Wednesday, September 19, 2007

You Say Sci-Fi, I Say SF: Let's Call the Whole Thing Off...

My knee hurts this morning after having fallen out of bed last night. Sheesh.

Also, as I half promised my class last night, I thought of something I wanted to talk more about this morning. I alluded to the fact that the term "sci-fi" is considered derogatory by some science fiction fans and writers. I found a bit of a wikipedia article about the kerfuffle:

Forrest J. Ackerman publicly used the term "sci-fi" at UCLA in 1954, though Robert A. Heinlein had used it in private correspondence six years earlier. As science fiction entered popular culture, writers and fans active in the field came to associate the term with low-budget, low-tech "B-movies" and with low-quality pulp science fiction. By the 1970s, critics within the field such as Terry Carr and Damon Knight were using "sci-fi" to distinguish hack-work from serious science fiction, and around 1978, Susan Wood and others introduced the pronunciation "skiffy." Peter Nicholls writes that "SF" (or "sf") is "the preferred abbreviation within the community of sf writers and readers." David Langford's monthly fanzine Ansible includes a regular section "As Others See Us" which offers numerous examples of "sci-fi" being used in a pejorative seen by people outside the genre.

I grew up in an era (70s/80s) where using the term "sci-fi" was still considered gauche in the circle of "serious" writers and fans. I think, however, as I said in class, this is changing. This may be because of an influx of younger, media-savvy fans/readers. As this snippet from Scifipedia suggests...

"Over the years, Sci Fi's meaning in popular culture has changed to refer almost exclusively to movies and TV with science fiction genre-related themes. Among some in fandom, the term is often used in a derogatory and dismissive way. Some purposely mispronounce the term as "skiffy" and use it to refer to poor quality science fiction and fantasy. Many committed Science Fiction readers refuse to use the term at all, preferring the more generic initialism, "SF."

...the term has been co opted by the media, and thus has fallen into much more regular use. In my opinion, the use of "sci-fi" no longer stigmatizes the user as a "mundane" (non-initiate into science fiction fandom/prodom).

What do you think? Which term do you prefer or do you not have a preference? Is it a matter of po-tato, poh-tato to you?


Melanie A. Howard said...

Being one of the "younger" generation, I made the terrible error of referring to science fiction as "sci-fi" when talking to a Tor editor at a Con. He was not impressed, to say the least.


Lynne said...

...that's funny, I had *exactly the same* experience at a con with a Tor editor (who may also have been an agent at one point). That person was trying to be kind, instructing a newbie, I think.

Since I'm still building my geek cred, I tend to be more careful with my terms now, having been instructed.

Frank said...

Interesting that this dispute is still being taken seriously; I'd thought with the advent of the SciFi channel on cable that the term had been thoroughly rehabilitated. (Does anyone still try to use "Spec-Fic" as a respectable alternative?) Guess it's like the "art vs. craft" argument in my day job, one of those debates that just won't go away.

Personally, I use "skiffi" humorously to refer to all of this stuff, wonderful and terrible alike. It's my bid for genre self-empowerment, sort of like how rappers have reclaimed "N****r" or the homosexual community "queer."

Zoe said...

I try not to use "sci-fi," because I know it offends some people, but personally I don't see what the big deal is. I've never actually heard "sci-fi" used as something distinct from "science fiction" or "sf"; the people I know all use the terms interchangeably.