Fan Language

Tagged: Theme | Fan

Sf enthusiasts, in common with other groups, have evolved their own terminology and usage. This language comprises words and phrases used in the writing of sf itself and also the more arcane and whimsical jargon of Fandom and Fanzines.

Most sf readers are familiar with the shorthand of their literature, and words like Spaceship, Robot, Time Machine, Force Field and even FTL (drive), Ray Gun and Space Warp need little or no glossing. These words, however, originated in sf and required explanation when first coined (> Terminology). Only the vast growth in popularity of sf has led to the acceptance of such terms as part of everyday English. Similarly, Philip K Dick's novels popularized the fan-originated term Kipple.

The language of fandom, however, has a more restricted use and thus is less familiar. Much of it was initially associated with Fanzines, including the specialized art of stencil duplication (mimeography) of these usually low-budget productions, and frequently resulted from simple contraction: "actifan" for an active fan, APA (which see) for Amateur Press Association, "con" as quicker to type than "convention", "LoC" for a Letter Of Comment written to a fanzine editor, Prozine for a professional sf magazine, "personalzine" for a personal fanzine (being more about the writer/editor's life and opinions than about sf) and so on. "Corflu" was nothing stranger than correcting fluid for duplicator/mimeograph stencils, still remembered as the continuing name of a series of small fan-oriented Conventions (1984-current). With the near-universal shift from such old technologies to immaculately word-processed and photocopied/lithographed productions (which are still with us) and onward to purely digital publication as E-Zines or Webzines, terms like "corflu" have gained an air of ancient quaintness. So has the once popular phrase "Fans are Slans", hyperbolically painting fandom as a Pariah Elite like the Supermen of A E van Vogt's Slan (September-December 1940 Astounding; 1946; rev 1951) and leading to the term "slanshack" for a house or apartment shared by active fans. Another term taken from sf itself is "grok" from Robert A Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1961; text restored 1991), which in the book is a Martian verb meaning literally "to drink" as a metaphor for deep spiritual or intuitive understanding. It has been said that more recent generations of fans have tended to absorb neologisms from the world of computing rather than to create their own; but then, the internet and blogosphere were largely created by sf fans.

Largely forgotten fan manipulations of language have included: attempts at futuristic shorthand, traceable to the names like @kins (Atkins) and T8 (Tate, magazine version only) in Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man (January-March 1952 Galaxy; 1953) – thus Forrest J Ackerman was familiarly known as 4E (Forry) or 4SJ; adoption of typographical errors as joky alternative spellings, as with Walt Willis's inadvertent coinage "poctsarcd" and Frank M Robinson's fan nickname "Frqnk"; the mysterious insertion of H to make words somehow more fannish, as in "bheer" and "Ghod" – echoed in Donald Wollheim's decree that C J Cherry should write as C J Cherryh; and, less specific to fandom, the adoption by a few Fanzine editors of the 1969 SR1 spelling reform proposal whereby any short "e" sound is so spelt, so that "health" and "said" become "helth" and "sed".

Of more general interest are words which describe fan attitudes and behaviour. Examples are: "egoboo" (from "ego-boost"), the satisfaction gained from praise or recognition, such as seeing one's name in print; "fanac" (from "fan activity"); Filk (which see); "mundane", a non-fan or, as an adjective, describing non-fan activity; "slanshack" as above; and "slash fiction", fan-generated stories about sexual intimacy between famed fictional characters, usually both male, the earliest and best known examples being the Kirk/Spock slash tales. Further acronym-based terms include "to gafiate" (from GAFIA or Getting Away From It All – leaving fandom, although the phrase originally meant to get away from mundane reality and to enter fandom; closely related was the involuntary FAFIA, Forced Away From It All). Some of these contractions, acronyms and neologisms fill a linguistic need ("slash fiction" describes a phenomenon not otherwhere comprehended); others simply enrich the sense of affinity that fandom – like any other grouping of this sort – was partly created to foster. In general, fan argot is anything but freemasonical, and never amounts to anything like a secret code to baffle outsiders. For fans, outsiders are identifiable not so much by their failure to use certain terms as by their tendency to misuse others. The best example of this used to be "sf", the usual contraction preferred by sf fans. For decades, journalists and other nonsympathetic outsiders could readily be identified by their insistence on Sci Fi, which to older fans still sounds belittling and patronizing despite its increasingly widespread acceptance as a default term (a usage bolstered by the argument that sci-fi is unambiguous while SF may also mean San Francisco or Finland). The still earlier fans who sometimes used the contracted adjective stfnal, short for "scientifictional" (> Scientifiction), have almost entirely died out.

Various guides to fan language have been published, chiefly by fans, in the USA and UK. Bob (Wilson) Tucker's The Neo-Fan's Guide (1955 chap; rev 1973 chap; rev 1984 chap) is a useful if now somewhat dated introduction, and Roberta Rogow's Futurespeak: A Fan's Guide to the Language of Science Fiction (1991), though erratic, covers much newer ground. Still more recently, fannish terms are included in the coverage of the Oxford English Dictionary Science Fiction Citations project – see link below – and the notable reference book which resulted: Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction (2007) by Jeff Prucher. [PR/JC/DRL]

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