Radio waves, as it happens, have three attributes: amplitude, frequency, and phase. Information can be encoded in any of them: AM is Amplitude Modulation and FM is Frequency Modulation.
It’s also possible to encode information by Phase Modulation, and I suspect that this is where Roddenberry got the name for the weapon.
Using a concept that goes back to Poe, putting something out of phase with the rest of the world would make it apparently vanish from that world.
I blame Star Trek. (The Original Series, of course. ST-TOS was the s-f show of my adolescence, and I imprinted on it hard. Next Gen was weak tea – Earl Grey, hot — by comparison.) The weapon of choice for Kirk and Spock and everybody else who was boldly going on the starship Enterprise was the phaser, that handy gadget that looked like a bar of soap and either stunned the target or caused him/her/it to vanish completely, dealer’s choice. (I shudder to think about the complexities of investigating murders and disappearances in the Star Trek universe, given the availability of that kind of murder weapon and body-disposal tool in one easily-concealed package. Private ownership of phasers and related weapons would have to be as illegal as hell, which would of course lead to a thriving black market in same. But those are not the stories that Star…
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