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Into The Hive Mind: Lessons In Vocab, Etiquette And The 123's Of Fandom Life

Christine Bancroft |
November 27, 2012 | 1:17 a.m. PST


Like any club or organization or, perhaps more appropriately, cult, each fandom has rules which members are encouraged to follow and words they should probably know. 

To ingratiate yourself into fandom culture, or just to understand some of the shenanigans that occur, this part of the series will go over proper vocabulary and etiquette for the budding fan.

That by any other name

A man cosplays as Harrison Ford's adventuring hero Indiana Jones from the series of the same name.
A man cosplays as Harrison Ford's adventuring hero Indiana Jones from the series of the same name.
There's a reason fandom culture has the word "cult" in it. For those on the outside, it may seem a bizarre pidgin of Internet abbreviations and seemingly incomprehensible, pithy phrases, puns and memes.

First of all, I'll reiterate: fandom is, as described in the previous article, a community of fans who share a common interest (such as a show, book or author, band, film, video game or more.)

A "BNF" is a word originating in Livejournal, meaning "Big Name Fan", or a fan who is extremely popular and well-known within a fandom, possibly for artwork, analysis, up-to-date information or writing. 

The term "cosplay" is short for "costume play", referring to outfits in which fans may dress up, referencing characters or, occasionally, objects or ideas. Often, "cons", or conventions (such as the San Diego Comic Con), are locations where many cosplayers will be present. 

Shipping. It is a practice within fandom in which fans support a relationship between two (or occasionally more) characters. Relation"ship" is the root for the word. Similarly, a fan's "OTP", which can stand for either "one true pairing" or "original top pairing", depending on who is asked, is a ship that is favored by a fan. "I ship it" is a common phrase fans use, either for humor or in sincerity, to refer to their ships. Although OTP suggests that, like the Highlander, there can only be one, many fans have several OTPs that they rotate.

In the same vein, a "crack"-ship is one that is so absurd and off-beat that is played off as humor. For example, shipping two inanimate objects (the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben, for example.) Characters who have never once been on screen together, or, perhaps, are not even in the same show, are often involved with crack ships. General nonsense in fandom culture is simply referred to as "crack" or "fandom crack". Absurdity runs rampant in the fandom, mostly because of the emotional upheaval resultant from investing oneself so heavily in subjects at the mercy of sadistic creators. 

The term "troll", although a widespread part of Internet vernacular, has been adapted by many fandoms as a term of endearment, often for creators or actors who enjoy emotional manipulation of audiences. These people feed off your sadness, and relish your pain. They are sadists, but they are beloved sadists, so treat them kindly. It's part of their better nature. They can't help it. 

The emotional upheaval that is an inherent part of being a member of a fandom are collectively called "feels". Short for "feelings", clearly, and also in example of fandom's strangely dichotomous relationship with grammar and proper spelling, feels are presumed to be the number one influence on the purchase of ice cream, tissues and fluffy blankets, as these are a few of the known remedies for this persistent condition. 

New "Who" fans prefer the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston, pictured), David Tennant's Tenth and Matt Smith's Eleventh.
New "Who" fans prefer the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston, pictured), David Tennant's Tenth and Matt Smith's Eleventh.

Fanfiction, referred to as "fic", is a large part of the progressive fanwork produced by fans. It's largely ubiquitous for being predominantly romantic or sexual, but, as fandom is an accepting and openminded place, it is welcomed as a form of creative release and a process for improving writing and receiving healthy and constructive criticism. Later in the series, the topics of both shipping and fic will receive their own articles. Never fear. There is a plethora of terms that go along with the fic subset of fandom, which will be covered there. It can be found on Livejournal, Tumblr, Fanfiction.net (FF.net) or Archive of Our Own (AO3), as well as a multitude of less popular websites.

