Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

Times Change: “SF” vs “Sci-Fi”

May 30th, 2013

Long ago it was taught to me that within the science fiction genre we should never say “Sci-Fi.” If we want an abbreviation, we use the initials “SF.” Otherwise it’s “science fiction.”

The general reason given for avoiding “sci-fi” was that logically it should be pronounced “skiffy.” (Shaun Duke and Jen Zink have turned this right around by creating The Skiffy & Fanty Show).

Really though, I think it’s a tribal thing. Within the genre, “Sci-fi” was seen as a term used by dilettantes, those who might have picked up a Michael Crichton novel or two, watched some Star Trek or Star Wars, but in all likelihood knew little to nothing about the core of the genre.

I used to wince when someone would say to me, “Oh, I love sci-fi!”

But you know what? Times change. I now freely use the term “sci-fi” — and twitter is the reason.

Twitter allows a maximum of 140 characters per tweet. “SciFi” without the hyphen takes up five. “Science Fiction” requires fifteen. That’s a HUGE difference when I’m trying to tweet something like:

“There Needs To Be A War Going On Somewhere” The Red: First Light is a near-future scifi thriller. Read a sample:

That’s 136 characters. Spelling out “science fiction” would break it.

So why not use “SF” which is even shorter? Because for most people “SF” stands for “San Francisco.” Yes. Truth. I have confused people by using SF in a tweet. I may be an “SF Writer” but I’m not a writer from San Francisco and The Red: First Light is not set in San Francisco.

So I have taken to heart a quotation from Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon:


I’ve put aside my tribal prejudice and, on twitter at least, I’ve adopted the use of “Sci-Fi.” I understand this is a kind of heresy, but then, I’m a fiery revolutionary indie publisher…or at any rate, I’m a pragmatist.

Ya’ gotta’ do what ya’ gotta’ do.

You know?

Posted on: Thursday, May 30th, 2013 at 9:52 am
Categories: Meanderings.
Tags: , ,

3 Responses to “Times Change: “SF” vs “Sci-Fi””

  1. Anzan Says:

    I only regard genre classifications as meaningful that help me to avoid genres I do not care to read.

  2. Robert Crookall Says:

    My father inherited from a deceased colleague a large number of IASFM and Analog magazines in the late 1980s, and I read quite a few of the articles in them. I’ve never subscribed to or since read those magazines as I tend to rely on books for fiction, but I do remember one article that vehmently opposed the use of the term “scifi” in the “SF” community, saying “scifi” was an inferior form of fiction and shouldn’t be confused with “SF”. The thing is, though, I’d say “scifi” is a much more widely understood abbreviation than “SF”, like you point out (not being in the US, I wasn’t aware of the confusion with San Francisco though). It may offend some purists, but you’ll get a LOT more people understanding what you mean and getting attracted to your work, which I think is what you want :-).


  3. Linda Says:

    Robert, that’s exactly how I look at it. It’s better to be inclusive, I think.