I know there's some debate on exactly when "science fiction" itself became a genre, but I'm curious if anyone knows either 1) when the term science fiction was coined and 2) when sci-fi became accepted, too.


5 Answers 5


The Oxford English Dictionary notes usage of "Science-Fiction" going back to 1851 in William Wilson's A Little Earnest Book Upon A Great Old Subject

They also note that Britannica's 1955 Book of the Year mentions the contraction Scifi taking hold, demonstrating the popularity of the genre.


You can have statistics on the terms usage from google n-gram viewer. You can see here and plot below that science-fiction started to be really used in the 1950s (roughly as often as nowadays neutrino). science fiction vs neutrino.

Using the same tool, you can see that scifi and sci-fi are much less used (by a factor 100 at least), and start to be really seen only in the 1970s (here) scifi vs Sci Fi

  • 5
    Wow, that is really cool.
    – Slick23
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 19:40
  • 1
    You can also plot scientifiction and see that the term never was more more popular as science fiction, even in the 1930s. It appears to be roughly as popular as scifi now, but I guess is mainly on reeditions and books about science-fiction history. Anyway, be careful with Google Ngram Viewer : it quickly becomes addictive :-) Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 15:13
  • Who wrote about science fiction in 1905? What is that blip? It's not just one book, but it looks like one of them probably also used 'sci-fi'. Commented Nov 21, 2015 at 9:01
  • 2
    Small blips like that are probably errors in the data base. A research in Google books indeed gives modern prefaces added in reedition of 1905 books, as well as sentences where the words science and fiction just happen to be close to each other (“Books on science, fiction, history, etc.”) Commented Nov 21, 2015 at 17:02
  • @thedarkwanderer Jules Verne died in 1905, and he wrote science fiction throughout his life...
    – Tim B
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 15:54

From Wikipedia, Forrest J Ackerman used the term sci-fi at UCLA in 1954.

And from aaai.org:

Science fiction, a term coined in the 1930s to distinguish the genre from the pulp fiction then becoming popular.

  • Forrest J. Ackerman seems to have coined the term "sci-fi" in 1954, but I see nothing in that Wikipedia page to back up your claim that he used it "at UCLA".
    – user14111
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 2:29

Somebody has to mention Hugo Gernsback here, so I guess it's me.

From Wikipedia:

Gernsback started the modern genre of science fiction by founding the first magazine dedicated to it, Amazing Stories, in 1926. He said he became interested in the concept after reading a translation of the work of Percival Lowell as a child. His idea of a perfect science fiction story was “75 percent literature interwoven with 25 percent science.” He also played a key role in starting science fiction fandom, by publishing the addresses of people who wrote letters to his magazines. So, the science fiction fans began to organize, and became aware of themselves as a movement, a social force; this was probably decisive for the subsequent history of the genre. He also created the term “science fiction”, though he preferred the term “scientifiction”.


The Science Fiction Achievement awards, given to various works each year by vote of the members of the World Science Fiction Society, are named the “Hugos.” He was one of 1996's inaugural inductees into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

In 1960 he received a special Hugo Award as “The Father of Magazine Science Fiction.”

Gernsback's New York Times obituary described him as “the father of modern science fiction.”

  • Apparently, he did not create the term science-fiction, because you see it in 19th century's "A Little Earnest Book Upon A Great Old Subject" (see @Wooble's answer). But he clearly played a big role in the term's popularity, as well at its meaning. Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 23:29
  • @Frédéric - Hmmm… maybe Gernsback invented the hyphen-less version? But back on this point: that line is directly quoted from WP; I'm just the messenger.
    – Dori
    Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 23:48
  • The problem with citing Wikipedia is that it, too, is "just the messenger". Taking the hyphen out of an existing term hardly feels like "invention", and the preface generally cited as his first use of the term doesn't show any sign of it needing to be introduced to readers as a new term, so I think the attribution to him is just widely exaggerated.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jun 18, 2023 at 10:48

I just listened to a radio play produced by X Minus One, entitled Project Trojan. The date it was broadcast was June 14, 1956. In it, one of the characters asks another about a "sci-fi" story. It illustrates the writers' comfort with the term being understood by the audience at large. So likely it was already in popular use by then.

  • You could improve this answer by editing it to quote more of the relevant dialogue from the radio play (a full sentence, at least) and provide a timestamp for the point at which the dialogue is spoken, to make it easier for anyone who wishes to look it up to do so. Commented Oct 3, 2023 at 5:11
  • 1
    The Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction has 3 citations for "sci-fi" from 1954.
    – user14111
    Commented Oct 3, 2023 at 5:56

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