The imminent release of Prometheus prompted Lev Grossman to write about “space opera” for the June 11 issue of Time Magazine (Into The Void, subscription required).
And Grossman remembered to pay homage to fan who coined the term, Bob Tucker –
But the term space opera was originally meant as an insult. It was coined in 1941 by Arthur Wilson “Bob” Tucker, a novelist and influential science-fiction fan who wrote in his fanzine Le Zombie, “Westerns are called ‘horse operas,’ the morning house wife tear-jerkers are called ‘soap operas.’ For the hacky, grinding, outworn space-ship yarn, or world-saving for that matter, we offer ‘space opera.’”
[Thanks to Chronicles of the Dawn Patrol for the story.]
Wordnik.com’s “Word of the Day” for May 25 is “filk” –
adj. (adj) About or inspired by science fiction, fantasy, horror, science, and/or subjects of interest to fans of speculative fiction; frequently, being a song whose lyrics have been altered to refer to science fiction; parodying.
The Wordnik post takes its definition from the Wikitionary entry for “filk”.
Unlike most developments in the history of popular culture, how the word “filk” got its start is precisely known. Lee Jacobs typoed the word “folk” in the title of his manuscript “The Influence of Science Fiction on Modern American Filk Music” intended for distribution in a mailing of the Spectator Amateur Press Society in the early 1950s. While I’ve never seen the article and can’t say what the problem was, Wrai Ballard, SAPS’ official editor at the time, feared its bawdy content could get him into trouble with the Post Office under the Comstock Laws and he refused to send it out. Ballard nevertheless enjoyed the typo, as did the others he told about it. “Filk music” rapidly became part of the faannish jargon.
Thanks to Lee Gold, we even know that the first composition to designate itself a filksong was “Barbarous Allen”, lyrics attributed to Poul Anderson, in Karen Kruse Anderson’s SAPSzine Die Zeitschrift für Vollstandigen Unsinn #774 (1953).
[Thanks to Sam Long for the story.]
Two years ago, in June 2008, John Scalzi coined the word “Nerdgassing”. All you students of fanspeak will remember the definition:
Nerdgassing: The venting nerds emit when some (often minor) detail of a book/movie/TV show/comic book/etc either conflicts with canon and/or handwaves through some some suspect science.
John declared at the time, “I coin this word in the name of humanity,” a bit of impudent humor that resonated with me, so I wrote a post that put the new word through its paces.
Lately I’ve wondered — did the word catch on? Who uses it?
A Google search returned 1,980 hits, though only 84 in the past year and just 2 in the past month. John himself last used it on Christmas Day 2008.
On the other hand I know the word remains in fannish memories yet green — as I was researching this post it suddenly popped up in a lively exchange of comments on Joseph Mallozzi’s blog, here and here.
So I learned — nerdgassing is still likely to break out at any moment.
It’s the time of year when the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s editors tell the world what “new words” have been added since the last edition. (Note: Some of these words appear in the wire service story, but not on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary webpage.)
The editors really like to make sure a “new” word has sticking power before dignifying it with an entry in their pages. Half a century is not too long to test a newcomer. Or even longer.
Consider “new” entry fan fiction, defined as “stories involving popular fictional characters that are written by fans and often posted on the Internet.” It dates back to World War II and has just now been added.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary entry says “fan fiction” originated in 1944. It doesn’t identify the source of the date, which would be interesting to know because the science fiction field can document even earlier usages. Brave New Words cites an example by Bob Tucker from a 1939 issue of Le Zombie.
However, Tucker used it as an implied contrast with pro fiction, which is not the meaning that’s brought the term into common usage. Brave New Words‘ earliest example of that meaning (stories using popular characters) is from Star Trek Lives! in 1975. I wonder which meaning was intended in the Merriam-Webster staff’s 1944 example?
Another “new” dictionary entry that should resonate with science fiction fans is “flash mob”, dated to 1987 and defined as “a group of people summoned (as by e-mail or text message) to a designated location at a specified time to perform an indicated action before dispersing.” Fans know Larry Niven coined essentially the same term in his 1973 story “Flash Crowd” to describe a side-effect of the worldwide system of teleport booths.
[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]
It’s right here in the Wikipedia, says Richard Johnson. “The word ‘God’ in English is ultimately derived from the Proto-Indo-European word ‘Ghu’!”
Ghu, of course, is the satirical deity invented by 1930′s science fiction fans.
Read for yourselves the entry for God, and pay particular attention to Note 4:
The ulterior etymology is disputed. Apart from the unlikely hypothesis of adoption from a foreign tongue, the OTeut. “ghuba” implies as its preTeut-type either “*ghodho-m” or “*ghodto-m”. The former does not appear to admit of explanation; but the latter would represent the neut. pple. of a root “gheu-”. There are two Aryan roots of the required form (“*g,heu-” with palatal aspirate) one with meaning ‘to invoke’ (Skr. “hu”) the other ‘to pour, to offer sacrifice’ (Skr “hu”, Gr. ???i;?, OE “geotàn” Yete v).
So that, as clear as is the summer’s sun.
[Thanks to Bjo Trimble for the story.]
I wrote a response to Dave Locke’s comment about “sci-fi” with some kind of bug in my code that keeps all the text from displaying. I couldn’t find the problem, so I will post a blog entry instead because that’s working fine.
