Brave Old Words

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.]

3 thoughts on “Brave Old Words

  1. I saw earlier this week that the Twitter feed for Marvel Comics (not DC, ironically enough) was being followed by a whole bunch of people using variants of the names “Barry Allen” and “Wally West”. The intern actually doing the work didn’t get the joke until the anvil was dropped on his head: the feed was being Flash-mobbed.

  2. I read recently (no remaining clue where) that Sherlock Holmes was one of the original begetters of fan fic. I’ve read enough pastiches to believe it, though I can’t specifically point to one contemporaneous with the originals.
    The appellation is certainly more recent, though.

  3. Neil: Adrian Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur’s son, did a whole book of Holmes/Watson short stories — he’s the one who had Holmes say in one of them that “Revenge is a dish best served cold” was a Sicilian proverb, the most likely source for Nicholas Meyer putting it into the script for Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.

Comments are closed.