Sci-Fi Hate

Sci-Fi Hate

Apparently there are still people deeply scarred by the term SciFi and will jump on any poor soul who dares to ask: is this term really still derogatory? Jump on him and whip out the claws, apparently. Wow.

I have never really understood the vehement hate this term generates in people. SciFi or Sci-Fi (sometimes pronounced skiffy) has certainly been used by those who look down on our genre. But shortening it to SF and calling that more acceptable merely injects a rather nasty and unnecessary layer to the issue. With SF, you’re kind of hiding what you’re talking about except for those in the know. Does SF stand for San Francisco? (Don’t think people would be so silly as to assume? You’d be wrong.) Or, more importantly to us, does it stand for speculative fiction or science fiction? At least with Sci-Fi you know what one is talking about, as Jason said in his post.

At the risk of having Nick Mamatas say nasty things about me, I have to say that this whole Sci-Fi is derogatory/marks you as an outsider ish has always struck me as a bit of in-community snobbery. Like: “We don’t call it Sci-Fi. Pfft. That’s for clueless newbies!” with a full dose of huffiness and noses in the air. Thing is, if you’re a new person to the community and run across that attitude, why the fuck wouldn’t you just turn around, walk away, and never deal with the likes of SF fans again? Who the hell needs that level of bitchassness in their lives? If you’re going to be shunned for something, at least make it something important, like preferring Star Trek to Star Wars.

Also, I have noticed that the majority of people who raise hell about Sci-Fi vs. SF tend to be folks who are older or have been in the community for a while. Snobbery and disdain from the literary community about science fiction was, if I understand correctly, a lot more virulent in the past than it is now. I can see how that dismissiveness can hurt and make people feel really bad. Alan Bostick says Sci-Fi was used as a “nasty slur”, which is excessively sucky.  But there’s no need to infect newer folks with that same mindset.

All other considerations aside, I like the term Sci-Fi better than SF for a simple reason: it’s easier to say and sounds better. Sigh-fie rolls off the tongue, EssEff is all angles and hard edges. So from now on I’m using it all the time and anyone who tries to claim that I’m not really part of this genre because of it will earn themselves a shrug. I’ll be sure to mention their objections every time I moderate a panel at a Sci-Fi convention. :P

57 thoughts on “Sci-Fi Hate

  1. Isaac Asimov himself used the term about science fiction. If it’s good enough for him, it’s great for me. People who disdain the term, 1, care too much about what other people think, and, 2, need to grow up and get a life.

  2. Ah–and I wasn’t the guy who told Jason he was an outsider for using it. I prefer “SF” because “SciFi” to me means stuff other than fiction, and because nine times out of ten, outside of the genre community, the person who comes up to me and uses the term “SciFi” is using it in the same general condescending way as someone who pats you on the head and says “good job opening that mayonnaise jar, kid with the claw for a hand”. So it’s not so much I care about the label as it’s generally an indicator I’m about to talk to somebody uneducated about genre fiction. Mostly, though, the people I talk to have enough syllables left in their mouths that they can just say “science fiction”.

    This is really, erm, a tempest in a teapot. Must be a slow news week.

  3. Oh fer f—‘s sake. I casually asked Jason why he was using “SciFi” instead of “SF”. No one jumped down his throat.

  4. Up until I went to Oddcon, I always called it scifi because to me, it made sense. Then I met with an editor from Tor books, who told me not to use scifi but to use SF or science fiction. I didn’t get it at the time, and after writing “science fiction” over and over in my blog, I said nuts to it and went back to scifi. Having been a reader of it all my life, I didn’t want to become involved in the fandom part of it, because of…well…being afraid that I might meet people who would say I’m saying “science fiction” wrong.

    But on the other hand, I understand the use of SF to mean either sci-fi (see, I can’t stop using it) or speculative fiction. It’s been interesting to learn the whole history of “sci-fi”. Frankly, I still don’t think what the big deal is.

    Course, we could always jump on the Sy-Fy wagon. Anyone? Anyone?

  5. OMG, this is giving me “worst of Usenet” flashbacks! We were having this same fight on r.a.sf-w back in the late 90’s!

    And back then, people were claiming that a) sci-fi was derogatory, and b) only clueless fools would ever think otherwise,

    …and back then, it was the case that in all my life I had never seen anyone in the general public use “Sci-fi” as a derogative term, the ONLY people claiming it was insulting were the Aged Fen of Usenet, the self-styled Slans, who also tended to claim things like “people won’t buy books with representational covers because they’re ashamed to read them in public” notwithstanding how many fantasy and sf books with representational covers those of us who were booksellers or commuters reported selling and seeing in the course of the day, and also “women don’t like fantasy/sf because [BS pop-psych rationale]” on a regular basis.

