The word, supposed to be from the Vulcan language, first appeared in Gene Roddenberry's novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Here's what the book has to say about it:
"Jim! Goodbye, my...my t'hy'la*. This is the last time I will permit myself to think of you or even your name again."It gets used again in one more place, here:
*Editor's note - The human concept of friend is most nearly duplicated in Vulcan thought by the term "t'hy'la", which can also mean "brother" and "lover". Spock's recollection (from which this chapter is drawn) is that it was a most difficult moment for him since he did indeed consider Kirk to have become his brother. However, because "t'hy'la" can be used to mean "lover" and since Kirk's and Spock's friendship was unusually close, this has led to some speculation over whether or not they had actually indeed become lovers. At our request, Admiral Kirk supplied the following comments on this subject:
"I was never aware of this 'lovers' rumor, although I have been told that Spock encountered it several times. Apparently, he had always dismissed it with his characteristic lifting of his right eyebrow, which usually connoted some combination of surprise, disbelief, and/or annoyance. As for myself... I have always found my best gratification in that creature called woman. Also, I would not like to be thought of as being so foolish that I would select a love partner who came into sexual heat only once every seven years."
There was much to put out of his mind. Why was it difficult to forget Chekov's astonished delight which greeted him at the command airlock when he boarded. And on the bridge - Kirk! The mere name made Spock groan inwardly as he remembered what it had cost him to turn away from that welcome. T'hy'la!
Notice that nowhere in the entire paragraph does Kirk explicitly ~deny~ anything. Read each sentence carefully. It reminds me, personally, of a situation in which a man asks his new girlfriend if she's slept with anyone before and she says, "What kind of girl do you think I am?!" indignantly. That's not a denial either, but an evasion designed to discourage further questioning.
Here's what Kirk might have said if things were a bit more clear in the no-slash direction:
"No, Spock and I are extremely close friends, and I love him like a brother. Our friendship is infinitely more satisfying than any sexual relationship I've had in the past or could have now.
Instead, we get, "I was never aware of this rumor". That's not exactly illuminating. Spock's reaction of annoyance doesn't clash with slash either--from what we know of Vulcans, they're extremely private beings. They 'kiss' in public only by touching fingertips (source: "Journey to Babel"), and in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Spock won't even let Kirk, uh, hug him on the bridge of the Klingon ship. As for disbelief--he can *look* like he's reacting however he wants! It would be a very effective way of fooling people. And Kirk does say "usually connoted". Usually.
Kirk states that he has always found his best gratification in women. Best? Best compared to what? That sounds like an outright admission of Kirk's bisexual exploration. And the last sentence makes it sound like he's more concerned with the way people *percieve* him than the actual reality. "I would dislike being thought of as being so foolish," is what he says. He never actually says that *Spock* comes into heat only once in seven years. He seems like he knows people are thinking that about most Vulcans, but Spock's half Human, and that might not even be true for Vulcans.
He talks in circles. None of this means that they're definitely sleeping together, of course; it just allows for the possibility of conjecture. And technically, by Paramount's rules, the book isn't considered canon (even though Roddenberry wrote it himself).
Fan writers have adopted the word for affectionate use between Spock and Jim both in gen stories and in slash. What we all do agree on is the exceptionally deep nature of their love, whether it be brotherly or romantic. They are the most important people in each other's lives, and their devotion has inspired the wealth of creative output on this website.
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