As used in the fictional Star Trek universe, the Vulcan nerve pinch is a technique used mainly by Vulcans to render another lifeform unconscious by pinching a pressure point at the base of the victim’s neck with all four fingers opposing the thumb. Normally this is done to other humanoids, although in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Spock successfully uses the nerve pinch on a horse-like creature.
Origin and use
, who portrayed the Vulcan science officer Spock
, conceived the maneuver in the early days of the original Star Trek
series. The script for “The Enemy Within
” stated that Spock "kayoes
" Captain Kirk
’s duplicate, but Nimoy felt that such an action would be undignified for a Vulcan — he therefore invented an alternative. In Star Trek
’s scripts, the pinch is referred to as the FSNP
, for Famous Spock Nerve Pinch
Since Spock, various other characters in the Star Trek spin-offs use the technique, including non-Vulcans. First out non-Vulcan was Khan Noonien Singh, later followed by others such as the android Data, the Changeling Odo, Voyager’s holographic Doctor, and the humans Jean-Luc Picard, Seven of Nine, and Jonathan Archer (though Archer was carrying the katra of the ancient Vulcan Surak at the time). In Carpenter Street, T'Pol uses the nerve pinch on the kidnapper Loomis to stop him escaping from his apartment, and again later in the episode. She also uses it in the 4th episode of the first season on Malcolm Reed to calm him down (earliest example in timeline?).
Some humans, however, have been unable to use the nerve pinch. Spock once commented that he tried but failed to teach it to James T. Kirk. Likewise, when Dr. McCoy was in possession of Spock’s Katra, he was unable to use the nerve pinch.
The nerve pinch has been used on Vulcans and the Vulcanoid Romulans several times, showing that neither race is immune to the technique. The only human to have ever been insensitive to it was Colonel Gary Seven, possibly because of metabolic alterations obtained on his planet of adoption (TOS: “Assignment: Earth”). It has been proven ineffective on robotic androids when Spock took the time to softly try it on android Alice, who simply asked him calmly if that gesture had a significance (TOS: “I, Mudd”).
Confusion with Vulcan Salute
References to the nerve pinch outside of Star Trek often show characters attempting the nerve pinch while placing their hands in the position of the Vulcan Salute
. However, observation of Spock in the episodes reveals that the nerve pinch is not done with the same hand position as the salute.
There is no on-screen canon
explanation of how the pinch works. Over the years, fans and Expanded Universe
writers have made a number of suggestions as to how it works.
The book The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry offers a simple explanation: the pinch blocks blood and nerve responses from reaching the brain, leading to unconsciousness. In this earliest of Star Trek reference books, the pinch is referred to as the “Spock Pinch.”
One conjecture was that, because of Vulcans’ telepathic nature and incredible control over their own bodies, they are able to send a burst of neural energy into another being and overload its nervous system, rendering it unconscious, although the pinch does not work on all species (Or all humans such as Gary Seven). This was supported by the fact that Dr. McCoy could not use it in Star Trek III, but it has been rendered moot by the fact that many non-telepathic characters have used it in modern incarnations of Trek such as Captain Jonathan Archer in Star Trek Enterprise, as well as Lieutenant Commander Data, who is an android.
Another conjecture is that it can be done by applying strong and surgically precise pressure over baroreceptors of the carotid sinus at the base of the humanoid neck. The objective would be to elicit the baroreceptor reflex as the receptors detect an apparent high pressure state due to the externally applied force and causes reflex bradycardia and/or hypotension, leading to decreased blood supply to the brain and syncope. However, this would likely require bilateral pressure.
The Star Trek
episode “The Enterprise Incident
” makes reference to a Vulcan “death grip,” which is supposedly a more powerful and lethal version of the nerve pinch. Spock pretends to use it on Captain Kirk in order to complete a mission. Nurse Christine Chapel
later asserts that the death grip is a myth (giving the famous line "there's no such thing as a Vulcan Death Grip!"), later confirmed by Kirk still being alive. Spock does, however, do something to Kirk that simulates death to such a degree that Romulan
doctors certified him dead. Kirk later states that Spock used a nerve pinch to simulate his death, but what Spock exactly does is not explained.
In reality, there is something similar. You can lose consciousness when pressure is aplied to vagus nerve
in your neck.
- In the movie You Don't Mess with the Zohan Adam Sandler uses the grip to knock out a crying boy.
- In an episode of the TV series Soap, Jodie Dallas (played by Billy Crystal) used the neck pinch successfully, to his surprise, in a confrontation with several fighters at a martial arts studio.
- Scott Adams has been known to mention to the nerve pinch in his comic strip Dilbert, where he often refers to it incorrectly as the Vulcan death grip.
- Xena on the series Xena Warrior Princess has a lethal Death Pinch. (This gives the victim 30 seconds to live unless the counter-strike is applied.)