    In between screeching “Read the FAQ!” and “Haha, AOLUSER” at any stranger venturing into their sanctum, and then wondering why they were the few, the proud, the ever dwindling unappreciated Trufans–?

    As a result, I deliberately mix up sf (always uncaps to avoid confusion with the City by the Bay) and sff and sf/f and sci-fi and skiffy, just to be a) evenhanded, b) annoying to the fogies…

  6. Over on Facebook, Sharee Carton says, “I recently saw the moniker “psyence fiction” used, and quite like it!”

    A little hard to spell perhaps, but it does have a certain je ne sais quoi.

  7. Oh, the point I didn’t quite get to in that last bit was that “stf” hung around as the primary shorthand usage for “science fiction” by some science fiction fans throughout the decades of the 1930s and 1940s, even after “sf” became the reigning shorthand.

    For whatever it’s worth — and people are free to absolutely not give the faintest damn — Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large for the (highly incomplete, and not well addressed by most historians of science fiction fandom from within science fiction fandom) Oxford English Dictionary, and originator and maintainer of the Science Fiction Citations project of the OED, well, sticks to the traditional, since the whole project is about the history of usage.

    There’s absolutely no reason, I repeat, anyone shouldn’t use their preferred term, although anyone using any term might do well to do their best to make sure the people they’re speaking with are using terms reasonably similarly.

    Too often, both in online discussions, and off, people don’t check their assumptions on shared usage. Of whatever term.

  8. I appreciate you mentioning this. As a fan of both Science Fiction and San Francisco, who grew up using sci-fi, because, well, that’s what my science fiction reading parents called it, I’ve felt very similarly. It was sci-fi in my local and school libraries and it wasn’t until I reached adulthood and wider fandom circles (and OLDER fandom circles, I will note) that I started getting the smack-down.

    Also, I see I am NOT the only person in this group who seems to have been raised calling it sci-fi, so patently people in the community don’t ALL have that issue–just some vocal folks. But when all the people who do use it are consistently smacked down for using it, it seems disingenuous to claim it’s part of the community mandate for what the community wants to call itself.

    (Have been reading sci-fi since I was four and preferred Herbert to Tolkein, despite Dad’s cajoling.)

  9. “Heinlein used sci-fi.”

    This is incorrect, and a misunderstanding due to a typo in an early edition of Grumbles From The Grave.

    Otherwise, the observation that use of “sci-fi” is a generational marker, and a shibboleth of the now-older generations sf community, is correct, and that’s pretty much all it comes down to.

    When Forry first started trying to promulgate the term, in 1954, it was overwhelmingly rejected, like most of his puns, for the next twenty to thirty years by almost everyone active in the science fiction community.

    (“Active in the science fiction community” here being, he tried to observe carefully, and may fail at, in the sense of along the lines of coming to conventions, doing fanzines, being a professional in the field, and otherwise active in a way known to other such people, as opposed to “a science fiction reader who had no connections to that active science fiction community”; confusion over what “fan” means has become another minefield in the past couple of decades, since old time fans use it to refer to people active in that way, and more recent fans tend to mean it in other ways, as in active in more recent, larger, communities, or simply to mean someone who is a reader or viewer or enthusiast of something, which was, of course, the original, non-shibboleth, usage of that word, as well.)

    But over the long run, Forry won out.

    Trying to discourage use of “sci-fi” in a non-ironic way is/was originally a battle waged from within the sf field, against the larger world of popular culture, that was lost decades ago, to the point where many now within the sf field aren’t, as observed above, even aware of the history.

    This is how language and usage evolves, and history becomes history.

    But one also shouldn’t be surprised that people who spent twenty or thirty years, if not more decades than that — we still have folks in our community who are in their ninetieth decade, and still active — growing up with the usage of “sf” as the shorthand for “science fiction,” and the use of “sci-fi” only as an outsider term, or a term for The Bad Stuff, to necessarily easily change to newer habits.

    Neither should anyone be surprised, or expect, people who have no familiarity with this history to bow to the history of usage, either.

    As a rule, changing habits doesn’t come easily to most people, and they won’t do it without a perceived good reason. This fact applies equally to both usages of “sci-fi.”

    Generally speaking, I don’t see where anyone would suffer from letting everyone and anyone else’s usage preferences on this be a matter of live and let live.

    Nor can I see where anyone would benefit from trying to be language police on anyone else, and deliberately annoy them, in any direction.

    Like most (not all!) things in life, why not let general rules of courtesy rule?

