This Week in Words: Fandom’s Silent H

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’.

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