- The Beastie Boys’ song “Intergalactic” says the listener’s “knees’ll start shaking and your fingers pop / Like a pinch on the neck of Mr. Spock.”
- On an episode of Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, Kwai Chang Caine uses the “Vulcan Nerve Punch” to defeat several enemies.
- In the Mel Brooks comedy Spaceballs, Lone Starr (played by Bill Pullman) attempts to knock out a Spaceball guard using the technique, prompting the following dialogue:
- Guard: What the hell are you doing?
- Lone Starr: Uh… the Vulcan Neck Pinch?
- Guard: No, no, stupid. You’ve got it much too high. It’s down here where the shoulder meets the neck.
- Lone Starr: Like this?
- Guard: Yeah! (faints)
- In the film Look Who’s Talking Now, Kirstie Alley’s character loses her job and takes a temp job playing an elf in Santa’s Workshop in a mall. A bratty child asks scornfully if she is an elf. She replies “No, I’m a Vulcan. How would you like a little death grip?” in reference to Alley’s role as Saavik in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
- Pulp hero Doc Savage uses a similar technique.
- “Vulcan nerve pinch” is also hacker slang for a key board combination used to reboot or otherwise interrupt a computer. A common example of this is Control-Alt-Delete for IBM PC compatible computers (see also three-finger salute).
- The book The Action Hero’s Handbook gives instructions for performing a nerve pinch.
- In The Simpsons episode “Mayored to the Mob,” Homer uses the Vulcan Nerve Pinch (or, as Marge thinks, a sleeper hold) to knock out his children. He is then scolded by Marge and promptly repeats the technique on her also. Realizing there is 30 minutes left until supper he applies it to himself.
- In the Futurama episode “Where No Fan Has Gone Before,” the Planet Express crew are forced into a fight to the death with the cast of the original series. When Nimoy is fighting Bender, he tries to “see if this actually works” and attempts one on Bender, which could never work, since he is a robot.
- In the video game Space Quest 6, The Vulger Nerve Pinch uses the same placement of the fingers, but requires the person to also speak lines from Tango and Cash or Hudson Hawk, the combination of the pinch and dialogue from the two movies causing neural overload. Roger Wilco uses this to incapacitate a guard so that he can steal a shuttle.
- In the Cartoon Network animated series Codename: Kids Next Door, the character Kuki Sanban attempted to use the Vulcan nerve pinch unsusccesfully in one episode.
- In the story, Savage Shadow, written by The Shadow’s creator Maxwell Grant the character Doc Fauve (which is French for Savage) in a drunken haze applies the nerve pinch to his newfound pal, writer Kenneth Robeson.
- In the pilot episode of Heroes (“Genesis”), after Hiro Nakamura makes the claim that he is able to bend space and time, making references to Spock and Star Trek, and is dragged back to his cubicle by his manager, his friend Ando Masahashi shouts to him that he should use his “death grip.”
- In The Amanda Show, Penelope Taynt more often than not uses the Vulcan Nerve Pinch on those who see her.
- In another Dan Schneider program, Zoey 101, Quinn Pensky often pinches people's elbows to knock them out.
- In an episode of A Different World, Sinbad’s character Walter Oakes used the Vulcan Nerve Pinch on two dangerous cocaine dealers after the gang accidentally discovered their stash during a Spring Break vacation in Miami just in the nick of time and, a little later on, to silence a talkative Whitley Gilbert.
- In the Space Ghost Coast to Coast episode “Freak Show,” Commander Andy (Andy Merrill) tells Space Ghost, “If I was in the same room with you right now I would give you the Vulcan Nerve Pinch and knock you out.”
- In the non-canon Star Trek/X-Men crossover by Marvel Comics Spock used the nerve pinch on Wolverine. Wolverine surprised Spock by almost immediately recovering due to his healing factor.
- In an episode of My Name Is Earl, "Early Release", Darnell uses a Vulcan neck pinch to incapacitate a prison guard while assisting Earl in an escape attempt.
- In Police Academy 5, Nick Lassard places his hand on a perp's shoulder, who promptly faints. Officer Conklin and Sgt. Jones are dumbfounded by this, after which Lassard gives the Vulcan salute and shows an empty syringe on his other hand.
- In the novelization of X-Men: The Last Stand, the character Kitty Pryde uses the Vulcan nerve pinch to defeat three attackers in the final battle at Alcatraz.
- In an episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Jazz Referenced the "volcan Death Grip" while trying to calm down Carlton.
- In an episode of the Disney Channel cartoon hit "Phineas and Ferb", Ferb was threatened by Buford and nonchalantly pinched his neck, knocking him out.
- In the episode in Totally Spies!, Evil Heiress Much? , Clover used the Vulcan Nerve Pinch to knock down an 'enemy'.
- In a Season 1 episode of The O.C. while Seth attempts to massage Summer's neck she cries out, "Ow, what's up with the Vulcan Nerve Pinch?"