    Meanwhile, you can count on the objections to “sci-fi” dying away as the older fans die off. Though some of us (I’m 50, shortly turning 51, and became active in “semi-organized” sf fandom, which is to say, fanzines and conventions and apas, etc., at the age of 12, circa 1971-2) are in no rush on this.

    As a closing note: it was long ago suggested — ironically, jokingly — that people might want to go back to Hugo Gernsback’s original coinage of “scientifiction,” and the resulting abreviation of “stf,” which has hung on in corners of fandom, mostly ironically, ever since. Gernsback only coined “science fiction” when he lost control of Amazing Stories, couldn’t use “scientification” any longer, without problems with the new owners of Amazing Stories, and had to come up with the term “science fiction” to avoid those problems when he founded Science Wonder Stories and Air Wonder Stories in 1930, if you really would like to go back further into the usage history. (Which I have no doubt few do.)

  10. Here in Los Angeles we have had our choice between the two locals who happened to be magnetic poles of this debate. Harlan Ellison vociferously condemned “sci-fi,” a term coined by another local, the late Forrest J Ackerman. I think a lot of people fell under the influence of Harlan’s nonfiction writing and his once-cool personal image and adopted his opinion about “sci-fi” because they wanted to identify with him.

    That stance has become embedded in the culture of the sf community and there continue to be people who feel that condemning “sci-fi” affirms them in a positive identity (though no longer associated with Harlan, after all these years).

    It’s inaccurately believed that Heinlein used “sci-fi” but that’s a typo in the published version of one of his letters. The original typescript says “sci-fic,” which was common fan jargon in the 40s.

    But when you think about it, why was “sci-fic” acceptable to hard core fans and writers in the 40s — used by Wilson Tucker and Heinlein — yet the equally abbreviated “sci-fi” is anathema?

    Again, it goes back to Ackerman, who edited monster magazines and used that term in them — anathema to young sf writers wearing Continental slacks and skinny ties and hungry for literary respectability in the early 1960s. They wanted sf and themselves taken seriously. And they won, but the old dividing line hasn’t been entirely erased.

  11. I totally agree with Tempest on this issue, and appreciate her writing about it.

    What really put the bug up my nose is when someone emailed me and said that by using the term SciFi, I was marking myself as an outside and lacking in knowledge about the genre. Forget about me having read science fiction since age 10–all that mattered to this person was that I used a term he disliked. That kind of elitist attitude drives me insane, and I don’t see how it does the genre any good these days.

    1. You were quite justified to take offense, and the person who emailed you needs to take a deep breath and think again.

      As has been regularly noted in this conversation, up here in the 21st Century, the long-awaited future in which SF/Sci-Fi has burst the genre barriers to become a prominent part of world culture rather than an esoteric addiction, one really can’t draw any conclusions about SF/Fantasy/Horror expertise based solely on what a person calls the stuff.

  12. I’m pretty much on the same page as phoebe, above, and Jed and Moshe raise good points as well. I’ve never been fond of the term, nor have found it euphonious. I don’t get uptight about it, though. Someone’s use of “sci-fi” is most likely a sign that their Sensawunda isn’t old and tarnished yet, and who can take issue with that? (Oh, wait….)

    But on the other paw, it’s actually useful to distinguish between genre work (in whatever format or media) which deserves our love and hard-earned cash, and the wannabe dreck churned out by those who know only how to copy a few of the tropes. It’s not really fair to the newer/younger fans to use “sci-fi” to denote the latter, though. So….what to do?

    Recent events have answered this question admirably well. The genre we all know and love, we can abbreviate sf, sci-fi, sf/f, spec-fic, to our hearts’ content. For the rubbish which is beneath our respect, we have a special word for that: SIFFY.

  13. Except that in practical terms I don’t see how one can separate the name of the genre from the name of the community built around that genre.

    1. The community isn’t just the science fiction community, though. So Sci-Fi doesn’t apply. If you posit that the SF in SF community is speculative fiction, then that makes sense. But that still doesn’t have anything to do with Sci-Fi as an indentity.

    2. Moshe,
      Possibly my understanding is off, but weren’t the terms less a matter of community identity and more a value judgment by those in the community of others in the community?

      1. I agree with Tempest’s implication that using SF for the community is not completely fair or representative, but it’s an historical fact, as reflected by the eligibility of fantasy for the Hugos and Nebulas and Campbells.

        Justin, use of the term in connection with the community was just an inevitable outcome of the community’s raison d’etre. I mean, we could, in principle, have called ourselves The Star Begotten, or The Universal Union of Slans, but that would just have opened other cans of worms.

