“Fan fiction” hits MW

Yes, it’s finally happened: fan fiction is finally in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. The term dates from 1944, and it’s defined as, “stories involving popular fictional characters that are written by fans and often posted on the Internet —called also fan fic.” Culturally speaking, I suppose this means that fan fiction is now mainstream enough to make it into a lexicon known for its descriptive, rather than prescriptive, use.

Screencap of MW entry for fan fiction
Screencap of MW entry for fan fiction

In my capacity as production manager for Transformative Works and Cultures, I am the Keeper of the Style Sheet. As a professional copyeditor, I know that the only way to ensure consistency across the work of multiple people is to have as few in-house styling rules as possible. We thus slavishly follow two standard reference works: Webster’s for terms, and Chicago 15 for grammar rules, compounds, reference styling, and the like.

TWC’s overarching styling rule is simple: look it up. Thus it’s not website, it’s Web site; it’s not internet, it’s Internet. Potentially compound words that are not in the dictionary are treated as two words; thus it’s not gameplay, but game play.

TWC styled fan fiction as two words because the term was not in the dictionary, but we styled fanfic as one word. I made this call on the basis of the usage I saw most. However, now that Webster’s has stated a preference for fan fic as two words, TWC will begin to use that styling, even though fan fic does not have its own Webster’s entry. And we will retain them as open compounds always; the terms will never be hyphenated (that is, not “fan-fiction study” but always “fan fiction study”).

I oppose violating the dictionary on any number of principles, the first being that it’s just confusing; but one reason I object to fanfiction, as well as any other number of fan words made solid, such as fanart or fanvid, is that fan is not a prefix.

I sometimes see heated discussions of why a term ought to be presented a certain way, as though hyphenating or presenting solid or presenting italic (or whatever) is laden with shades of subtle meaning. I suppose it often is. But me? I just look the term up in Webster’s. It’s usually there. It represents a consensus of the most common usage. That’s good enough for me.

This text is copyrighted under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. This post was originally written on January 6, 2010. It may be freely copied anywhere. If you copy this post, please copy the image too and host it yourself. If you read this document at a site other than its original, I may not see any comments you might append, and I’d love to hear from you. Please comment at the original blog post if you wish me to see your remarks.

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