructive or harmful ones

SF Encyclopedia


  • 1923 Mansfield (Ohio) News 28 Nov. 17 (caption)

    Artist’s conception of the details of the monster dirigible, equipped with landing deck, ‘ray’ guns, radio room and extensive quarters for the crew.

  • 1930 J. W. Campbell Black Star Passes in Amazing Stories Quarterly Fall 505/2 page image John W. Campbell, Jr. bibliography

    Soon they saw a hand reaching out with a ray gun; then another hand with a different ray gun, from behind the silent engine; a sudden crash of metal, a groan and quiet.

  • 1947 M. W. Wellman in Startling Stories May 86/1 Manly Wade Wellman

    ‘I wish I had a ray-gun!’ gritted out Duvelskoe, shaking his fist at the uncanny things outside.

  • 1948 A. E. van Vogt Monster in Astounding Science-Fiction Aug. 59/1 page image A. E. van Vogt bibliography

    The two-legged monster dissolved, writhing, in the beam of a ray gun.

  • 1951 M. Gibbs Letter in Marvel Science Stories May 128/1 page image

    Let’s see yarns about vampires, ghouls, werewolves, and other assorted spooks, as well as ray guns, six-headed Martians, galactic wars, and warp drives.

  • 1975 C. L. Moore Shambleau in L. Del Rey Best of C. L. Moore 35 C. L. Moore

    It belonged to the type that frequents such places, those lawless men who ride the spaceways and live by the rule of the ray-gun, recklessly, warily outside the Patrol’s jurisdiction.

  • 1987 N. Spinrad Little Heroes (1989) 262 Norman Spinrad

    Like some unseen max metal gunfighter laughing as he fired his rayguns at her feet for the evil pleasure of making her dance.

  • 1994 Science Fiction Age July 37/2

    The Air Force guys never quite figured out the trick of making an effective raygun.

  • 2001 Locus June 70/2

    Worlds are colonized, civilisations fall, rayguns are used—but…Alastair Reynolds is playing a more complex game… He is taking the stuff of space opera and remaking it into something new—something that doesn’t eschew the pulpish romanticism of space opera’s roots, but seeks to transform it into romanticism better suited to modern science fiction.

Research requirements

antedating 1923

Research History
Cory Panshin located a usage in a reprint of E.E. Smith's "Skylark Three"; but Mike Christie discovered that this usage is not in the original 1930 magazine version.
Cory Panshin submitted a cite from a 1947 reprint of Manly Wade Wellman's 1931 "The Disc-Men of Jupiter".
Andrew May submitted a 1930 cite from John Campbell's "The Black Star Passes".
Fred Galvin submitted a cite from a 1945 reprint of "The Red Dimension" by Ed Earl Repp: this was originally published earlier in 1930 than the Campbell cite, so we would like to verify the cite in the first publication (Science Wonder Stories, January, 1930).
The OED found a 1923 example in a newspaper database.

(Earliest cite in the OED: originally 1931; later updated to 1923)

Last modified 2020-12-16 04:08:47
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.