        The value judgment aspect is more complicated. It actually arose outside and got taken in and turned around. Here’s my take on the history (apologies to those who’ve seen this on FB):

        As noted above, the term was coined by “one of us,” Forrest J. Ackerman, aka Forry, aka 4SJ, a devotee of Esperanto and a lover of word play, abbreviations, and cute contractions. The reaction in fandom was almost universally negative right from the start. But Forry had the platform of his magazine, FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, and used it to spread his coinage to the world beyond our cozy little genre ghetto.

        Journalists glommed onto it immediately, since it was so much shorter and “punchier” than “science fiction” and they considered “SF” too esoteric or opaque. Of course, once they did, the term was used by the mundane world to refer to the only SF they were familiar with at the time, most of which was junk. That’s how the word got its negative connotation.

        Fans (at least those who didn’t mind its sound) might not have objected to sci-fi’s usage in the world at large if they’d been using it all along as Forry had wanted. Then the term would simply have referred to all science fiction. But they hadn’t been using it that way, and now because of how the outsiders used it, that was no longer possible.

        Call “The Deadly Mantis” or “It Came from Beneath the Sea” sci-fi if you want to, was the feeling, but don’t you dare use the same term for my Heinlein/Bradbury/Clarke/Asimov as for that drek. But of course, the mainstream world didn’t make that distinction. It was ALL drek to them.

        So from mere lack of interest in 4SJ’s suggestion and humorous mockery of it, fandom moved to active distaste for a term that bathed all of SF in the lurid light of its worst examples. From this came the custom of insisting on “SF” and shunning the use of “Sci-Fi” (except as a term of derogation) which in turn led to its becoming (a now increasingly obsolete) shibboleth indicative of relative ignorance of the field.

  14. I have never hated anyone for using “sci-fi.” Heck, I use it myself sometime for effect, or to refer to media drek, but I’ve never liked it and never will.

    Forry Ackerman coined it as, he thought, a clever word play on “hi-fi,” but it’s neither clever (does anyone even use the term “hi-fi” anymore?) nor — to my ears — euphonious. I’m not going to use a term I think is ugly and stupid just to make newcomers to fandom or members of the general public more comfortable. (But I won’t mock them for using it either. The traditional explanatory ‘lecture’ is optional, depending on the person and circumstances.)

    What I don’t understand is why you imply that our community doesn’t have the same right as other communities to decide what it prefers to be called. And yes, I’m making an explicit reference here to the African American or Black or Negro etc. community. If people could make those repeated adjustments over the last 50 years, they can learn to call it SF. Sorry, but what ever you choose to call it, I will _never_ be a member of the “sci-fi community.”

    1. Is this actually an issue of community name, though? The community as a whole might be called SF for speculative fiction, but I haven’t ever seen this particular issue positioned as one of identity. People object to me calling that book sci-fi or that movie sci-fi or media sci-fi.

      If it’s truly a case of identity then, yes, I would say a group gets to decide what it would like to be called. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here.

    2. What I don’t understand is why you imply that our community doesn’t have the same right as other communities to decide what it prefers to be called.

      My question is, what’s the community?

      Because there are people who go to cons and such–the fans who go around informing everyone it’s SF–and then there are the many times more people who love reading the stuff, have never been to a con in their lives, and cheerfully can it sci-fi because they’re connected to the stories but not the community.

      So the community can call itself SF fans, sure … but they’re only a small proportion of the readers, and so do they really have the right to tell those readers who don’t hang with them what to call their books?

      1. Janni asks, “My question is, what’s the community?”
        The community comprises those people who involve themselves actively by interacting with others outside of their immediate circle.

        Some do it by writing, painting, editing, or publishing. Some do it by publishing fanzines, belonging to clubs, or attending and running conventions. But just reading the books, going to the movies, playing the games, and watching the TV shows does not make you a community member. It makes you a member of the audience.

        The community members do NOT have the right to tell the audience what to call the stuff (nor have I said so) or to mock them for it, but neither do the preferences of the audience members overrule those of the activists, as I it seems to me Tempest was suggesting.

        But hey, I’ve just been reading the stuff for 50 years and been involved in fandom and prodom for 39, so this is just my humble personal opinion.

  15. Once the community gets a meme it’s there forever.

    If pay rates and response rates to submissions generated anywhere near the outrage and agita that scifi does, the writers (and maybe even the readers) would be better off.

    Love, C.

  16. Agree with Tempest, Patrick, and others. I say “sf” in elder fannish circles so as not to provoke unnecessary arguments, but those of us who’ve grown up in the era of ubiquitous media-based fantastica — i.e., the post-Star Wars era — never experienced “sci-fi” as anything other than an abbreviation for “science fiction,” which is to say, that which we love.

