The lexicographer responds to his critics, or, A defense of fanspeak

Several reviewers have commented, in less than glowing terms, on my inclusion of fannish words in Brave New Words. (It’s also worth noting that some reviewers liked the fannish entries. I wonder, but have no way to really determine this, if the response has anything to do with the relative fannishness of the reviewer.) Generally speaking, one of the main things people like to do with dictionaries is complain about words that aren’t included that they think should be, or about words that are included that they think shouldn’t be. I even do this with other people’s dictionaries. It’s probably impossible not to, at least for someone interested enough in language to be reading a dictionary thoroughly enough to notice what’s missing/wrongly included, and is not really worth remarking on. Sometimes specific suggestions turn out to be good ones, too; there are several terms suggested by reviewers I’ll probably include in future editions (given the chance). But since we’re talking about a whole class of words, I thought it might be worth going into some of my reasoning for including the fannish entries, because I think it’s important. By “fannish” entries, I should add, I mean those that are from fanspeak, the slang or jargon of the science fiction and fantasy fan community.

There are multiple reasons, the least compelling of which is simply that, because of the OED’s SF citation project, I had the data. Another, slightly more compelling reason, is that at certain points, it’s extremely hard to differentiate between fannish and “critical” terms. (NB: the three major categories of terms in BNW are those coined in science fiction writing, those coined to refer to science fiction writing, and those coined by science fiction fans.) So any division between fannish and critical terms would necessarily be arbitrary. Also, I think that fanspeak is interesting, and it’s highly under-represented in mainstream dictionaries, including those dedicated to slang and jargon; those that do include it tend to do so badly.

That last one, in and of itself, would probably be enough justification for me to have included fanspeak. But one of the things that most excited me about writing BNW was the realization of just how many words that were coined in SF, about SF, and by fans, have spread into wider use, and how little that had been documented. (Obviously, the OED SF citation project is the major exception to this.) So I’d like to highlight a few terms, coined by fans, that have made the leap from fandom to the wider world. Some of these are very much a part of everyday speech; others have spread only into another subculture.

The big success storise are, of course, fanzine and zine. Fanzines originally referred only to SF and fantasy-related amateur publications. The earliest reference to non-SF use I have is from 1968, referring to a fanzine for Zane Grey fans, although this is surely too late. The shortened form zine came to mainstream prominence I’d guess in the late 1980’s, as part of a DIY, self-publishing subculture; the term itself has been around in SF fan use since 1944 (and almost certainly before then). Even fanmag has broken out into mainstream use, although I’d hazard a guess that it’s not as common as the other two.

The suffix -con, used in the names of conventions, has also been widely adopted; at first, by groups with ties to SF fandom like roleplaying games and comics, and later by others. A quick search for “computer conventions” reveals the existence of CodeCon and Wescon. I’d be willing to bet that the short form con has also started to seep out, but I don’t have any hard evidence for that (well, I’ve heard people refer to comics conventions as “cons”, but hearing it doesn’t get it into a dictionary).

Completism, the desire to possess (some might say unhealthy obsession with possession) a complete set of something, has spread from SF fandom to collectors of all stripes. [Completist has as well, it’s worth noting, although I failed to supply evidence for that fact in BNW. Oops.]

Ish, short for “issue”, was originally used to refer to issues of fanzines and SF magazines (what were called prozines), but the OED added an entry for it in 2004; only the first three citations pertain to SF.

Mundania, the realm of things non-fannish, has apparently found a foothold in neo-paganism (where it presumably means the realm of things non-pagan).

Fan fiction pretty much encompasses all manner of creative endeavor now, and is arguably a subculture in its own right, and much of the terminology now used by fanficcers of all stripes began in SF fandom, including fan fiction itself, fanfic and slash, fan fiction depicting an erotic relationship between fictional characters. (Heck, there’s even slash fiction about real people now. Once upon a time, this would merely have been called either pornography or erotica [when it wasn’t called libel], but now it’s called slash. Go figure.)

And, what is surely one of the most purely fannish items of all, the word ghod, which basically means “god”, somehow managed to creep into the underground comix scene.

This list is probably not exhaustive (I don’t seem to have maintained a handy list of them, so this is just off the top of my head), but should serve to illustrate the point. Which, briefly, is that fanspeak is both interesting and influential, and well worthy of being included in dictionaries of all stripes, let alone one specifically dedicated to the language of science fiction.

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3 Responses to “The lexicographer responds to his critics, or, A defense of fanspeak”

  1. […] from post The lexicographer responds to his critics, or, A defense of fanspeak: Several reviewers have commented, in less than glowing terms, on my inclusion of fannish words in […]

  2. […] from post The lexicographer responds to his critics, or, A defense of fanspeak: Several reviewers have commented, in less than glowing terms, on my inclusion of fannish words in […]

  3. Please, make that list of crossover sf words.

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