Fansplaining: ~fanspeak

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Podcast Episode
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Episode Title: Fansplaining: ~fanspeak
Length: 1:02:47
Featured: Gretchen McCulloch
Date: February 2016
External Links: Episode at

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Fansplaining: ~fanspeak is a podcast by Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel.

The guest is Gretchen McCulloch, an internet linguist.

For others in the series, see Fansplaining.


"In Episode 15, ~fanspeak, Elizabeth and Flourish interview Gretchen McCulloch (@allthingslinguistic), a linguist who studies the way people speak online. Topics covered include Cabin Pressure, the use of the tilde, ship and fandom names as linguistic markers, and why linguists are so incredibly chill about everything! Plus she answers some listener questions—and throws a few unanswered ones back out to the audience."


Topics Discussed

  • the title of this podcast, and the history and meaning of "~" in fanspeak: "FK: That’s interesting! I feel like I have seen it with not just the single tilde in front of the word, but also with the two tildes on either side, and even more than that with like tildes and asterisks? Like ironic sparkletext? EM: I actually wanted to make the title of our newsletter have those, cause it felt like oldschool to me? You know? And then Gav was like “NO, the tilde is sarcastic to me.”
  • mainstreamization of fandom
  • meta, what is it?
  • fandom and internet linguistics, formal and informal language
  • portmanteaus/blended ship names
  • fandom elders, the continuity of fandom
  • FictionAlley and specialized language
  • agreed upon names of fandoms: how do fans agree?
  • Cumberbitches
  • Trekkers and Trekkies
  • Wolfstar


Flourish Klink: I don’t really mind [portmanteaus] so much in pairings that are new to me since the advent of smash, blended, whatever ship names, it’s only when it goes back retroactively and, like, insinuates itself into older fandoms that I start getting angry. Because that’s not what it’s called, goddammit.

Elizabeth Minkel: And [OTW is] celebrating International Fanworks Day, and they have all this stuff, so I guess this episode will become out… about a week before that, maybe? Half a week? I’m not looking at a calendar. Doesn’t matter. Anyway, I wrote a guest post for them about fanworks, and it started off so innocently, where I was just talking about my Sweet Valley High fanfiction, which I reveal more details about by the way, so get excited. [FK gasps] And the first time that I read someone else’s fanfiction and how confusing it was. And it devolves into me being like, “I don’t understand anyone who just is new to fanfiction!” It’s probably not as bad as I remember it, but it makes me feel bad thinking about it.

FK: I think that all newer fans and younger fans have to put up with us a little bit, just as we have to put up with people who are like “back in my day we had filksings and you don’t understand the properties of having real conventions and the internet has ruined fandom” and like that’s fine.

Gretchen McCulloch: I think fandom lives on the internet so it’s an interesting microcosm of internet language sometimes, and a lot of times I’m analyzing the language I see on the internet and I see fandom stuff, and then I’m also doing what I think is a slightly different thing which is when I write meta about shows as a fannish activity I’m often writing linguistic meta. I’m analyzing the linguistics in those shows. Like I analyzed the linguistics in Cabin Pressure, every single episode of Cabin Pressure actually so you can see that on my blog if you want. I analyzed the linguistics of Welcome to Night Vale, I analyzed the linguistics of, like, Benedict Cumberbatch’s name, on the Toast, those are fannish in the sense that I’m analyzing something produced by fandom or that has a fandom, that I’m a fan of, but they’re not—they don’t rely on the internet necessarily to exist. They’re analyzing something else that’s going on.

GMC: I mean, I think mainstreamization of fandom terms comes with mainstreamization of fandom in general, you know. There’s more attention to people writing fic, there’s more attention to people doing fanart and various fannish practices, there are creators, you know, Lin-Manuel Miranda, people like Rainbow Rowell who are responding to their fandoms more and getting more engaged with that. So as fandom gets more mainstreamized, fannish terminology at least some of the things get into the mainstream as well, in that it comes with a kind of fragmentation of meaning or people meaning different things by the same term, in the sense that people mean different things by their experiences as a fan as well.

EM: I’d be curious also to look at when fandoms name themselves vs. when they are named, whether that’s by the media or by a content creator.

GMC: Yeah. I think it’s a combination of both. Like if you’re gonna add a suffix, you’re trying to see what doesn’t sound weird and if you’re gonna change a noun or give yourself a word for yourself I think it has a lot to do with what other words sound similar to that, you know, so you wanna—like with Clone Club you’ve created alliteration, or with Cumberbitches it’s nice because you’ve altered just one sound from Cumberbatch even though maybe the connotations aren’t right—you look around, in the ship names article there’s this idea of “lexical neighborhood,” like what other words are around this word that sound similar, and is that a good thing or a bad thing, do you want that similarity.