    And, jeez, Worldcon — the distilled essence of elder fandom — presents an annual award in the name of Forrest Ackerman, who coined the term “sci-fi.” So…

  17. Harlan Ellison is one of the chief enforcers of SF as the abbreviation – which is really all one needs to know. Heinlein used sci-fi.

    Despite liking easily-pronounceable acronyms, I tend to use SF because that’s what I’ve mostly heard for the 30+ years I’ve been in fandom. That said, I don’t care.

    Unlike the 50s, when most sci-fi movies were awful, most produced today are so much better and taken more seriously by genre and non-genre fans alike. I don’t think we need to be embarrassed by media sci-fi any more. Star Wars changed that. Yes, there’s still bad medi sci-fi, but I haven’t seen anything as unspeakably bad as much of what was produced in the early- and mid-70s produced lately. Many of them made Transformers look like an Oscar winner.

    1. Drat. You don’t have a preview option, and while my two comments are awaiting moderation — due presumably to the included links — I correctly referred to “scientifiction” once, but typoed it as “scientification” the second time. The second, to be clear, is a typo for the first.

    2. Sorry, but you’re mistaken. Heinlein never used “sci-fi.” But even if he had, it wouldn’t change my opinion of it. RAH was not our infallible pope.

      1. Actually, Heinlein used it in a letter to his agent, and at the time I believe it was Forry Ackerman.

        He was a relative newbie when he used it.

        Later, I don’t think he used it at all, but I only ever saw him at a con once.

          1. I’ll try deleting all the links, which sort of defeats the point of trying to support one’s points with link to citations.

            “Actually, Heinlein used it in a letter to his agent, and at the time I believe it was Forry Ackerman.”

            No, he didn’t. He really really didn’t. As explained several times on these threads. With links.

            (This is the sort of thing that makes me hate multiple-thread commenting when you’re not on Usenet with your choice of how to set up threads; people wind up not reading the whole thread, and not reading links, necessitating repeating the same corrections over and over again.)

            Once again: [LINK DELETED] explanation of how a typo generated misinformation; Heinlein never used “sci-fi.” It didn’t happen. You’re misinformed.

            “Actually, Heinlein used it in a letter to his agent, and at the time I believe it was Forry Ackerman.”

            I’m sorry, but you’re wrong about both assertions.

            And Forry Ackerman was never Robert Heinlein’s agent. You are very seriously confused.

            Ackerman once took it upon himself to sell the rights — without asking Heinlein — of Heinlein’s 1941 Denvention Worldcon GOH speech, “Discovery of the Future,” that Walt Daugherty recorded on phonograph discs and Forrest J Ackerman subsequently published the transcribed speech in a small mimeographed pamphlet.

            In 1973, Ackerman [LINK DELETED] sold the rights to new magazine Vertex without permission. Heinlein had never authorized the 1941 reprint, either.

            This caused Heinlein to become very very angry with Ackerman — who, in fact, was infamous for doing this sort selling-of-rights-he-didn’t-have, thinking he was “helping” writers — who wrote Ackerman a very very angry letter.

            To quote:

            […] Heinlein demanded that Ackerman turn over the money he had received, which Heinlein then donated to Navy Relief. The UCSC archives contain a scathing letter by Heinlein to Ackerman, dated November 17, 1973, and saying near the beginning: “Knock off the injured-innocence pose,” and concluding, “Keep your hands off my property.” (Emphasis in original.) Despite the pride shown in the 1946 book at the attention given to preserving his words, the 1973 letter suggests that the original 1941 publication was unauthorized: “Without telling me ahead of time and without my permission you mimeographed my ’41 Denver speech; one such copy you sold to Vertex. […] You will not use that property again nor permit, encourage, or sell any ‘right’ to reproduce it. I will take any violation to court.” Despite the previous publication, the magazine secured a copyright on the speech, which it assigned to Heinlein.

            HTH. You can read the speech in
            [LINK DELETED] Requiem, if interested.

            More on the speech [LINK DELETED]here, by the late Tom Perry, also an old friend of mine.

            This is the only possible way you could connect Heinlein to Ackerman with “agent” being in the sentence.

            Heinlein’s only liteary agent for decades was Lurton Blassingame, succeeded by Eleanor Wood, who remains the agent for the estate. Period, end of story. Forry was never ever ever Robert Heinlein’s agent, and Robert Heinlein did not like Forrest J. Ackerman one bit. And, to repeat, Heinlein never used “sci-fi.” Never. Not once. The claim that he did stemmed from
            [LINK DELETED] a typo in the first edition of
            Grumbles From The Grave; he wrote “spec-fic.

