The Clubhouse: Five words every fan should know

Fanspeak is what we call the jargon of fandom that grew up in fanzines and is still in use in the internet age.

“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.

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Before launching her career as an award-winning journalist, Leah A. Zeldes first learned the craft of writing in the pages of twiltone fanzines. Today a freelance writer and professional blogger, she is for hire for writing and editing projects of all types.

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