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How long is a Star Trek title?

I thought it would be interesting to compare the length of titles in different Star Trek episodes. I have treated the Pilot as a series by itself, and also included the movie titles (omitting the "Star Trek" part). As I expected, the TOS and TAS episode titles are the longest. One-word titles have become more common as time goes on.

One possible reason for the longer titles of TOS and TAS could be that they were intended to generate curiosity. Isaac Asimov complained because the editor Frederik Pohl changed the title of his story "Robbie" to "Strange Playfellow". But Pohl responded (later) that his job was to get people to buy the magazine and read the story, and a title should produce curiosity. Whether or not this title was an improvement, he had a point—in later years people would read anything by Asimov, no matter what it was called, because it was by Asimov, but that wasn't yet true in 1940.[1] In the same way, TOS and TAS titles are often a bit obscure even if you've seen the episode ("The Omega Glory" or "Patterns of Force"). By the time of TNG, people watched Star Trek because they wanted to wanted to watch Star Trek—the chances that someone had not heard of Star Trek but would watch an episode because of seeing an interesting title in the listing was fairly low.

It's also worth noting however that some other television series at that time went in for long obscure titles—for example the Hawaii Five-0 episodes "And They Painted Daisies on his Coffin", "3,000 Crooked Miles to Honolulu", "Rest in Peace, Somebody", etc.

All the Star Trek series (except the pilot, of course) have multiple one-word titles. The "shortest" given here is the shortest word among these. As you can see, the proportion of one-word titles increases markedly with TNG[2] and takes a further step up with Voyager.

Series Average words Average chars Shortest Longest One-word titles Percent one-word
PILOT 2.0 8.0 The Cage The Cage 0 0.0 percent
TOS 3.3 17.9 Miri For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky 5 6.2 percent
TAS 3.2 18.6 Bem How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth 3 13.6 percent
TNG 2.2 12.4 Qpid Where No One Has Gone Before 53 29.8 percent
DS9 2.5 14.7 Dax Looking for par'Mach in All the Wrong Places 41 23.3 percent
VOY 1.8 10.8 Q2 The Haunting of Deck Twelve 83 48.3 percent
ENT 1.7 10.8 E2 These Are the Voyages... 42 42.9 percent
MOVIE 2.5 15.5 Nemesis The Undiscovered Country 3 30.0 percent

The following shows how common episode titles are for each number of words, for each series.

Series Number of words Number of episodes Percentage of episodes
PILOT 2 words 1 100.0 percent
TOS 1 words 5 6.2 percent
TOS 2 words 20 24.7 percent
TOS 3 words 28 34.6 percent
TOS 4 words 16 19.8 percent
TOS 5 words 5 6.2 percent
TOS 6 words 5 6.2 percent
TOS 7 words 1 1.2 percent
TOS 8 words 0 0.0 percent
TOS 9 words 0 0.0 percent
TOS 10 words 0 0.0 percent
TOS 11 words 1 1.2 percent
TAS 1 words 3 13.6 percent
TAS 2 words 3 13.6 percent
TAS 3 words 8 36.4 percent
TAS 4 words 5 22.7 percent
TAS 5 words 1 4.5 percent
TAS 6 words 2 9.1 percent
TNG 1 words 53 29.8 percent
TNG 2 words 63 35.4 percent
TNG 3 words 39 21.9 percent
TNG 4 words 19 10.7 percent
TNG 5 words 3 1.7 percent
TNG 6 words 1 0.6 percent
DS9 1 words 41 23.3 percent
DS9 2 words 62 35.2 percent
DS9 3 words 36 20.5 percent
DS9 4 words 20 11.4 percent
DS9 5 words 10 5.7 percent
DS9 6 words 6 3.4 percent
DS9 7 words 0 0.0 percent
DS9 8 words 1 0.6 percent
VOY 1 words 83 48.3 percent
VOY 2 words 56 32.6 percent
VOY 3 words 23 13.4 percent
VOY 4 words 7 4.1 percent
VOY 5 words 3 1.7 percent
ENT 1 words 42 42.9 percent
ENT 2 words 45 45.9 percent
ENT 3 words 6 6.1 percent
ENT 4 words 4 4.1 percent
ENT 5 words 1 1.0 percent
MOVIE 1 words 3 30.0 percent
MOVIE 2 words 1 10.0 percent
MOVIE 3 words 4 40.0 percent
MOVIE 4 words 2 20.0 percent

I have put these in graphs (below) by percentage. You can see from these that there are three approximate patterns:

  1. TOS & TAS: A curve peaking at 3; then falling away to 6: averages 3.3 and 3.2
  2. TNG & DS9: 1 and 2, then falling away to 6: averages 2.2 and 2.5
  3. VOY & ENT: 1 and 2, with a few higher: averages 1.8 and 1.7
TOS Table of number of words in Star Trek
TAS Table of number of words in Star Trek
TNG Table of number of words in Star Trek
DS9 Table of number of words in Star Trek
VOY Table of number of words in Star Trek
ENT Table of number of words in Star Trek

[1] Frederik Pohl (ed), Yesterday's Tomorrows (New York: Berkeley Books, 1982), pp. 72–3. "Frederik" spelt thus. [Return]

[2] The proportion is higher in Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS) than in TOS, but TAS in some ways represents a special case. It is not considered "canon": I do not consider "canon" a very useful concept, but it is true TAS is on what we might consider a different branch, and is much less well-known than the others, despite being of considerable interest. [Return]

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