sci-fi n.

abbreviation of science fiction n. 2

Despite its origins as a neutral abbreviation for ‘science fiction’, sci-fi has long been seen as a shibboleth in the science-fiction community, many of whom perceive its use as an indication that the user is not a true fan, which would be indicated by the use of sf n.. 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.

[probably by analogy with hi-fi]

SF Encyclopedia

SF Criticism

  • [1949 R. A. Heinlein Letter 1 Oct. in R. A. Heinlein & V. Heinlein Grumbles from Grave (1990) 94 Robert A. Heinlein

    I have two short stories that I am very hot to do, one a bobby-sox for Calling All Girls and one a sci-fic [in published text: sci-fi] short which will probably sell to slick and is a sure sale for pulp. ]

  • 1954 J. Zunser Donovan’s Brain in Cue 23 Jan. 20/3 (review) page image

    This is a taut little horror film about a surgeon who falls under the malignant influence of a disembodied brain he has extracted from a corpse. Taken in the usual sci-fi spirit, it’s fun—a weird combination of fact, fiction and conviction—well acted by Lew Ayres as the surgeon, Gene Evans, Nancy Davis and Steve Brodie.

  • 1954 Variety 17 Feb. 38

    New Telepix Shows… The commercial possibilities are there as well since ‘Junior Science’, aside from its positive qualities, is a rewarding change of pace from the more thunderous sci-fi and spaceship packages.

  • 1954 F. Ackerman Fantasy Film Flashes in Imagination Dec. 109/1 page image Forrest J. Ackerman

    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 S. P. Somtow bibliography

    She thought that was…just another sci-fi cliché.

  • 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 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.

  • 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.

  • 1993 K. S. Robinson Red Mars (1993) 405 Kim Stanley Robinson bibliography

    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 B. Bova Craft of Writing Science Fiction that Sells ii. 6 Ben Bova bibliography

    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 Science Fiction Chronicle 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.

  • 2019 N. Okorafor Broken Places & Outer Spaces viii. 57 Nnedi Okorafor bibliography

    Even before I began to write science fiction, though I didn’t know it, I was sci-fi. In those moments, my athleticism really was a superpower. Now, when I write about characters with abilities, the gift of flight, time travel, shape-shifting, I draw from my own experiences as an incredible athlete. And for these characters’ conflicts and limitations within the narrative, I draw from my experiences with and recovering from paralysis.

Research requirements

antedating 1954

Earliest cite


Research History
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 in February, 1954, earlier 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 n.).
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.
Ben Ostrowsky submitted a 2019 cite from Nnedi Okorafor.
Ben Ostrowsky submitted a January 1954 cite from an online index to Cue magazine, and confirmed this in a hard copy.

Earliest cite in OED2: 1955; updated to 1954 in OED3.

Last modified 2022-03-28 18:16:06
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.