Wars come in all forms in fandom, and are all equally frowned upon. Because people become attached to ships, shows, characters, etcetera, they become defensive when their ideas are challenged. Ship wars (Finn and Rachel from  versus Rachel and Jesse from "Glee"), character wars (for example, Kirk versus Picard), and fandom wars (Classic "Doctor Who" fans before the reboot in 2005 with "New Who" fans) are pervasive but should be avoided at all costs, as they end poorly for the fans and cast a poor light on fandoms overall. 

Finally, the concept of "canon" versus "fanon" versus "headcanon" has caused some confusion. A "canon" is the original work of the subject. The "Harry Potter" canon refers to the novels, and, to a lesser extent, the movies. The first use of the word "canon" to refer to subject matter was by fans of the "Sherlock Holmes" novels in the late 1890s. "Headcanons" are opinions held by individual fans referring to extra-canonical material about the works, the plot or the characters. "Fanon", on the other hand, refers to ideas that the fandom has created and applied to the stories; they are headcanons that have been adopted by the fandom as a whole. 

For further investigation, questions are always welcome, and, if you're feeling brave, Urban Dictionary can be a helpful resource, but it is also a minefield of questionable content, so take care in your ventures. Peruse at your own risk. 

These rules are not meant to be broken

Fandom may seem chaotic at times, but there are rules. It's not a free-for-all at any given time; there are rules of etiquette and proper conduct, just like in any arena, so to speak. They were not written by any overarching authority; there are no Ten Commandments. These are just suggestions on behavior within fandom-related situations (but can be applied to Internet communities overall, perhaps even in real life, in the outernet.)

No one can follow all these rules at once. No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. But stick to these and you'll avoid problems and have a much more enjoyable experience online as you foray deeper into fandom culture.

  1. Don't talk about fandom. (It's the first rule.) But actually, keep fandom goings-on to the fandom. Some people post pretty personal stuff there. It's a safe haven. 
  2. Don't judge a fan by his or her fandom. Every person has the right to enjoy freely, partake as he or she so chooses and invest his or her passions where they like. Stereotyping is not allowed. Which goes along with…
  3. Don't judge a fandom by its fans. A fandom is more than the sum of its parts. It's a community. There will be no sweeping generalizations here, thank you. 
  4. Don't send hate, anonymous or otherwise. But if you do have a peeve, bring it up politely. Some people hold different opinions than you do. This should be general Internet etiquette, as well, not just for fandom. 
  5. When you meet another fan, you are friends. You do not have to remain friends. You do not have to like each other. You are on an even playing field, and as a colleague and a cohort, that person deserves your respect. 
  6. No fandom is better than another, not even the Harry Potter fandom, although it is considered to be one of the most widespread fandoms.
    No fandom is better than another, not even the Harry Potter fandom, although it is considered to be one of the most widespread fandoms.
    Appreciate the work of a fan even if you don't enjoy it. Someone worked hard on that picture, that story, video, whatever. You don't have to like it, but you didn't take the time to make it, so you don't have the right to bash it, going along with rule 4. 
  7. All fans are created equal. The fan who has a passing interest, or who just got into a series in season four, or who became interested in a novel because of a later work the author wrote and went back to read. They're all fans, just the same. 
  8. No fandom is better than another. Even if you don't care for the subject, the "Glee" fandom is no better or worse than the Mumford & Sons fandom or the "Harry Potter" fandom. 
  9. Ships are precious to some people. Respect them. Nobody wants a war.
  10. Murphy's Law being as it is, the worst will eventually happen in a fandom. When it happens, be it a character death, or a series cancellation, or a band break-up, know that the other fandoms are there for support. 

Fandoms are friends, not foes. So be a friend. Take these rules to heart; like kindergarten, you're starting to make your way in the world and you'll need a behavioral foundation for that. 

Next week, we'll discuss go more in-depth into Tumblr, currently the most-accessible and user-friendly hub for fan activity on the Internet. 

Reach Columnist Christine Bancroft here. Follow her on Twitter here.



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