In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, there is a scene where Scotty arrives on the bridge with the fatally wounded body of a crewman. In the next scene, they are in sickbay (why he didn't just take him to sickbay directly, I'll never know).

During that scene, the crewman says his dying words to Kirk:

Crewman: Is the word given, Admiral?

Kirk: The word is given. Warp speed.

Crewman: Aye. (He breathes his last death and dies)

What is the meaning of this phrase "is the word given"? And why is it so important to the crewman that this is his dying breath?

  • FYI the crewman is Scotty's nephew: memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Peter_Preston
    – BCdotWEB
    Jul 29, 2016 at 18:14
  • The word being the all clear, that they are safe and he did his job right. That seems straight forward.
    – cde
    Jul 29, 2016 at 18:23
  • @cde Is it a military phrase? It unfortunately wasn't straight forward to me. Jul 29, 2016 at 18:25
  • As a submarine thriller, yes.
    – cde
    Jul 29, 2016 at 18:34
  • I think that crewMAN might not be as accurate as crewBOY. When I first saw Midshipman Peter Preston I thought he looked too small and young to be in Starfleet. When I recognized actor Ike Eisenmann I figured he was old enough (Eisenmann was 19 when the movie was shot). But the novelization and the script describe Peter Preston as 14. So I don't know if they decided to make Peter Preston older or left his age at 14. Feb 25, 2018 at 18:44

4 Answers 4


I would say that this quote actually works on two levels.

The first level is, I feel, the more obvious one. It is meant to imply that, even at the moment of death, the character (Midshipman 1st Class Peter Preston) is ever the professional. His concern, even then, is for the ship and fulfilling his role. He is still looking to his captain for orders. The ever-professional element is further enhanced by the words of Scott just after:

He stayed at his post... when the trainees ran!

The second level to the quote is a little bit deeper, but follows the first quite logically, and I feel is the more important one, given the situation in that scene. I think that it is also meant to imply that Peter is also asking his captain for permission to leave his post (ie die).

I haven't found a source to back this theory up, so if anybody has any input on this, I'd be interested to hear.


Just to add to this theory, the phrase by Kirk is quite specific: "The word is given. Warp speed." Why the addition of warp speed? The captain wouldn't give the order 'warp speed' to a Midshipman. This part of the phrase is meant to emulate another phrase: 'God speed', usually used to express blessing to somebody going on a long and dangerous journey.

  • 1
    Permission to leave, Dismissed, at ease, etc, yep makes sense.
    – cde
    Jul 29, 2016 at 18:34
  • 2
    Agree with this. It feels like the character is mindful of his duty to obey orders, even at the point of death. Jul 29, 2016 at 18:51

I think the scene is a call-back to an earlier one, the one shown around the three-minute mark in this video:

KIRK: Well, Mister Scott, are your cadets capable of handling a minor training cruise?

SCOTT: Give the word, Admiral!

KIRK: Mister Scott, the word is given.

SCOTT: Aye sir.

Also note the alternate (and much longer) version of the death scene around the five-minute mark.

  • 1
    I would think that the earlier scene is there to foreshadow the later scene, not the other way around, but I guess it's kind of a chicken/egg scenario in that regard. Jul 29, 2016 at 22:18

He is asking for permission to relinquish his duties through death - Kirk gives him permission to die.


In addition to the examples provided by others here, this phrase is also used in Star Trek 3, when Kirk's skeleton crew assembles in The Enterprise before they steal the ship, where each member of the crew signals their intention to join Kirk and McCoy on the rescue mission. Sulu asks for the ship's course, Chekov says they are wasting time even discussing it, and Scotty asks Kirk to 'give the word'.

All these instances, the sense in which it is used appears to mean to 'give an order', which is basically the same as its meaning in everyday, non-nautical language, as in 'when you give the word I'll release the final report to the press'.

This is why he follows it up with 'Warp speed' in your example. Warp speed is the order.

The other similar but subtly different sense this phrase has in everyday language is to 'give the go-ahead', which could also arguably apply in the example where Kirk is giving his verdict after carrying out the inspection on the engineering deck.

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