Full record for sci-fi n.

Definition abbreviation of science fiction
OED requirements antedating 1954
Earliest cite Variety
Comment Despite its origins as a neutral abbreviation for science fiction, sci-fi has long been seen as a shibboleth in the SF community, many of whom perceive its use as an indication that the user is not a true SF fan, which would be indicated by the use of SF. It is, however, the dominant abbreviation used outside of the genre. It is also used within the genre to refer to science fiction movies and television shows, as opposed to written works, especially those considered to be poor examples of science fiction.

Forrest J. Ackerman had previously been generally credited with coining the term sci-fi in 1954. The term seems very much like a Varietyism, and Fred Shapiro found an example from Variety earlier in 1954 than Ackerman's use.

Jeff Prucher submitted a cite from a 1949 letter printed in Robert Heinlein's "Grumbles from the Grave", a collection of letters, but this was subsequently shown to be an editorial mistranscription; the original is clearly sci-fic (see sci-fic). We would like any (genuine) antedating.

Fred Galvin submitted a December, 1954 cite from an article by Forrest J. Ackerman in Imagination.

Fred Shapiro submitted a February, 1954 cite from Variety.

Earliest cite in the OED: 1955.

Last modified 17 February, 2014

Citations for sci-fi n.

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1949 R. A. Heinlein Let. 1 Oct. in R. A. Heinlein & V. Heinlein Grumbles from Grave (1990) 94 I have two short stories that I am very hot to do, one a bobby-sox for Calling All Girls and one a sci-fi [in manuscript: sci-fic] short which will probably sell to slick and is a sure sale for pulp.
1949 R. A. Heinlein Let. 1 Oct. in R. A. Heinlein & V. Heinlein Grumbles from Grave (1990) 94 I have two short stories that I am very hot to do, one a bobby-sox for Calling All Girls and one a sci-fi [in manuscript: sci-fic] short which will probably sell to slick and is a sure sale for pulp.
1954 F. Ackerman Fantasy Film Flashes in Imagination Dec. 109/1 Target—Earth! will be the screen title of ‘Deadly City’, the sci-fi story authored by Paul W. Fairman under his penname Ivar Jorgenson.
1985 S. Sucharitkul Alien Swordmaster i. ii. 11 She thought that was‥just another sci-fi cliché.
1990 Thrust Winter 30/3 Before long you could even find advertisements for hi fi camera film and hi fi reproductions of antique furniture. Hi fi became synonymous with everything that was cheap and had no relationship to genuine high fidelity equipment. Sci fi was just too much for me‥and soon it became as meaningless as hi fi had been.
1990 Thrust Winter 28/3 Forry Ackerman‥appears to miss the point of those who disdain the term ‘sci-fi’. There's nothing wrong with ‘sci-fi’ as a word; indeed, it's a very clever word, not least because it's so easily transmutable into Greek (‘psi phi’). Full credit to Forry's cleverness in inventing it. The problem is that somewhere early on the term became adopted as a constant (not just occasional, as Forry uses it) name for science fiction by people outside the field who knew not science fiction; a cognoscente's in-joke for non-cognoscente.
1990 Thrust Winter 30/3 Sci fi was applied to the most miserable sort of juvenile fiction, to stories about dragons on other planets, to Burroughs-type adventure fiction, to mundane fiction which the author insisted occurred in the near future, even to sword & sorcery fiction and alternate universe novels.
1990 Thrust Winter 28/3 The result of ‘sci-fi’ being used so heavily by people to whom science fiction meant bad monster movies was that ‘sci-fi’ has come to mean bad monster movies.
1991 A. D. Foster Cat.a.lyst xv. 239 A sci-fi soap opera!
1992 Sci. Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America Bulletin Spring 28/2 Do I care about the definition of‥sci-fi.
1993 K. S. Robinson Red Mars (1993) 405 You and all your friends are trying to live out a fantasy rebellion, some kind of sci-fi 1776, frontiersmen throwing off the yoke of tyranny, but it isn't like that here!
1994 SFRA Rev. July 9 What he is describing, however, Spinrad more accurately refers to as ‘sci-fi’ or ‘anti-SF.’
1994 B. Bova Craft of Writing Sci. Fict. that Sells ii. 6 From here on, when I say science fiction, I mean stories the meet the definition above. Other areas of the field I will call SF. The term sci-fi, which most science fiction writers loathe, I will reserve for those motion pictures that claim to be science fiction but are actually based on comic strips. Or worse.
2001 Sci. Fiction Chron. Mar. 16/2 My wife makes a distinction between science fiction and sci fi. Sci fi is all over the TV networks and the movie theaters. But‥what they are doing is basically the pornography of science fiction. They're showing the excitement of it without showing the rationale behind the excitement. There's nothing in any science fiction film series or television which excites the reasoning powers.
2001 Locus June 17/2 The story's significance, perhaps, is that it does reject all the standard sci-fi explanations—but while doing so, it can't come up with anything to replace them. In a way the story is saying: SF won't get us our dreams, so maybe fantasy isn't so bad after all.
2002 Dreamwatch Sept. 66/2 I think sci-fi hits home to us because most people believe in something else going on out there in the universe; that there's more to it all than just what's going on here on planet Earth.