Hunting for the earliest citations of SF words

Welcome to the new version of the Oxford English Dictionary's science fiction words site. The base project was originally set up so that knowledgeable aficionados could help the OED find useful examples of words in their fields of interest. This first project, and still the only public one, is devoted to science fiction.

While the original version of the site was focused on the OED's needs alone, this version should be of broader interest to anyone interested in science fiction, whether or not they are able to help the OED's research. The most notable change is that a view of an individual term will also pull in all the examples of that term collected for the OED's databases from science fiction sources. We are also making an attempt to rewrite entries to provide clearer definitions, background history, and more. Please stay with us as we continue to improve the site.

The OED aims to include all words that are frequently used in any field, and attempts to find the earliest example of every sense of every word it includes. For SF the OED needs earlier examples of terms it already includes, early examples of terms that have been slated for future inclusion, and any examples of terms that have not yet caught the editors' attention but are common in SF. Words used infrequently, words associated chiefly with a single author, or words so specialized that they are found only in a single subgenre, or in relation to a single author, movie, etc., are not high priorities for inclusion.

The linked pages will display tables, generated dynamically from our working database, listing our words in the three categories of general science fiction, science fiction fandom, and science fiction criticism. Any OED-needed dates will be given, along with a basic definition for the term. Clicking on any term will go to a full view, which will discuss the history of this project's research on the term, (possibly) give additional information about the term, and pull in all the quotes gathered for OED.

There are several different things we're looking for here. An antedating is a word that is earlier than the earliest example we currently know. Most words will be in this category. An interdating is a word that fills a (large) gap in the record--if we had an example from 1928 and then nothing until 1995, we'd probably want something in between to show that the word had been in use in this period. A postdating is a word that is later than the latest example we have; if we are looking for one, it is probably because we believe that a word is still current but we don't have an example in any recent decade. Finally, any evidence means just that: we know that a word exists, but we have little or no direct evidence for it. In this case we really do want anything, but it's best to provide examples from important sources, and early examples (or information about coinage/early uses) are always welcome.

If you find a citation that antedates the best we have listed, or otherwise fulfills a specified criterion, please email us--but before you do, please read our guidelines on how to send in a citation. Due to the volume of correspondence and the need to check the accuracy of responses, it may some time to acknowledge submissions; please be patient. We'd also be interested in suggestions for other words that belong on this page. The criteria for inclusion are subjective, but come down to: does the word sound familiar to a long-time SF reader? In general, we try to avoid terms that are very rare or that are so specific that many SF fans would still not be familiar with them.

For general SF citations--ones for terms that appears in actual science fiction writings/movies/etc.--and for citations relating to SF fandom, please get in touch with Malcolm Farmer. For citations relating to SF criticism--that is, terms that are used in reference to science fiction, but are not used in actual SF writings/movies/etc.--please get in touch with Jeff Prucher.

This list is not meant to be an absolutely comprehensive glossary of SF terminology. We aim to include only those words that are well established in the corpus of science-fiction writing, criticism, or fandom. However, this site's editors do maintain separate lists of potential terms that are candidates for inclusion in the main lists. If you've come across something that you think belongs here, please let us know. Thank you for your interest.