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The Distracting Word Meme
Sunday, December 30, 2007   2:11 AM

I generally dislike list memes, but I couldn't resist answering the word meme I found at So Many Books. Like hers, this is open to all comers.

Words that always look misspelled to me
adviser (clearly a pet peeve of mine)

Words that look nicer in italics

Words I enjoy saying
h.c. (for hardcore)
solid (instead of favor)

Words I enjoy hearing
jerkin' (Josie and the Pussycats)
killjoy (Halo 3)

Abbreviations I dislike
MILF (and its lexical offspring are even worse)
micro (for microwave)
s/f or SF (instead of sci-fi)

Proper nouns I enjoy
Harvey Wallbanger
McKean's Law

Words I associate with happiness

Words I always misspell

Words I enjoy spelling correctly, every time

Words that, though I love their meaning, I'm too embarrassed to say out loud

Words I can never remember the meaning of no matter how many times I look them up

Labels: ,

The word whose meaning I can never remember is "jejune."

As for MILF, have you heard about Spirit Airlines' MILF promotion? They claim they had NO IDEA it stood for anything but "Many Islands Low Fares." Right-o. More info here:

Fantastic words! Breeze is a happy word isn't it? Hence does feel good in the mouth. And you are right, murderous looks great in italics :)

The thing about "sci-fi" is that it's something of a shibboleth. There are communities where it's got a history as a patronizing and derogatory term, generally aimed exclusively at bad film and television science fiction, and so if you use it around members of those groups, you will mark yourself as an outsider, and ignorant of their mores. 'SF' has no such connotations to navigate.

Yeah, I don't mean to open a can of worms there — I did that already with a "videogame vs. video game" post — but I'm aware of the arguments for "speculative fiction" and "sf" as opposed to "sci-fi." I just think that, as a label for straight-up science fiction, "sf" is overused within the community of people that has no narrow-minded prejudices against "sci-fi."

If you don't want to open a can of worms, maybe hanging up loaded phrases like "narrow-minded prejudices" before you start may be helpful.

Hah! Fair enough. I guess I didn't think it would be controversial to say that people who don't like sci-fi because it's called "sci-fi" are being narrow-minded.

I suspect that the people who don't like the term "sci-fi" are primarily the really big sf fans...?

There should be a category for words that you always seem to misread, no matter how common they are.

My two worst offenders are "misled," which I always want to read as [mai.zld] and "uniformed," which I usually see as "uninformed."

Where did you get the idea that I was talking about people who don't like science fiction in discussing people who don't care for the term "sci-fi"?

I took you at your word when you said, "I'm aware of the arguments for 'speculative fiction' and 'sf' as opposed to 'sci-fi'," but if in fact you're supposing that the likeliest opponents of the term "sci-fi" are people who are not fans of the genre, then I'll have to conclude you were talking through your hat.

It's precisely among fans of science fiction as a literary genre that the term "sci-fi" may be objected to most strongly. And to call that objection narrow-minded might be likened to calling a person of color narrow-minded for objecting to the term "coon".

Is that a bit clearer?

I think "coon" is a poor comparison, since it's incredibly perjorated, whereas I highly doubt that I'm the only sci-fi fan who still finds the term "sci-fi" innocuous. A sometimes-contentious, increasingly unfashionable label like "hipster" might be a more apt — albeit less dramatic — comparison.

But obviously it's I who's been having trouble being clear. Since my first comment we've been talking about two different groups: I mentioned that I was aware of "the arguments for 'speculative fiction' and 'sf' as opposed to 'sci-fi'," saying that I didn't mean to open a can of worms. I added, however, that I thought those terms were overused within the community of people with no narrow-minded objections to the term "sci-fi," i.e. the community of science fiction fans. I think it's here that I lost you.

I have no bones against the people who use the term "s/f" so that certain works can gain a broader acceptability, or refer to "speculative fiction" because it's a useful umbrella term. I disagree with them and continue to dislike these terms, but however strong their opinions about the word "sci-fi", these fans can presumably still look beyond the label. In short: I wasn't trying to call a subset of science fiction fans narrowminded; I was referring to a different group of people, as I made explicit in my second comment.

I do think that the likeliest, if not the most vociferous, pejoraters of the term "sci-fi" would be the general public (i.e. non-fans and some of the casual fans). As far as I can tell, it's largely their perception of sci-fi that has given it a connotation as a "patronizing and derogatory term, generally aimed exclusively at bad film and television science fiction."

I see "speculative fiction" as a rebranding, an escape from a genre pigeonhole necessitated by the pejoration of "sci-fi" within the general public. And so you get people like Margaret Atwood saying stuff like "No, it certainly isn't Science Fiction. Science Fiction is filled with Martians and space travel to other planets, and things like that."

Compare "progressive" with "liberal," a label which was until quite recently still in use here in Minnesota, but which was abandoned mostly because "liberal" had become a dirty word. This very blog is premised on a similar rebranding: the abandonment of "descriptivist grammar" (in favor of "reactive grammar") because the prescriptivists have made "descriptivist" out to be something crazy.

So now that we're using a different label some people who used to be called "descriptivists" can call descriptivism "utterly insane." Likewise, having abandoned the label "sci-fi" for serious works, it seems like a certain subset of science fiction fans have begun using it in the pejorated sense. Your point in your first comment was, and still is, well-taken: among that group of science fiction fans, "sci-fi" has become a shibboleth.

I'm starting to wonder if "sci-fi" might be what's sometimes called a "skunked term" — "a disputed word that has undergone a semantic shift, thus making it difficult to use it in either the older or the newer sense. Sticking to the older sense confuses those unfamiliar with it, while using the newer sense annoys traditionalists who feel that it is wrong." Although I suppose in this case both sides seem to end up annoyed.

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