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I am a science fiction writer and am working on a novel that contains both humans and aliens. I am finding it difficult to verbalize a container for a group that includes both aliens and humans, without it sounding awkward or exclusionary. For example, lets pretend in the story the narrator is in an open outdoor mall, and all the "beings" abruptly start heading for the exit. People doesn't include aliens, creatures sounds exclusive of humans, individuals is too narrow, inhabitants doesn't feel right. Thoughts?

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    Couldn't the narrator implicitly or explicitly let the reader know that people had come to be used for aliens and earthlings?
    – DjinTonic
    Apr 13 at 15:08
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    I think many SF writers use "beings" for this, just as you did in the question.
    – Barmar
    Apr 13 at 18:02
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    Often you could use a more specific term, e.g. in a mall "shoppers". "Everybody" seems like it would fit for the given situation. Or you may be able to use something like "citizens", "residents", "townsfolk", etc. Or just use a term inclusively.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 13 at 18:07
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    Everyone..... Apr 13 at 19:15
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    One occasionally sees hilf (highly intelligent life form) and sophont. Apr 13 at 23:37

5 Answers 5

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Different writers take different approaches depending on what they want to convey.

The phrase "sentient beings" is popular, following Douglas Adams (who may not have originated it but used it a lot, as in "Voted Worst Dressed Sentient Being in the Universe for the third time running"). If you think "sentient" is too wide-ranging then try "sapient" or "intelligent".

C.S. Lewis made up a word ("hnau"). E E ('Doc') Smith repurposed an old word. You can do either of these but you should probably explain it.

"Creatures" is not exclusive of humans, and certainly won't appear so if you use it to include humans a couple of times. It does include non-human-like animals, but you should be able to use context to make the meaning clear. Also, maybe there are dogs in your mall heading towards the exit.

You can probably use "people" as long as you make it clear that it includes non-humans by usage. "Hey, Andromedans are people too, you know".

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    As has already been pointed out in another comment, creatures includes nonhuman animals, and the same is true of sentient beings. Although the question was not entirely explicit about that, it appears that the OP wants a term that does not include nonhuman animals (or their extraterrestrial counterparts), but only humans and human-like extraterrestrials (those that are broadly rational, able to communicate, and so forth). For that purpose, people is probably the best, provided that the context makes it clear how it is intended.
    – jsw29
    Apr 13 at 20:15
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    No, "sentient beings" does not include animals, at least the way Adams uses it. His usage has been widely copied. Of course in Adams' case it does include dolphins and mice, but that's an entirely different point. Apr 13 at 20:17
  • None of these work to describe humans + [other beings] leaving an area.
    – Lambie
    Apr 14 at 19:09
  • Sentient is a well established term with a long history in serious theoretical discussions, including the discussions of the moral implications of animals' sentience. A competently written summary of that history can be found in the Wikipedia article on the topic. The casual use of the term in science fiction is a peculiar distortion of that well established usage (probably due to some of its authors' having heard the term but not being familiar with the relevant literature, and others in the same situation then copying their way of using it).
    – jsw29
    Apr 16 at 17:49
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sophont

sophont (plural sophonts)

(chiefly science fiction) An intelligent being; a being with a base reasoning capacity roughly equivalent to or greater than that of a human being. The word does not apply to machines unless they have true artificial intelligence, rather than mere processing capacity.

Apparently invented by Poul Anderson back in 1966. The wiktionary entry additionally quotes David Brin, Vernor Vinge and Spider Robinson. Personally I've encountered it in webcomics. It seems pretty well established in the context of science fiction.

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  • I like this. It would sound odd at first, and therefore would require adoption of the meaning to the word the first couple of times, but is not clouded by any previous word definitions such as people, creatures, beings, etc.
    – Holodecker
    Apr 15 at 22:34
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E E ('Doc') Smith did no better than to press the term wight back into service:

wight (plural wights) (archaic):

A living creature, especially a human being.

[Wiktionary]

OED is not so proscriptive, using the caveat [Now archaic or dialect].

Merriam-Webster adds no caveat for the noun, but [archaic] for the adjective.

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  • "living creature" includes animals, so it's too broad, and the caveat seems to make it too specific.
    – Barmar
    Apr 13 at 18:03
  • It's what Smith used for {intelligent extra-terrestrials + humans}. Not that I believe man isn't uniquely created (in the space-time-matter universe). Apr 13 at 18:30
  • I'm not denying Smith used it that way, just pointing out that it's not really justified by the dictionary definitions you referred to.
    – Barmar
    Apr 15 at 6:41
  • Yes (I did add a caveat in my first sentence). There probably not being an obvious precise answer, this probably comes under writing advice / opinion; I'll add a CV. Apr 15 at 13:58
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If your aliens have a human sort of form, humanoids might work, although it sometimes has a robotic connotation:

Cambridge Dictionary - Humanoid

  • A machine or creature with the appearance and qualities of a human
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aliens:

non-earthers OR other-worlders

Say no more.

The humans and other-worlders abruptly headed for the exit.

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