The Clubhouse: Five words every fan should know

“I have a Cosmic Mind — now what do I do?”

The Slan Shack
The Slan Shack, 25 Poplar St., Battle Creek, Mich., and its denizens, from left: Al Ashley, Abby Lu Ashley, Darlene Ashley, Abby Lu’s son, Thelma Morgan, Ross (last name unknown), Walt Liebscher, Jack Weidenbeck and E. Everett Evans.

Fanspeak is what we call the jargon of fandom that grew up in fanzines and is still in use in the internet age. It’s full of terms that apply to sf, often taken from the pages of novels and stories, as well as words coined to describe things unique to our community.

Slan is a good example of both: In A.E. Van Vogt’s 1940 novel of the same name, the slans were superhuman mutants of vast intelligence, strength and endurance, the descendants of Samuel Lann. They had tendrils in their hair that made them telepathic (except for those who could “pass”), and a complex, superhuman nervous system adapted to the demands of mechanistic civilization. So slan or slanlike is used to describe any number of subsequent supermen across the genre.

Van Vogt’s beleaguered young hero captured the imagination of fans in the post-Depression era. The fans of the day were largely blue-collar autodidacts who often felt like beleaguered intellectuals surrounded by unsympathetic dullards, and whose favorite literature was often derided as “That Buck Rogers stuff.”

Hence, the rallying cry, “Fans are slans!” means that fans are better and smarter than average. Although mainly used ironically, as in the “Fans are Slans Department” in Spacewarp (1950), the concept has been taken literally by a few fen, most notably Claude Degler, a 1940s fan who decided that fandom represented a new strain of mankind, the “star begotten” Cosmic Man. He proposed, therefore, to set up set up a Cosmic Circle, complete with a love camp in the Ozarks where the superfen could breed the new race to rule the sevagram. Degler was mostly laughed at, with remarks such as Jack Speer’s comment quoted above.

Today, slan’s use in fannish contexts is usually tongue-in-cheek, although dwellings where several fans live together are still called “slan shacks,” after a famous house in Battle Creek, Mich., shared by Walt Liebscher, E. Everett Evans, Jack Weidenbeck, Al and Abby Lu Ashley and others in the mid-1940s.

Another such word is droog, a Russian noun meaning “friend,” which Anthony Burgess used for the young thugs in his 1962 novel, A Clockwork Orange, and which is sometimes used to describe similar ruffians in other books. Droog also applies to rowdy, drunken and belligerent attendees at sf conventions, a fannish use that didn’t arise till the 1990s, possibly because it wasn’t needed till then.

Other terms describe things unique to fandom, such as fanac, short for “fan activity,” and relaxacon, an sf convention with no formal program, intended as a relaxing weekend of socializing. The oldest and best of these is Midwestcon, which began in 1950 and is still held annually by the Cincinnati Fantasy Group on the last full weekend in June. (Come and join us!)

Some fannish words have universal application, though, so much so that I sometimes forget and use them outside of fan contexts and then have to explain myself. My favorites include:

  1. croggled adj. (krä´gəld) Astonished, taken aback, discombobulated. “Amazing Stories is back? I’m croggled!” A portmanteau word, combining crushed and goggled, or possibly crumbled and joggled, coined by Dean A. Grennell of Fond du Lac, Wis., in the 1950s. croggle vt. To cause someone to be croggled.
  2. egoboo n. (ē´gō•bū´) Something that boosts one’s ego, usually praise. It’s been called the fannish medium of exchange. “I got so much egoboo for my last fanzine. Everybody sent such compliments!” The term came into use in the mid-1940s.
  3. faunch vt. (fônch) To covet or yearn, often wistfully. Usually combined with after or for. “I faunch after a first edition of Fancyclopedia, but no one will give one up.” —n. Such a yearning. As a real word, faunch comes from equestrian circles, a synonym for champ, as in “champing at the bit,” a horse’s impatient eagerness to get going — and its first use in a fannish context, by Noel Loomis in Pro-phile, was in that context. Gradually, however, the fannish meaning has changed, at first to a vague, indeterminate yearning and later to a definite craving.
  4. grotch vt. (gräch) To acutely irritate or annoy. “It grotches me that fanzine fans get so little respect.” Another term coined by Grennell, possibly from grouch, grotch isn’t used very much now, but it deserves a comeback.
  5. fugghead n. (fug´hed) An obnoxious jerk, particularly a pompous fool fond of pontificating. The term began as a euphemism, the g’s replacing letters that could not be printed in the days when the U.S. Post Office censored the mails for obscenity.

    Fugghead was popularized in the 1940s by Francis Towner Laney of Los Angeles, who sent Fugghead Award certificates to fans he thought deserving. “If you are a fugghead,” Laney wrote in 1950, “you will have a better magazine if you suppress your fuggheadedness, but this is pretty hard to do.” Laney pronounced it to reflect the unprintable word, but decades of literal-minded readers have fixed it in the current pronunciation, as written. fuggheaded adj.

See also:


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  1. Heh. Since we share ethnicity as well as fandom, Leah, in your definition of "faunch" I read your "Such a yearning." as if it were said with a Yiddish inflection. *giggle*

  2. " if you are Jewish, is it better to call someone who is not Jewish “a gentile” or a “non-Jew”? Which is clearer?"

