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"In 1970 I found little difficulty staying 30 years ahead of the man in the street, and now I find it difficult to stay 18 months ahead of the man on the street."
- Vernor Vinge

Twonky  
  A futuristic artifact left by time travelers in the past which, if discovered, could cause a paradox.  

There are really two worlds in Millennium. One is the world of our present (okay - your past - the mid 1980's). The other is the far future. It is not made clear at the beginning of the book what the purpose of time travel is, and I won't spoil your discovery.

This is a great word; not only is it original, but it's fun to say. Is it a verb or a noun?

I said, "What's up?"

"We had an indication of a twonky developing," he said, with deplorable grammar. A twonky used to mean some anachronistic object left behind during a snatch, but lately people had begun using the word to refer to the paradox situation that object tended to generate.

"Shortly after the twonky alarm, one of your girls lost her stunner on the plane."

From Millenium, by John Varley.
Published by Berkley Books in 1983
Additional resources -

When a traveler goes back in time, great care must be taken not to disturb the timestream, the chain of events that leads to the future under consideration in the novel. Their greatest fear is what happens if there is a "Grandfather Paradox", which comes up in most discussions of time travel. The basic idea is as follows: if I go back in time and kill my grandfather, how will I ever be born? Paradoxes like these are taken by some as proof that time travel cannot exist; in this future, time travel exists, but what happens if you cause a paradox in the past? Will the future you exist in - cease to exist?

The word "twonky" was first used by Henry Kuttner writing as Lewis Padgett in his short story "The Twonky".

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Millenium
  More Ideas and Technology by John Varley
  Tech news articles related to Millenium
  Tech news articles related to works by John Varley

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