This weekend we’re getting a new installment in the Blade Runner franchise, an animated series on Adult Swim. But judging from the trailer, it looks pretty serious, so don’t expect to see, say, Deckard teaming up with Rick and Morty to hunt replicant Harvey Birdman.

his latest expansion of the franchise prompted us to wonder: what the hell is a “Blade Runner” exactly? Sure, it makes for a cool-as-hell movie title, but as an in-universe job description, it’s simply baffling. Why not Droid Hunter? Or Robo-cutioner? It’s not like Rick Deckard was a knife-wielding decathlete, so where did the name come from?

It turns out that the answer is surprisingly convoluted. As reported by Vulture in 2017, the term first originated with author Alan E. Nourse in his 1974 science fiction novel The Bladerunner. The book had nothing to do with artificial life or giant neon Atari billboards, but rather a future dystopia in which forced sterilization has created a black market healthcare system reliant on smuggled medical equipment, such as scalpels, supplied by the aptly-named “bladerunners.”

For some reason, the book caught the attention of legendary author and beat poet William S. Burroughs who wanted to adapt it into a movie. Not surprisingly, the film treatment for this creepy sci-fi novel penned by the Naked Lunch guy was “unfilmable,” so Burroughs released his failed pitch as a novella, confusingly titled Blade Runner (a Movie).

Ballantine Books/Blue Wind Press

In the early ‘80s, Ridley Scott was prepping his movie adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and suggested that screenwriter Hampton Fancher come up with a proper title for the lead character’s job. Fancher got the name by simply scanning his bookshelf -- thankfully, he had the Burroughs book, or else Harrison Ford might have starred in Ridley Scott’s Oxford English Dictionary

While the movie offers no explanation for its nonsensical yet admittedly very cool-sounding name, one eventually came in the sequel -- no, not Blade Runner 2049, we mean the 1995 novel Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human. Weirdly, this now mostly-forgotten book paused the action to offer a lengthy, not entirely-convincing reason for why Blade Runners are called “Blade Runners.” Apparently, they were originally called “Bleibruhigers” because “Bleib ruhig” is German for “stay quiet,” and replicant technology was once a closely-guarded secret. So eventually, “Bleibruhiger got Anglicized to blade runner,” and everyone just rolled with it apparently.

Bantam Books

Since this book is seemingly no longer part of the Blade Runner canon, perhaps they’ll come up with a new backstory in which someone at the Tyrell corporation just grabbed the name off of some random paperback.

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Top Image: Warner Bros.

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