            As has been much discussed already in this blog thread.

            I, incidentally did do an informal line edit/light informal copyedit of Bill Patterson’s authorized-by-Virginia-Heinlein thousand-plus page manuscript of his biography of RAH, which supposedly a shorter version of will be coming out from Tor eventually, as edited by David Hartwell, last I heard. (Which was a while ago.)

            “Later, I don’t think he used it at all, but I only ever saw him at a con once.”

            I managed to get involved
            [LINK DELETED] in this, myself. I actually do know what I’m talking about on this.

            We’ll see if this version posts.

          2. Links without enclosing HTML tags: How the typo passed on the urban legend that Heinlein ever used “sci-fi” — it was a typo for “sci-fic”:


            1941 Speech in book:



            One story of Heinlein and me:

  18. I have to agree with Megan. I always referred to science fiction as “sci-fi” simply because it’s shorter. I was never aware that it was used in a derogatory manner. Guess you learn something new every day.

    I sometimes write it as “sf,” but again, that’s probably only because it’s shorter.

    One sounds better, one looks better.

  19. “a bit of in-community snobbery. Like: “We don… Read More’t call it Sci-Fi. Pfft. That’s for clueless newbies!” with a full dose of huffiness and noses in the air. Thing is, if you’re a new person to the community and run across that attitude, why the fuck wouldn’t you just turn around, walk away, and never deal with the likes of SF fans again?”

    Yes, yes, yes! This was positively baffling to me when I first got involved in ‘the scene.’ Sorry, folks, but fifty-year-old anxieties about the marginalization of genre fiction by fucktarded literary critics don’t regulate my speech. Do we really give a shit if people associate our work iwth Star Wars instead of Kafka? Why?

    Sorry, but as someone who’s spent his life hearing people say “A-rab” instead of Arab, the wound of “Scif Fi” doth not seem that deep.

    1. Ok, I realize this came off snottier than I meant, esp after reading Jed’s comments. I realize that as an up-and-coming writer I benefit tremendously from the ‘respectabilizing’ work that previous generations of writers have done. Just want that to be clear. But I still think, at this point in history, this is a tempest (sorry) in a teapot, a mountain of a molehill. Especially since there are issues in the field that, frankly, matter more.

      When I can look through the racks and find that a quarter of the paperbacks are not shitty military SF with the plot “Ace/Lance/Rock/Hawk/Scar spends 300 pages killing near-future A-rab madman terrorists,” then I’ll have time to worry about SF vs. Sci-Fi…

      1. You’re absolutely right that naming issues re literary genres or commercial publishing categories pale into insignificance compared to actual ethnic/racial stereotyping, and no one should be misled by the energy being put into the debate here into thinking otherwise.

        No one dies or gets sent to Gitmo because they say “sci-fi” rather than SF (or vice versa), and we should all keep the difference in mind. This subcultural teapot tempest comes down to a point of etiquette, not real-world politics.

  20. I completely agree with you on this. I realized a while ago that a lot of people’s first impression of the social SF world entails saying something about “sci-fi” to a writer or longtime fan and immediately getting the boilerplate lecture about how we don’t use that term. Thus immediately getting the impression that we’re a bunch of stuffy assholes. Okay, we probably are a bunch of stuffy assholes, but perhaps we could make people take a little longer to catch on.

    Seriously–millions of people who like our stuff call it “sci-fi”. Readers, librarians, bookstore employees. They like their Ursula K. Le Guin sci-fi and they like their Star Trek sci-fi. They don’t remotely mean anything negative by it. The insider world of SF–that would be people like me–should give up on this one.

  21. Speaking as a member of the peanut gallery, alls I can say is, OH EYEROLL.

    I don’t really care who calls the genre what name, and can use several names interchangeably. What I do care about is turf-wars and vitriol over idiotic details like pronunciation and spelling. Turf-wars and vitriol over idiotic details are a classic sign of a sick culture.

    I mean, not that we didn’t all know that science fiction fandom has got some problems, lately.

  22. I like “SF” because it’s what is used in the literature. At work, people often said “sci-fi” and I’d recommend they call it SF (especially around fandom). Some of them said, “But what if people think they’re talking about San Francisco!”

    And I said, “Nobody outside of this city calls this city SF.”

    And then some would ask, “Well, what do people call SF in New York when they talk about us?”

    And I would answer, “Unless there’s some gay weddings or a big earthquake, NOBODY talks about San Francisco outside of San Francisco!”

