Like all authentic pop-culture moments, the phrase was a happy accident. In September of 1966, in the first episode broadcast, they beamed without benefit of Scotty. He showed up in the third, beaming up a destroyed starship's "space recorder"—that is, a trash can on legs. Would a beam by any other name—Bud, Nigel, Paddy, Miguel—have smelled as sweet? James Doohan was a Canadian of Irish stock, and as an old CBC radio actor he had a score of accents on tap. Which, he asked Gene Roddenberry, would they like? They left it to him, and because the character was an engineer and the Scots were the great engineers of the British Empire and certainly of Canada, he chose to make his character Scottish and give Mr. Scott his own middle name—Montgomery. A minor character somehow evolved into the de facto No. 3 on the Enterprise's crew; and as the man responsible for nursing the spaceship through whatever cockamamie scheme Captain Kirk was minded to put into action, Scotty over time became the guardian and spirit of the Enterprise itself. "I cannae change the laws of physics for you!" he would protest, before gamely giving it a go.
Star Trek has famously devoted fans—Trekkies or Trekkers. If memory serves, the latter is the preferred term, though the former is the title of Roger Nygard's full-length documentary on the phenomenon. But "Beam me up" long ago beamed itself off the Enterprise and into the wider world. As great never-spoken screen dialogue goes, it's rivaled only by "Play it again, Sam"—and even "Play it again" hasn't ever demonstrated quite the versatility of its rival. In Every Man's Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time, Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker suggest the phrase as a useful way to keep male appetites in check: if your wife were suddenly "beamed" up into your motel room, would she approve of what you're doing? Something to ponder before you buy the gal in the lobby bar that second margarita—or even press the "order" button on the adult-video channel.
On the other hand, Howard Markman, Ph.D., the head of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, uses "Beam me up, Scotty" as shorthand for a classically uncommunicative male attitude toward spousal conflict. Weary of his wife's incessant nagging, the husband rolls his eyes heavenward and murmurs, "Get me outta here, somebody." The "Beam me up" approach will only make the wife even more enraged.
So "Beam me up, Scotty" can help your marriage or destroy it. You could wind up celebrating your anniversary dancing with your beloved to "Beam Me Up, Scotty," by Tom Rush, or nursing the blues in that bar outside Area 51 staring into the bottom of your fifth Beam Me Up, Scotty. "This phrase works in almost any situation," Dave Marinaccio writes in All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Watching Star Trek.
For example: You've forgotten your spouse's anniversary. At the moment your spouse discovers your blunder, you simply say, 'Beam me up, Scotty'… 'Beam me up, Scotty' is just a way of saying the world is beyond my control."
Marinaccio argues that it's a pithier version of "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change …" and a less vulgar and stupid version of "Sh*t happens"—though this suggests a degree of fatalistic acceptance one would not associate with, say, the expelled Representative James Traficant's frequent congressional deployments of the term:
"Mr. Speaker, today Congress will debate two bills. The first bill is partial-birth abortions. The second bill is wildlife and sport-fish restoration. Unbelievable. Kill the babies but save the trout and the titmouse. Beam me up. In fact, beam me up, Scotty."
"Think about it. While sixty percent of taxpayer calls to the IRS go unanswered, the IRS agents were watching Marilyn Chambers do the Rotary International. Beam me up here. It is time to pass a flat fifteen percent sales tax and abolish this gambling, porno-watching IRS completely."
With the Congressional Record awash in "Beam me up, Scotty's," somebody eventually decided it was time for Star Trek to belatedly put the famous words in Captain Kirk's mouth. So after the best part of a quarter century he delivered them to his engineer in the fourth Star Trek movie. By then Scotty felt about Kirk the way Jim Traficant felt about IRS porn junkies. Jim Doohan never cared for William Shatner, the ranking Canadian on the bridge of the Enterprise, and would gladly have beamed him out for good. He was unable to flip Shatner the finger, because his middle digit had been shot off in the war, but he metaphorically gave it to him at every opportunity. At fan conventions Shatner would be backstage bemoaning the obsessiveness of Trekkies/Trekkers while Jimmy would be onstage cheerfully doing shtick at Shatner's expense. For instance, he'd attempt to beam Kirk up but only Kirk's toupee would materialize. Doohan aged better than most of the crew: in the nineties, avuncular, moustachioed, burly, and bleary, he looked more like a Scotty than he had in the sixties. Unlike many of his colleagues, he was at ease with the very precise niche celebrity that Star Trek had brought him. It was a life, though far from the one he'd once known.