Entry updated 19 December 2017. Tagged: Theme.
Pronounced "si fi" or sometimes "sky fi", an abbreviation for "science fiction" whose first recorded use was in 1954, when the term "hi-fi" (high-fidelity) was becoming popular in the context of audio equipment. The wordplay-loving Forrest J Ackerman claimed to have invented the term and later promoted it eagerly in his Famous Monsters of Filmland (1958-1983). However, Ackerman's first known use of the term in print is in his article "Fantasy Film Flashes" (December 1954 Imagination), and there is an earlier printed instance in the 17 February 1954 issue of Variety: "New Telepix Shows [...] The commercial possibilities are there as well since 'Junior Science,' aside from its positive qualities, is a rewarding change of pace from the more thunderous sci-fi and spaceship packages."
Though for many years little used within the sf community, "sci fi" became very popular with journalists and media people generally, until by the 1970s it was the most common abbreviation used by nonreaders of sf to refer to the genre, sometimes with an implied sneer. Some critics within the genre, Terry Carr and Damon Knight among them, decided that, since the term was commonly derogatory, it might be critically useful in distinguishing sf hack-work – particularly ill written, lurid adventure stories – from sf of a more intellectually demanding kind. Around 1978 the critic Susan Wood and others began pronouncing the term "skiffy". In 1980s-1990s usage "skiffy", which sounded friendlier than "sci fi", had perhaps for that reason come to be less condemnatory. Skiffy is colourful, sometimes entertaining, junk sf: Star Wars is skiffy. In the twenty-first century, however, the countless younger readers who have grown up with "sci-fi" as the perceived default term for sf tend to be puzzled by long-term fans' disdain for it, and to suspect that the insistence on "sf" may be an elitist shibboleth rather than concern for correct usage. Though old-timers still prefer not to use "sci-fi", continuing disparagement of this term has become counter-productive.
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