    1. Actually Nick, people from outside SF tend to call The City “‘Frisco”, and believe me nothing marks you out as an outsider worse than that.

      Same thing really. Human beings like forming “in groups” with their own private terms.

      1. “…people from outside SF tend to call The City “‘Frisco””

        So one is told from people from San Francisco. Anecdotal though it may be, I have never heard “Frisco” used in any context other than San Franciscans complaining about it.

        Doing a quick google, 19 of the first 20 hits have nothing to do with Frisco being a version of San Francisco. The 20th is the entry from Urban Dictionary, which says in its capsule, “frisco – 17 definitions – How people who arent from Sanfrancisco say Sanfrancisco.”

        So, in my limited experience, people from outside San Francisco call San Francisco, “San Francisco” — expect when they’re intentionally trying to rile up current residents.

        I agree with the observation that people who live in the Bay Area call San Francisco, “The City.”

        1. Yes, it’s true, no one calls San Francisco “Frisco” anymore. SFans bitched that out of existence decades ago, probably around the time that someone named a laundromat “Don’t Call it Frisco.”

          What outsiders call San Francisco now is “San Fran.” Yes, that makes me shudder. Nothing says “tourist” like “San Fran.” It’s a lot like if your name was John and some stranger insisted on calling you “Jackie,” even though you’ve never gone by a nickname. “San Fran” is to language as tight Madras plaid Burmuda shorts are to white suburban asses.

          1. Speaking here as a native New Yorker who loves San Francisco and considers it one of the few other US cities he’d be happy to live in, I’ve never used (nor much heard other NYers use) either “Frisco” (ugh, as ear-jangling as “sci-fi”) or “San Fran.” Most people I know say “San Francisco” or “the Bay Area.”

          2. I’m a Midwesterner, and I call it “San Fran Kishke.” Cause it takes guts to walk on such steep inclines every day.

  23. Drats, I guess for this purpose I do count as an old-timer, having been carefully schooled about correct usage in the ’80s.Now, I’m all for kids these days reclaiming and old stigmatized usage, but there were a few things in your post that struck me as funny.

    1) People can easily be confused and think SF means San Francisco.

    True. This is why I’ve never seen sf-for-science-fiction capitalized. It’s always written as sf for that very reason. When I entered fandom I was living in the Bay Area, so that distinction was rigidly enforced; maybe they don’t do that elsewhere. (Or anymore.)

    2) With sf you can’t be sure whether they are talking about “science fiction” or “speculative fiction.”

    Exactly! The adoption of sf was one of the main provisions in the treaty ending the “science fiction vs speculative fiction” naming wars. What *are* they teaching in the schools these days?

    3)”Sci-Fi is for clueless newbies.”

    Again, this isn’t a bug, this is a feature. Sci-fi vs sf used to be one of the main markers of outsider vs insider. The real problem is that boundary enforcement seems to be done huffily with nose in the air, rather than in conspiratorial whispers. Once that happens, it’s time for all the cool kids to start using the stigmatized term just to set their elders off. And voila! you’ve turned an insider marker into a generational marker. Just like they write it up in the linguistics textbooks.

    So again, all of these noted with amusement. I always enjoy watching linguistic forces in motion.

    1. You’re absolutely right about the treaty provision. The ambiguity of SF is definitely not a bug but a feature for many of its users.

      Hmmn, maybe we should be grateful that headline writers chose “sci-fi” and not “spec fic”!

  24. YES! Thank you for this. I grew up loving sci-fi and fantasy in a bit of a bubble, and also as a serial bookseller, for a wide range of stores. Strangely, I’d never heard of the context around the term until a few weeks after my first Wiscon (2009). I was floored – I’d always found my feminist geek/fan friends to be much more welcoming than the more male-dominated, aggressively “anti-noob” gaming community I’d grown up in.

    I defended “Sci-fi” then for similar reasons – emotional attachment (I grew up with it), it’s more elegant to speak, and I don’t think we need to make our beloved community more insular with secretive jargon.

  25. “Older gentleman” here (by some standards). I personally prefer SF, for the reasons Amal mentions, but I can tell you from journalistic experience that if you use SF in, say, a newspaper article you’ve turned in, non-fan editors will change it to sci-fi, because that’s how the populace knows it. It’s a term that is never ever going to go away.

  26. I have noticed that the majority of people who raise hell about Sci-Fi vs. SF tend to be folks who are older or have been in the community for a while.

    This was my experience. Two older gentlemen who frequented the bookstore I worked at pointed this out to me when I’d just started working there, and further said that they preferred SF because it could mean Speculative Fiction, which they felt was a better, all-encompassing name for the kind of fiction they meant, and the genre-blurring they were seeing more and more of, and enjoying. Out of respect for them, I still say SF.