    It depends on the context and the audience. Speaking to other Jews, I'm most likely to use the word "goy", which has never felt derogatory to me. And in Utah, I wouldn't use the word "gentile", having been told that Mormons use it to refer to non-Mormons. But in other circumstances, I would use "gentile" or "non-Jew", depending on which I expected my audience to understand most easily.

    Within fannish circles, I use the term "mundane" because I expect it to be understood, and be the clearest way to express the concept, but without any conscious thought of it being at all derogatory. But I would no more use it when speaking to mundanes than I would use Yiddish terms when speaking with goyim, simply because I wouldn't expect to be understood.

  3. I don't have a problem with "mundane" – gives a definition as "common" or "ordinary" while the whole point of working in science fiction/fantasy is to escape the ordinary – our minds travel through time and space, plumbing the depths and exploring the rugose and coruscated edges of human knowledge and imagination. When I play a fighting videogame, why wold I want to play as an ordinary human when I can play as a monster or wondrous creature that speaks of th arcane marvels of the universe?

    And, besides, as fans, so many of us were laughed at or (physically or emotionally) beaten up by non-fans as kids. Isn't calling them "mundanes" the gentlest possible way for us to get back at them?

    On a related topic… if you are Jewish, is it better to call someone who is not Jewish "a gentile" or a "non-Jew"? Which is clearer?

    Is it better to call someone who is not a Christian a "pagan" or a "heathen" or "non-believer" or "non-Christian"?

    Do you say "dhimmi" or "non-Muslim"?

    Do you say "round eye" or "non-Chinese/non-Japanese"?

    Do you say "mundane" or "non-fan"?

    These are all important concepts if you are in one of these groups – because, well, groups are socially different and have very different views of the world. Are any or all of these terms derogatory? Probably someone somewhere will be offended by one or the other term. Or by the mere idea that there are different sub-cultures. There simply are, in reality, and we need terms to define the groups. [I refuse to go around in daily conversation having to say "Someone who's not a scientist" instead of "non-scientist".) It's impossible to be inoffensive to everyone, and I'm not going to try!

  4. Thanks for the compliments and comments.

    "Cosplay," a word that came out of anime fandom, is probably the newest word to gain widespread acceptance in general fandom. Comics fandom's "fanboy" also spread. But things like emoticons, which come from mundania, don't count, any more than computer jargon or Esperanto does unless they're given a special fannish significance. In the early days of fandom, a number of fans were Esperantists, and Esperanto words and phrases showed up in fanzines. Fans also liked jazz, so jazz jargon did, too. Yet they were just evidence of fans' eclecticism and immersion in popular culture rather than intrinsic to fan argot.

    Since at least the 1970s, and probably before, there have been fans who object to "mundane" on grounds that that it sounds pejorative and furthers in-groupish us vs. them exclusivity. I doubt they'd approve of "muggle" either, though, or "goy." Although "muggle" comes out of Harry Potter, my guess is that fan use came via overlap with the geocaching community, a mundane if nerdy group that uses it for bystanders who need to be avoided when placing or retrieving caches.

    I don't actually see any reason for fandom not to be an in-group, and I will go on using "mundane" when I need to refer specifically to people who are not participants in our particular community. Because you can't keep saying "people who are not participants in our particular community."

    1. I believe, without being able to cite a source, that "cosplay" came specifically out of Japanese anime fandom, i.e. that it's originally a Japanese word. I know that I've encountered numerous other words in modern Japanese that were formed by mashing together bits of English words (e.g. "pasokon", shortened from "paasonaru conpyuutaa", the closest Japanese phonetics can get to "personal computer").

  5. Fandom is not the only place to evolve its own jargon, as anyone involved with technology, education, politics, or pretty much anything scientific can attest. But I have to admit fanspeak is a lot more fun than any of those fields. For more fannish terms and loads of fan history with photos, is a fine place to visit and peruse.

  6. The use of jargon has been a staple of both Fandom, and the Hacker communities. Now first of all, the term "hacker" here is being used in the original, non-pejorative meaning, that is, a person who is an expert with a program, operating system or computer system. As the Computer Hacker communities often have a high degree of overlap with Fannish communities, a lot of swapping of jargon has happened between the two. Take a look here for example:

    Jargon is also an important part of building a sub-culture, as it helps to differentiate members from those who are not members. Fanspeak has become more and more ephemeral as time has gone one, with new words replacing old ones. We see this in how "Cosplay" has been rapidly supplanting "Costuming" in convention circles, and emoticons, such as 🙂 have replaced terms like HHOK or HHO1/2K. And I am also seeing the term Muggle (from Harry Potter) replacing "Mundane".

    This has also happened in the Hacker communities, with the very term "hacker" taking on the meaning of "Cracker", or a person who attempts to gain unauthorized access to a system or software.

    Tracking the evolution of fanspeak is an interseting pass-time…

  7. Thanks, Leah! Great article. And a couple of these terms I didn't know.

    What I faunch for is the original artwork Frank R. Paul did for the Amazing Stories covers, which are probably lost to time (maybe burned in an incinerator?). Especially his War of the Worlds cover, which is one of the greatest pieces of SF art ever. This has always grotched me. If me and me droogs had a time machine, we could go back in time and snatch it out of the incinerator, and then show it off at a relaxacon. Everyone would be croggled, even the fuggheads. Thus we would show that we were slans and trufen. Can you imagine the egoboo we'd get?

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