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Busy week
Bar Harbor
Not much posting lately, been too busy with life.

Got to dance practice Wed, for the first time in months. Only danced a few dances, as I was worried about my cold relapsing. It doesn't seem to have, thankfully. Flirtes with some Fabulous Babes (tm), and got to chat some with friends who I hadn't seen in a while. Quote of the evening: "Thundercats should not wear lingerie!"

Thursday kestrell and I meant to go to a ship-party sponsored by my employers. Sadly, the directions we had were written by a Boston native, so we eventually gave up and went home.

Friday evening, we watched Kes' new DVD of Gattaca. One of the very few movies I've sen that were actually science fiction, as opposed to sci-fi. Certainly Hugo-worthy (it was beaten out that year by Contact). Kes especially appreciated Jude Law's voice, so she is now more interested in going to see Sky Captain. Apparently, Jude Law will also be in the upcoming Series of Unfortunate Events film, as the voice of Lemony Snicket.

Saturday, I went to pick up comics. Thankfully, last month's huge stack of expensive stuff *was* an anomaly, so I broke neither my back nor my bank. Then I went into work for a few hours. There's a script deadline coming up Wednesday, and meeting it will be a bit tight. It would have been less of an issue if Ken had actually started writing his first drafts two months ago like he was supposed to, rather than leaving it until the last week or so. Sigh. Came home once my brain was used up and played computer games until Too Late (but not Far Too Late).

Today, I spent the morning going through not one but two months worth of Diamond's Previews catalogs. Sturgeon's Law is certainly still out in force. There are still enough diamonds in the rough to make it worth doing, but it's still a chore. Spending this evening catching up on email and web stuff. More anon...

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Funny you should ask. I can not only explain, but actually cite, as I just recently came across a reprint of what I believe to be the start of this linguistic distinction, a 1977 essay by Damon Knight titled "What is Science Fiction?"
...I think we ought to have a term for the crude, basic kind of s.f. that satisfies the appetite for pseudo-scientific marvels without appealing to any other portion of the intellect: I propose that we call it "sci-fi".*
* Pronounced "skiffy."
This proposition caught on, at least in large parts of fandom. The "skiffy" pronunciation is still fairly rare, but always derogatory. Pronounced as "sigh-fie", it still bears much of the same meaning, but need not be derogatory -- "Star Wars is a great sci-fi movie."

Hmm. I've seen that quote before. I thought that was science fantasy, the opposite pole from "hard science fiction." (Plain fantasy, which tends to be medievaloid, fairies, etc., is on a different graph.)

And then there's "SF" (ess-eff) and does that have yet another shade?

I just read the stuff.

The scope of "SF" is much more context-dependent. Sometimes it stands for just "science-fiction", sometimes for the more restrictive "science fiction that is explicitly *not* skiffy", sometimes for the extremely *un*restrictive "speculative fiction" (mostly as a way to dodge the eternal "what is the border between science fiction and fantasy" debate).

Do you think they are generally useful terms, or mostly exist to distinguish people-in-the-know from the unenlightened masses?

Both :-)

I use them quite a lot, but that's a function of what (some of) my social circle cares about. If by "generally", you are referring to the general public, no, probably not.

mostly exist to distinguish people-in-the-know from the unenlightened masses?

jducouer taught me a wonderful (yiddish?) word that means that entire phrase: "shibboleth". Now *that* is a word which is really useful!

Except it means several different things, which I find confusing, because even context won't help you too much in figuring out which one is intended.

It's either a myth, an old truth, an in-group-jargon word or a concept.

1 a : a word or saying used by adherents of a party, sect, or belief and usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning
b : a widely held belief < this book publishing shibboleth is a myth -- L. A. Wood>

2 a : a use of language regarded as distinctive of a particular group < accent was... a shibboleth of social class -- Vivian Ducat>
b : a custom or usage regarded as distinguishing one group from others < for most of the well-to-do in the town, dinner was a shibboleth, its hour dividing mankind -- Osbert Sitwell>

But all these meanings are in a closely-related constellation.

Really, what is it lately with people I hang out with complaining about words having multiple meanings? Single-meaning words are fine for programming languages, but are far too weak for human ones.

I must have missed (or forgotten) the other conversation you reference.

Multiple related meanings are ok. But even the sentences that M-W chose to illustrate the concepts have insufficient context to tell which one is meant.

What if there were a word which meant blue, or red, or a chair, or sometimes an emotion? That's what the M-W definition looks like to me.

Hokay, looking over the definitions above, combined with my experience of actual usage, and some knowledge of its history:

The original usage was more or less "a pronunciation used to distinguish one group from another". 2a and 2b both clearly derive from this. 1a is very like 2a, only with the extra shade of "usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning". This is appropriate since a shibboleth's 'meaning' is more contained in how it distinguishes group memberships than in its particular content. 1b derives from 1a if you add "large or prevalent" to "a party, sect, or belief".

That leaves only 1c, which essentially shades "large group of people" into "all right-thinking people". I don't actually think that 1c is an appropriate usage of the word, unless it's being used ironically, but irony often escapes poor writers.

Re: Definitions/mutation

Ok, I can understand you & Justin's POV, I think.

However, my approach to this is colored by my previous history of the word usually meaning "provably false myths."

I'll retire from that argument, now.

How about another one, since we're sort of on the topic?

What definition of SF, sci-fi, or what-ever-you-want-to-call-it includes horror stories not set in the future? I got really grumpy when LOCUS took that genre under their wing ( monthly review sections, etc.(this some 10 years ago)) It doesn't seem related at all, to me.

Re: Definitions/mutation

"speculative fiction" includes horror stories that have fantasy and/or supernatural elements (which is a strong majority of them). It does not (IMHO) include things like, say, Psycho. Mileage varies.

Definition 2(b) is the relevant one in my personal dictionary. This is specifically a common Masonic usage. Obviously, the concept is a very important one in Masonry, an organization that really *does* have passwords and silly handshakes and such to distinguish members from non, and in that context, a "shibboleth" is well-understood to mean, essentially, an identifying mark.

I believe this is the original and oldest meaning -- the word is Hebrew, and this usage is derived from a biblical story, in which the word "shibboleth" is itself used as a password in a key battle. I'm pretty sure that all of the other usages derive directly or indirectly from that. The original Hebrew word has nothing to do with any of these meanings. Its relevance as a password was because of differences in pronunciation between tribes, so the warders could tell which tribe someone was from by listening to how they said the word.

(Hmm. Surely someone describes the story online. Ah -- okay, here is a good brief account of the original story.)

As for the original point: when I was new to fandom, the distinction between "SF" and "scifi" was *very* much a shibboleth in the above sense. Serious con-goers always called it "SF", and tended to more or less sneer at "scifi" fans. However, time has worn the edges off the distinction, and I doubt that anyone under 30 is even particularly aware of it. Indeed, the term "scifi" has pretty much won -- it's far more commonly used than "SF" in all contexts I know of nowadays...


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