A Fan by Any Other Name : Fannish Slang and Nomenclature
by Karen Ann Yost
Let me assure you: this column is not about political correctness (PC) in fandom. I had
originally intended PC to be the subject, until a fan pointed out that the term political
correctness is used by folks who dont want to confront a real issue, so . . . this
column is now about labeling in science fiction, also called sci-fi, SF, and other terms
that irritate people.
According to Roberta Rogow, author of Futurespeak:
A Fan's Guide to the Language of Science Fiction, science fiction is a type
of fantasy based on scientific credibility, often dealing with possible future
developments on Earth or on other worlds. Hugo Gernsback coined the term in 1929 when
describing the type of stories he published in his magazine Amazing Science Fiction.
Sci-Fi is an abbreviation for science fiction, first used by Forrest Ackerman in
the 1930s. Many fans prefer the abbreviation SF. I witnessed one
discussion concerning these terms at the 1993 New Orleans Science Fiction and Fantasy
Festival. A representative from the Sci-Fi Channel was at the convention. He was giving
away merchandise to promote this relatively new cable channel. While picking up my Sci-Fi
Channel plastic cup, I was privy to a conversation between a fan and the cable
representative. It went something like this:
FAN: No self-respecting SF fan will ever watch your channel because theyre
offended by the term sci-fi.
REPRESENTATIVE: But were trying to target all audiences, not just science
fiction fans. No one else but fans would ever know what was on if we called it the SF
Valid point, and I think most fans would agree at least from a business or
marketing point of view. But one thing fans do not agree on is the correct term for a Star
The Great Debate: Trekkies or Trekkers?
NBC broadcast Star Trek from 1966-1969. At the height of Star Trek's
popularity, the media called the shows young, enthusiastic fans Trekkies.
Because of the mass letter-writing campaign taken on to save the series from cancellation,
fans started banding together and forming clubs. These original fans took offense at the
"Trekkie" label and decided on the "universally-accepted" term Trekker.
But Ive come to find out that Trekker is not so universally-accepted as I
thought. Lets face it, some fans are more active in fandom than others. The more
dedicated fans run conventions, publish mediazines, write stories, and create fantastic
artwork. Many of these Star Trek fans prefer the term Trekfan
(singular) or Trekfen (plural). But not all.
Angela Reese, a fan I "met" through the Internet, insists that the terms
Trekker and Trekfan are too dull to describe her and other Star Trek fans she
knows. She likes the term Trekkie because it implies that she has been an avid, active fan
from the very beginning: from the fandoms inception in the '60s, to Star Trek:
The Next Generation of the '80s, all the way to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine of
That brings me to the next area of contention: what do you call the Star Trek
series from the 1960s? I've learned the hard way: never call it the "old show."
Ouch! Apparently the fans who enjoyed the show in the 60s are feeling their age. [Editor's
note: We are not!]
The preferred term is "the original show" or Trek Classic (similar to Coke
Classic, Im told). Other labels Ive run across: most Dr. Who fans
prefer being called "Whovians" rather then "Who-ites;" most Blakes
7 fans are amused when called "Flakey Blakeys;" and some Alien Nation
fans are "Alienated." Still others: a trufan is a committed
fan (or a should-be-committed fan) involved in various fandom activities; a neofan
is someone new to science fiction or fandom; and, finally, a mundane
is someone who doesnt know or care about anything remotely associated with science
fiction or fandom.
From what Ive seen and heard, though some SF fans are easily offended by
labeling, they still insist upon placing labels on themselves and others. When I posted
this statement to fans on the Internet, I received one particularly astute response. Arin
Komis, a fan / academic / anthropologist, said, "Remember that many of us banded
together in fandom for a sense of community. That community is breaking down because of
outsiders who are alongside us, but who dont really want anything to do with the
social aspects of fandom. Labeling is a way to keep a sense of community about fandom.
Fans are only offended when these labels are taken by outsiders and corrupted to insult or
I, too, think of fandom as a subculture, separate and unique from other groups; its
members often thought of as being "a little out there" by other people. We have
our own customs, like costuming and filking (SF music/songs). We also
have our own language, like fanfic (amateur fan fiction) and blorch
(minor illnesses that strike convention goers).
Personally I don't care whether I'm called a Trekker or Trekkie or Flakey Blakey or
just plain weird, just so long as I'm called when there's a convention in town or a new
zine coming out! l