Time Travel Tense Trouble
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The fellow in the overcoat and the battered grey hat adjusted his glasses and extended his hand. "Hello," he said, "I'm McMack. We haven't met yet, but we will and that's where I know you from."

Basic Information

Most languages, having been created by people who lack the ability to time travel, lack the necessary tenses for time travelers. English can distinguish something that has happened, or will happen, but is not so hot at describing something that did happen to your future self but has not yet happened to you and which may now never happen as your alternate timeline future self has already gone back in time and solved it.

Or, actually, I guess English handled that just fine, didn't it? For whatever reason, characters in Time Travel movies seem to trip all over this, so some gamers might have trouble with it as well. All depends on how complicated the plot line gets.


Time Travel Tense Trouble at the TV Tropes Wiki

The Continuum RPG has a nice section on time traveler slang that provides a few highly useful terms to make this sort of stuff less confusing. It also provides alternate names for many of the Time Travel Tropes and various stupid time tricks that PCs with time machines can pull off. Highly recommended.

Game and Story Use

  • One way to distinguish between different time travelers would be how they talk about time travel.
    • The veteran chrononaut has a handle on tense, and has worked out some catchy slang to describe the most commonly encountered time travel tropes and forms of temporal paradox. He may talk over your heads by default, but is quite capable to dumbing it down if he notices you're lost.
    • The temporal physics professor understands time travel tense, but is clueless about others level of comfortability. He'll ramble in technobabble that is meaningless to others. At the same time, he may be painstakingly precise with Time Tense, explaining exactly when (and whether) even the most mundane things have happened / will happen, going into detail even when the laypersons around him don't really need such precision. "Okay professor, we get it!" will be said nearly as often as "Pretend for a moment I have no idea what you're talking about…"
    • The bewildered time novice will stammer, get confused, and be completely incapable of putting even the simplest things into the proper tense. He'll imagine everything to be much more complicated than they really are, and throw up his arms in frustration with great regularity.
    • The time police will have slang, but it'll be very specific to their line of work, and probably involve a lot of incomprehensible number codes. "ChronoCom, this is Time Pod 54. I've got a pair of c21s that I caught trying to pull a 392 at the 7L1947R juncture. Please dispatch a Triple Zed for clean up."
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