One of the many mysteries surrounding the origins of science fiction is when this word was used first and who invented it: it was my understanding that both "scientifiction" and «science fiction» were coined by Hugo Gernsback, with "scientifiction" being the older brother that "science fiction" came to replace later.
Recently though I discovered that «science fiction» might have deeper roots and even date back to the 19th century.

So I did a little research of my own and found out that Gernsback came up with «scientificion» in 1916 but I haven’t been able to find when "science fiction" was used first: Merriam Webster even says it goes back to a few years earlier (1911) but this clashes with what I’ve learned over the decades by reading hundreds of forewords, prefaces, introductions and essays on this genre.

So it brought out some questions:

  1. do you know when Gernsback (if it really was him) coined the term "science fiction"?

  2. can you direct me to the article, story, novel where he used this definition for the first time?

  3. similar as the previous, can you help me find the article, story, novel where Gernsback used the word "scientifiction" for the first time?

I’ve already checked this question on this site but this answer doesn’t solve my doubts (it raises more of them if anything) and this other answer cites the German Wikipedia, that proposes 1929 as the year Gernsback used "science fiction" for the first time, which is closer to my memories: but still, it doesn’t say where exactly (article, story...).

Can you help me on the issue?

  • 4
    The Oxford English Dictionary is your friend. You might have free access to the online OED through your public or school library. Hugo Gernsback definitely coined scientifiction; the OED quotes him using it in 1916. The term science fiction made a few isolated appearances in the 19th century but in our sense it seems to date to 1927.
    – user14111
    Commented Jan 1, 2021 at 10:06
  • 2
    1916 H. Gernsback in Electrical Experimenter Jan. 474/1 I am supposed to report Münchhaussen's [sic] doings; am supposed to be writing fiction, scientifiction, to be correct.
    – user14111
    Commented Jan 1, 2021 at 11:05
  • 3
    1911 Inter Ocean (Chicago) 11 Nov. 5/5 A COLUMBUS OF SPACE (by Garrett P. Serviss. D. Appleton & Co., New York. Illustrated, $1.50) — This is a science-fiction tale for boys, written in Jules Verne's fashion. He who is the hero of the story, by the power of ‘inter-atomic energy,’ sails into space in a queer airship he’s constructed, and with his companion lands on Venus. Then there is enough of lively action. Fierce giants with white saucer eyes and most beautiful Amazons, and monsters of the prehistoric sort, and dangers of several varieties, provide it.
    – user14111
    Commented Jan 1, 2021 at 11:08
  • 3
    1927 Amazing Stories Jan. 974/2 Remember that Jules Verne was a sort of Shakespeare in science fiction.
    – user14111
    Commented Jan 1, 2021 at 11:10
  • 2
    You can search inside Jeff Prucher's Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction at Google Books: books.google.com/books/about/…
    – user14111
    Commented Jan 1, 2021 at 11:16

1 Answer 1


The now obsolete portmanteau "scientifiction" is generally agreed to be Gernsback's invention in 1916, but evidence suggests that both "scientific fiction" and "science-fiction" had been used earlier.

The online Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction lists an 1876 use of "scientific fiction" referring to Jules Verne:

1876 W. H. L. Barnes in W. H. Rhodes Caxton's Book 7
The great master of scientific fiction, Jules Verne.

Its listing for "science fiction" gives an 1898 usage (spelled with a hyphen) referring to H. G. Wells:

1898 Bulletin of Pharmacy (vol. 12, no. 10) Oct. 466/1
Mr. H. G. Wells, the imaginative writer of science-fiction, has recently brought out a thrilling romance whose basis is the intended conquest of the earth by the inhabitants of Mars.

Given the long and overlapping history of these and other similar terms (including "scientific romance", which also has 19th Century evidence), it seems unlikely there is one definitive "creator" of the term "science fiction". Instead, it may have been coined independently multiple times by people trying to describe the emerging genre.

The 1940s were a particularly important time in the genre's history, but terms still varied enormously - the HDSF gives similar dates for "speculative fiction", "science fantasy" (covering the whole genre), "sci-fic", "SF", and others. As the genre became more popular and mainstream, the selective pressures of language and culture reduced this list somewhat, although there are still supporters of different variations, so it's hard to say that "science fiction" has definitively "won", only that some others have definitively "lost".

  • Why don't you include a link to the HDSF's page for "scientifiction" which was coined by Hugo Gernsback, apparently in 1916?
    – user14111
    Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 21:40
  • @user14111 I'm editing on my phone, so adding markdown links is rather tedious; if you would like to edit in a few more links, I would be grateful. I've added the date though, as that's kind of important to the next sentence. :)
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 21:42
  • 1
    @user14111 I'm back at a proper keyboard now, so have added some more links.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 11:11

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