death ray n.

a destructive beam of energy; a device that generates such a beam

In 1896 quotation, referring literally to the rays of the sun.


  • [1896 North American (Philadelphia) 11 Aug. 5/1 (headline)

    Old Sol’s death rays.]

  • 1902 G. Griffith Masters of the World in Liverpool Weekly Courier 14 June 7/2 George Griffith

    Those who were out of reach of the terrible death-rays saw six long guns rise from the masked batteries.

  • 1915 A. B. Reeve Exploits of Elaine in Indianapolis Star 28 Feb. (unpaginated electronic copy)

    Chapter IX: The Death Ray

  • 1929 ‘H. Vincent’ Colloidal Nemesis in Amazing Stories Dec. 803/2 page image Harl Vincent bibliography

    The old style warfare, while much slower than the modern way of spreading destruction from the air by means of the death ray, was far less merciful.

  • 1934 D. E. Winstead Ultra-Gamma Wave in Amazing Stories May 47/2 page image Lon Dexter bibliography

    ‘Then you have indeed devised one of those “death-ray” machines which we read of in pseudo-scientific fiction!’ ‘No, Dexter, it is by no means a death-ray. And I dislike to call it a ray. The wave which it emits is so far departed from the light-spectrum that such nomenclature would be incorrect.’

  • 1954 ‘C. Beaumont’ Quadriopticon in Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction 110 page image Charles Beaumont bibliography

    He fired again and again. Soon the Death Ray apparatus was a melted pile of steaming junk.

  • 1963 R. A. Heinlein Glory Road in Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Aug. 101/2 page image Robert A. Heinlein bibliography

    There was a spurt of smoke and down he went. ‘Death ray’, or Laser beam, or whatever—line it up, press the stud, and anyone on the far end quit the party with a hole burned in him.

  • 1981 J. Pournelle Decisive Frontier in Omni Nov. 147/3 page image Jerry Pournelle bibliography

    The best-known and most often demonstrated space-weapon systems are beam weapons—the ‘death rays’ of H.G. Wells.

  • 1998 C. Pellegrino Afterword in C. Pellegrino & G. Zebrowski Star Trek: Next Generation: Dyson Sphere (1999) 219 Charles Pellegrino

    Riding an antimatter rocket is like riding a giant death ray bomb: you want to put as much distance as possible between yourself and the engine.

  • 2009 V. Coren For Richer for Poorer xxi. 291

    I must turn that aggression against him, like a superhero reflecting an opponent’s powerful death-ray right back into the villain’s own eyes.

Research requirements

antedating 1903

Earliest cite

George Griffith, The World Masters

Research History
Roberto Labanti submitted a 1915 cite from Arthur B. Reeve's "The Exploits of Elaine. A Detective Novel" (serial, Indianapolis Star, 1915)
Malcolm Farmer submitted a 1903 cite for "death-ray" from George Griffith's "The World Masters"; Simon Koppel found a 1902 version of this from its original newspaper serialization.

Previous earliest cite in the OED Database: 1919

Last modified 2021-03-29 23:53:38
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.