Swanwick on scientiphilology

Over on Michael Swanwick’s blog, Flogging Babel, he has a post on a subject dear to my heart, which he’s titled “Science Fiction Lexicography.” He says

Now that the Oxford English Dictionary has gathered together definitions and citations for a raft of words derived from science fiction (ansible, blaster, alternate universe, etc.) and fandom (trufan, worldcon, filk, u.s.W.), it’s time to start laying down the documentation for some far future edition of the OED which will scoop up terms which currently only insiders use.

Well, what could be better? The gathering together of definitions and citations is presumably a reference to the SF Citations Project. Of the terms he lists, only filk and blaster are so far in the OED, although most of the others are in BNW and the citations project. U.s.W. (which I assume to be the abbreviation of the German und so weiter, which was often used, along with the Esperanto k.t.p. (for kaj tiel plu), in place of etc. in fanzines and the like) is in none of these. I’ve always assumed the abbreviation had German, rather than fannish origins, so I never bothered to research it, but I don’t know for sure.

But onto the main attraction: Swanwick’s first insider word (he promises another later) is “Bull Goose Loser,” which he defines as “the science fiction writer (so far, no fantasists have made the grade) who has been nominated for the most Hugo and Nebula Awards without ever winning one.” (It can also apparently be abbreviated “BGL”.) There aren’t a lot of citations for this on the web, which doesn’t necessarily mean much, and many are references to Swanwick’s blog (he’s actually posted about this before, with a slightly less restrictive definition: ” the guy or gal who’s been nominated for more major awards without winning any than anybody else”).

There are a couple references to Walter Jon Williams being the bull goose loser (although both of these are fairly old content — he finally won a Nebula in 1999 after ten Hugo/Nebula nominations and one World Fantasy nomination*). One even has a quote from Dozois himself: “Those of us in the Know refer to Walter as the “Bull Goose Loser,” because he has lost more major awards without winning one than any other writer.” Another wonders about a bull goose loser of the Stokers, showing some nice extending of the definition. Patrick Nielsen Hayden gives a purely Hugo-centric gloss here, with Swanwick and Michael Bishop vying for that version of the honor in 1999. So there’s some wiggle-room in the definition of this term, at least based on this basically inadequate sample.

One thing I note is that all the references online, except for the Stokers one, are from the 1990s, and the Stoker one was posted as a response to Swanwick’s post. So perhaps this term was more prevalent then? This would explain the lack of much online evidence. But then, so much slang is seldom written down that it’s hard to draw any conclusions, so its fortunate, for the future of scientiphilology, that Michael Swanwick decided to highlight the term.

I thought I’d try to figure out who the current BGL is. Freebase has pretty good data for some definition of BGL, although most of the 2010 nominations and winners haven’t been entered yet. Michael Burstein seems to it pretty well sewn up, unless you don’t count the Philip K. Dick award, in which case the nod would go to Stephen Baxter. (The query is here, for the technically-inclined (just click “run”): http://tinyurl.com/38aly9a.)

* I am assuming that the World Fantasy Award counts a major award in the less restrictive definition, but one of the nice things about that definition is that there’s room for argument about which awards actually count as major, so there could be multiple pretenders to the bull goose loser throne.

[Updated 9/22 with a revised query.]

2 Responses to “Swanwick on scientiphilology”

  1. I’ve been nominated for ten Hugos and four Nebulas without having yet won one, so that would be a total of 14 nominations.

    I’m assuming, however, that you’re only looking at the written fiction categories. If you look at other categories, you have Stanley Schmidt, who has been nominated for the Best Editor Hugo close to 30 times and not yet won.

    (In my own case, I did win the Campbell in 1997, which is voted on along with the Hugos, but is not a Hugo itself. So I don’t think it would disqualify me from being the BGL.)

  2. jeff says:

    Congrats on your dubious honor, Michael!

    You’ve also found a bug in my query: Stan Schmidt is the clear leader if you include all types of nominees, with 30 editing nominations and three fiction nominations, although all the definitions of Bull Goose Loser do seem to make a fiction writer’s honor. Poor Stanley Schmidt — he’s not even eligible for the consolation prize!

Leave a Reply