Aug 13 2010

Pet Peeve: Queries that Name Superpowers with Obscure Prefixes

When you write a proposal/query (or anything else written purely for editors) for your superhero story, you’ll probably write a bit about the main characters’ superpowers.  (1-2 sentences, please).  I highly recommend against looking up a Latin or Greek prefix to name a superpower.  If you had to look up the prefix, chances are the editor doesn’t know it, either.


PLEASE REWRITE: “John is a somnikinetic.”
BETTER:  “John can manipulate dreams” or “John can control dreams.”


Descriptions with simple English terms are usually more effective than Greek/Latin names because:

  • English words are easier to understand and remember.
  • Most editors haven’t memorized lists of Greek or Latin prefixes/suffixes.
  • Editors should not have to open a dictionary or do a Google search to understand what you’ve written. You’ve got two minutes. Wasting them does not help you.
  • Names based on prefixes can be easily confused with similar prefixes.  For example, a reader might confuse somni- (dreams) with somn- (sleep) or son- (sound). Also, false cognates like “meteoro” (weather, not meteors).
  • It may not be clear how you expect us to translate the word. For example, I’ve seen “kinesis” used as a suffix for “control,” “influence,” “manipulation,” “generation,” as well as its standard meaning, “movement” (for example, telekinesis means “remote movement”).  Will we know which definition you’re going for?
  • In many cases, it is pretentious. (If you had to look it up and/or expect the editor to look up the prefix, it probably is).


Depending on the story and character, using prefixes and other jargon in-story may be helpful (e.g. maybe for a more scientific/realistic feel). But that probably isn’t necessary in the query/submission letter or synopsis.  For one thing, the query/submission letter are an introduction aimed at editors that have absolutely no context for your story.  In contrast, by the time your story uses terms like “terrakinetic” or “ocular death-rays,” we’ve probably already seen the character’s powers in action.


What do you think?  Do you share this peeve?

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Pet Peeve: Queries that Name Superpowers with Obscure Prefixes”

  1. Mynaon 13 Aug 2010 at 9:11 am

    Very nice article. I’ll have to remember that if I ever go into publishing–most likely people don’t know what ‘saprokinesis’ and ‘marasmus’ mean, even though both are actual words in english… referring to manipulating dead things and inducing decay. ;D Gotta love creepy powers.

    And if anyones curious, the actual word for one who controls dreams = oneirokinetic. (Not like anyone knows what ‘oneiro-‘ is a prefix for either… XD)

    Yeah, I do too much research on this kind of stuff.

  2. The Oddnesson 13 Aug 2010 at 9:44 am

    It sounds kind of dumb-downed and arrogant; so it’s probably right up an editor’s alley. Even in a query, it should be clear through context or just attaching an appositive for clarification. But if they don’t want the scientific term at all, then so be it.

    And riffing on Myna, you shouldn’t need to make up names, there’s a name for everything. If you feel the need to make up a name for a superpower, it just means you need to leave mainstream science and get into the fun science =P. And if an editor has a problem with “telekinetic,” you don’t want them. That term is common in mainstream society. If they don’t know it, then they can’t help you. It has one basic cultural definition, moving objects with your mind. If you are using another def, then just make it clear.

  3. Mynaon 13 Aug 2010 at 11:49 am

    Fun science! Finally, someone who gets me! XD

    And I agree, basic things like telekinesis are probably easily understood (or should be) and… I’d like to say that electrokinesis is well understood too, but maybe “can control electricity” should be used just to be safe. I have no idea. :/

    The only situation I can think up where you’d HAVE to create a name for your superpowers are if you either made up the power yourself, or its ridiculously complicated. But if it’s ridiculously complicated, you’ve got other problems. “He can shoot flaming bullets out of his eyes while controlling water with his hands and flying into the air, but he can only do the flying part at 10:30 on a Wednesday morning, and the bullets are nuclear-charged…”

    On second thought, that sounds really, REALLY painful.

  4. B. Macon 14 Aug 2010 at 8:12 am

    I have no problem with telekinetic because it’s very clear to me what it means. I wouldn’t consider it obscure.

    Somnikinesis, not so much.

    Also, somnikinesis doesn’t use “kinesis” to mean the same thing as “telekinesis” does.

    In cases like “electrokinesis,” I’d recommend “he can control electricity” instead because it’s less pretentious and more conversational.

  5. HiddenTigeron 22 Feb 2011 at 12:58 am

    Most people, I think, know at least that pyro means fire, and klepto is thievery.

  6. B. McKenzieon 07 Dec 2015 at 6:50 pm


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