  27. Anyone who encounters a given community may be initially put off by the shibboleths — but anyone who wants to become a member of that community has to learn the shibboleths.

    I sort of get this–but given that we’re a community who has, among our problems, the fact that new members, even new members who love the same stories we do, simply have no interest in joining us, I actually think it’s past time to rethink it anyway.

    The problem being that we’re actually in various ways excluding SF/sci-fi readers/viewers (especially younger ones, but across the board I think), and not just the outsiders that in-language is meant to exclude.

  28. A couple of thoughts:

    1. To a fair number of older members of the community, the term is derogatory. It’s fine for members of a community to intentionally reclaim a derogatory term — but a lot of the younger members of this particular community (who didn’t know it was ever derogatory) are dismissive of the discomfort of those who still see it as derogatory. I’d like to see reclaiming (in all contexts, not just this one) happen intentionally and with an acknowledgment of the concerns, rather than dismissively. (For example, I say “queer” in various contexts, but I think it’s important to remember that there are GLBT people who are upset by that term.)

    (Note: I realize that “sci fi” is not offensive at the level of the other kinds of slurs that get reclaimed. But I think a milder form of the same sort of dynamic is at work here.)

    2. My impression is that to a fair number of people who aren’t into sf, “sci fi” still means “cheap movies with bad special effects and no literary value, full of spaceships and aliens and blowing stuff up.” Of course, to many of those people, that’s what “science fiction” means; we shouldn’t choose our self-labels based entirely on unfortunate usage by outsiders. But I suspect that more people use “sci fi” this way than use “science fiction” this way. But I could be totally wrong about this.

    3. Communities often have shibboleths that serve to distinguish members of the community from outsiders. I agree with you that that’s one of the things that “sci fi” has traditionally been — but there are plenty of other shibboleths as well. Anyone who encounters a given community may be initially put off by the shibboleths — but anyone who wants to become a member of that community has to learn the shibboleths. (And many who become members of a community eventually embrace those shibboleths themselves.)

    I’m not saying that all traditions are good. It may well make sense for newer members of a community to demolish any given older shibboleth, and it may well be that dislike of “sci fi” is on the way out. But I don’t think it would be possible (nor desirable) to get rid of everything in a given community that newcomers find strange or offputting; a lot of traditions that bind communities together would have to be thrown out the window. (Again, sometimes they should be; I’m just saying not always.)

    1. PS: I should have noted where I’m coming from on this: I learned as a young fan many years ago that “sci fi” was considered derogatory by (at the time) most of the people in the community, and so I started hearing it that way. Now I wince a little whenever I hear it, even though I know that plenty of people (including at least one of my co-editors) don’t mean anything derogatory by it. I’m gradually learning to hear the new non-derogatory usage, but I’m not entirely there yet.

    2. I agree with the idea of reclaiming intentionally. Yes, Sci-Fi is not a slur on the level of race or gender or sexual orientation-based slurs we’re used to hearing, but I do get that there are hurtful experiences attached to the term. I also think that passing on that feeling to a newer crop of people for whom Sci-Fi as slur will not likely be a reality EXCEPT as posited by people in the group is problematic.

      You’re right about shibboleths, too.

      1. The only abuse/stress/trauma I’ve gotten around the term “sci-fi” has been from … fans.

        I have been known to note that I think there’s a major cultural shift in the general world and fannish people on either side of it can have a hard time talking to each other; I express this belief as “I am younger than Star Wars.”

    3. “cheap movies with bad special effects and no literary value, full of spaceships and aliens and blowing stuff up”

      You say that like it’s a bad thing (*grin*). Okay, good SF is often GREAT, but I personally submit that bad SF is still better than most other options. Fortunately, I am old enough to not care a whit who thinks that means I have crappy taste.

      Oh, and to not be totally off-topic, I am with the folks who go with “SF is easier to write; Sci-Fi is easier to say.”

  29. Interesting. I grew up using the term “sci-fi” as a short form for science fiction, because my parents (who are big SF fans) use it, and I’ve never heard anyone use it with negative connotations in my life. I *have* heard people be dismissive of “science fiction” as a genre, but they seem perfectly happen to say the whole phrase so it’s never seemed to be associated with one particular short form. After I started trying to get short fiction published I caught hints that “sci-fi” was not a preferred term but never totally understood why. But then, at 28, I’m a relative newbie.

    I usually use “SF” when writing, because it’s shorter and it’s usually clear what I mean in context, and “sci-fi” when talking because, as you mention, it sounds better. :)

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