Dave, this may be a Lone Ranger/Tonto “what you mean, ‘we’” moment. I’ve been reading Ackerman tributes like the one in the LA Times giving him credit for coining “sci-fi”. None of the ones by fanzine fans have, except mine. Now I’ve outed myself. Last spring I was also the only sf fan in the room who didn’t know that “Ego” was Arthur C. Clarke’s nickname.
The OED sf word webpage has Heinlein down for using it in a 1949 letter published in Grumbles from the Grave. Has anybody got a copy of that? Who is the letter to? Heinlein did coin a couple words in his career, but he was also a very reserved fellow — did he really just spontaneously toss “sci-fi” into a letter to somebody? Somebody who would have picked it up and run with it?
You have piqued my curiosity, because even if Ackerman didn’t invent the term, I’d like to be convinced that Heinlein got people using it.
The term “sci-fic” was around for awhile, but it seems fairly obvious that “sci-fi” rhymes with “hi-fi”, the heavily-marketed term for expensive stereo components. Apparently that term came into use in America after World War II when the beginnings of that technology were brought over from Germany. That’s early enough to have influenced Heinlein’s verbal imagination.
Do you know where Ackerman credited Heinlein for inventing the term? (Warner’s two fanhistories don’t include “sci-fi” in the index, so no quickie answer there.)
Bill Warren sent me a great fannish trivia question:
Whence and when came the fannish fad of tossing a silent H into words ordinarily without it, like ‘bheer,’ ‘Ghod,’ etc. I know that it was most prevalent in the late 50s, well after Ghu, but may relate to that august deity somehow. But someone else says it began when Bob Stewart typoed his name as ‘Bhob Stewart’ and then kept using that spelling (he still does, in fact).
There’s probably a real answer, but even such an authority as Harry Warner Jr. wasn’t able to track it down when he wrote his first great volume of fanhistory:
Other manifestations of fanspeak are less confined to newly created words. As if by instinct, fans have inserted from time immemorial the letter h as the second letter in many words that begin with a consonant. Donald A. Wollheim attributed it to the all-powerful influence of GhuGhuism. It is equally possible that there is a rational explanation: Mencken’s fondness for ‘bhoys,’ perhaps, or the frequency in fantasy fiction of ghost and ghoul. [All Our Yesterdays, p. 41]
Neither does Jack Speer identify anyone as the originator of the fannish h in his early fanhistory Up To Now, but on page 19 he gives many more examples of the extra h being added to words appropriated for GhuGhuistic parodies:
ghughu was a burlesque on religion, the combination ‘gh’ being frequently applied in such words as ghod and demighod, gholy ghrail, etc, the cult worships ghughu, who, they claim, is wollheim.
Knowing what influence New York fans had on early fanspeak, it’s worth noting that the 19th century New York gang called the ‘Bowery Boys’ dates to the time when “b’hoy” was local slang:
B’hoy and g’hal (meant to evoke an Irish pronunciation of boy and gal, respectively) were the prevailing slang words used to describe the young men and women of the rough-and-tumble working class culture of Lower Manhattan in the late 1840s and into the period of the American Civil War. They spoke a unique slang, with phrases such as ‘Hi-hi,’ ‘Lam him’ and ‘Cheese it’.
Bogosity has been around long enough to have appeared in ASCII files, if not cuneiform tablets. Hackers have long used the word to connote phoniness, i.e., “my bogosity meter just went off.”
When did Oxford professors start using the word? And why would the answer be of any interest? While researching another post, I discovered to my surprise that everyone’s favorite Professor of Anglo-Saxon, J.R.R. Tolkien, used the word in his February 1968 letter to composer Donald Swann. Commenting unhappily about the BBC documentary, Tolkien in Oxford, Tolkien said:
I am impressed by the complete ‘bogosity’ of the whole performance. The producer, a very nice, very young man and personally equipped with some intelligence and insight, was nonetheless already so muddled and confused by BBCism that the last thing in the world he wished to show was me as I am/or was, let alone ‘human or lifesize’.
When it comes to “new words,” your mileage may vary.
Everybody on the Internet seems to have heard the news that “fanboy” was recently added to the Merriam-Webster’s dictonary. “Fanboy” is defined as a “boy who is an enthusiastic devotee, such as of comics or movies.” And how many years has that been around?
Then another entry on the vaunted list of “new words” is “mondegreen” — “a word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung.” Good grief – Jim Hollander used that as the title of his weekly APA-L zine in 1970 and it’s just now making it into the dictionary?
Plowing through the Hugo-nominated novels with the voting deadline bearing down on me was not very reminiscent of cramming for a final exam because all five writers made the experience far more entertaining.
Charles Stross’ Halting State is full of humorous and inventive computer jargon. Some terms are imported from the RPG-playing culture, and others are fabricated but sound authentic. All are half-casually sprinkled into the characters’ conversation. Every few pages I’d find myself going “What?” and laughing.
For example, “Monkeyspace” means everything “outside the game.” In a word Stross instantly conveys that there are players so consumed by the interactive gaming experience that real life feels like just another not-especially-interesting compartment of the RPG universe.
Some interactive RPG players genuinely worry that gaming is an addiction. A Google search for “monkeyspace” returned a blog entry about people trying to kick their World of Warcraft habit, or at least manage it. Someone suggested that WoW be redesigned to credit in-person contact with other players as a way of getting them to leave their computers and really meet people in monkeyspace. (But why would the owners of WoW want to do that?!)