Scientiphilology around the web

September 22nd, 2012

In honor of the great man’s birthday, Wordnik has a blog post dedicated to words coined or popularized by H. G. Wells. It has the obligatory “atomic bomb” and “time machine”, but also some fun surprises, like “lurve” (the rhotic pronunciation spelling of “love”) which he is, apparently, the first known person to write thusly.

Indirectly, that post led me to this great post on io9 from last year about Nineteenth-century terms for what we now call science fiction. It’s very well done, and pushes the earliest use of “scientific romance” in a literary sense to 1851, and “scientific fiction” to 1873.

And finally, slang lexicographer Jonathon Green has the text of a talk he gave about Anthony Burgess and slang, which is really well worth the read. It’s certainly one of the best treatments of the language of science fiction I’ve read in some time.


Swanwick on scientiphilology

September 21st, 2010

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”):

* 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.]

SF in OED, December 2009

December 29th, 2009

The SFnal words are a bit more peripheral in this update, but nonetheless includes one of my favorite SF-sourced combining forms:

-zilla [from Godzilla, of course]:

With preceding noun, forming humorous, usually temporary words which depict a person or thing as a particularly imposing, relentless, or overbearing example of its kind.

First cite is for the form “hogzilla”, from 1978. Other forms attested include “bosszilla”, “bird-zilla”, “groomzilla”, “momzilla”, “thespzilla”. For more -zilla goodness, see The Tensor’s excellent post on this, way back in aught-five. And you can’t have a -zilla entry without one for the prime exemplar of its use, namely


A woman thought to have become intolerably obsessive or overbearing in planning the details of her wedding.

First cite 1995.

Not particularly SF, but rather from fantasy, are to go flatline

(of an electrocardiogram, electroencephalogram, etc.) to display a flatline

which has a first cite from Stephen King’s 1979 The Dead Zone, and flatliner

A person who is in cardiac arrest or is brain-dead; a dead person

which has a note saying that it was popularized by the 1990 film Flatliners. (Interestingly, the entry for this sense of flatliner also says that it was originally North American medical slang, despite the first cite being some 1989 pre-press for the film. (And of course, the term will have particular resonance for fans of Neuromancer.)

Not genre-related in any way, shape, or form, but of interest to parents of very small children, are the entries for Ferber,

A strategy for training children to fall asleep on their own by gradually limiting intervention by caregivers.

and Ferberize (with Ferberizing run-on),

To use the Ferber method or a similar technique to train (a child) to fall asleep independently.

More News of Earth-shattering Linguistic Importance

December 29th, 2009

My son has officially spoken his first word.  It is “blind” (or, really, “bli” or “blih” or something like that), and seems to include both “window blind” and “window” in its definition.

[Note: this was supposed to have been posted a month or so ago, the week of Thanksgiving, but I seem to have clicked “save” rather than “publish”. The, news, however, remains as earth-shattering as ever.]

SF in the OED, Sept. ’09

September 22nd, 2009

I’ve been falling behind with my updates of SF words in the OED, I fear.  This quarter’s update (for those of you not keeping score at home, the OED is in the process of a complete revision, and publishes quarterly updates of new and revised entries which pretty much always makes for fascinating reading) doesn’t have much of SFnal interest — just two words by my count: clone and skinsuit.

clone, n. 2. a. Chiefly Science Fiction. Any member of a hypothetical population of artificially produced, identical people, aliens, etc. Also: a duplicate of a living person.

First citation is from Alan Toffler’s Future Shock (1977). Interestingly, none of the citations are from actual SF, although three of the citations are reviews or discussions of SF works.

skinsuit n. any of various types of (usually one-piece) suit made of elasticated material which fits tightly to the body, esp. one designed for a particular sport.

Note that this definition rolls up the SF sense of skinsuit (a tight-fitting spacesuit, often intended for short-term or emergency use) with the sporting sense (as in that garment that short-track speed skaters wear). Their first citation is from 1956in a diving context, which handily beatsBrave New Word”s 1971 citation from Keith Laumer’s Dinosaur Beach.

More OUP bloggery

June 2nd, 2009

This time I’m blogging about fanspeak terms that got picked up in non-fannish contexts: (This overlaps to some degree with an earlier post here, but I think the info is interesting enough to merit a revisiting of the idea, particularly in light of the massive success of my last OUPblog post.)

More reviewage

May 8th, 2009

In this instance, a very nice review from Annalee Newitz of io9.

Buncha links

May 7th, 2009

OUPblog has a new post about Star Trek terms that includes some info from BNW.  Other Trek-related words she doesn’t mention are starfleet, “beam me up”, and, of course, Mary Sue.

The Telegraph has a nice article, based in part on my “Nine Words…” OUPblog post and its subsequent comments (including a nice discussion of the Thagomizer, a great word that makes me sad that The Far Side is probably insufficiently science-fictional to be able to include it in BNW). (Malcolm Farmer posted this in the comments of an earlier post; I’ve moved it up here for them of you what don’t read the comments.)

In news completely unconnected to me, OUPblog also has a nifty piece from Michael Quinion on various problems in communication with aliens.

New review and interview

May 5th, 2009

There’s a (very nice) new review of BNW, and an interview with moi, at

Paperback is available

April 1st, 2009

As Fred mentioned in the comments a couple posts down, the paperback of BNW is in stores now.