Grasping for the Wind Rotating Header Image

Book Review: Brave New Words by Jeff Prucher

# Genre: Nonfiction, Dictionary, Science Fiction
# Paperback: 384 pages
# Publisher: Oxford University Press
# Publication Date: March 13, 2009
# ISBN-10: 0195387066
# ISBN-13: 978-0195387063
# Author Website: Jeff Prucher

The Oxford English Dictionary is the be-all and end-all of word origin. In its pages the depth of the English language is plumbed. But there is a problem. The English language is vast and adding new words almost every minute. (According to The Global Language Monitor the English passed the 1,000,000 [word] threshold on June 10, 2009 at 10:22 am GMT.) And a large number of these words are and can be attributed to science fiction writers. You see, no other genre has such a need for the creation of new words. Robot, for example, was coined by a science fiction writer, as were cyberspace and filk.

So it is with gratitude that members of the genre community awarded the Hugo (its highest honor) to Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction a collection of many of the words of science fiction with their definitions and origins through 1999. Jeff Prucher, a freelance lexicographer (now there is a job for you) put together this 384 page tome that is every writer’s dream. Here it is that writers can find new words for spicing up their stories, and new fans reading old books can find definitions for fiction from the 1930s and 1940s.

The dictionary, introduced by Gene Wolfe with a list of six reasons everyone should find science fiction interesting, is eminently readable. The Publisher has gone with a good sized font, so no magnifying glass is necessary for reading comfortably. “A Pronunciation Guide” make it easy for readers who usually only see a word in print to formulate the word into sounds. “The Abbreviation List” keeps the word count down and allows Prucher more room to expound on the origins and meanings of the various words. Interspersed throughout the dictionary are short essays on some of the broader terminology that connects words within the dictionary to each other such as weapons, naval terms, fanspeak, earthlings and others. “A List of Pseudonyms Cited” in the dictionary is a helpful resource for finding that one novel or short story by your favorite author that you knew about but didn’t know was hidden by an authorial attempt at privacy. The “Bibliography of Books Quoted” provides a 28 page list of recommended reading for any SF fan. “The Bibliography of Non-fiction and Reference Books” is the most comprehensive list of non-fiction on the subject of fantasy that can be found anywhere, and Prucher’s decision to break it up into sections from General to Writing Guides makes it all the easier to find the right tool for anyone.

Undeniably Brave New Words has done and will do for science fiction what its parent did for the English language as a whole. It will codify the terms, link them together, and give readers, writers, and outside observers a common tongue one easily expressed to each other whether in book group or at your favorite convention. Everyone needs to have Brave New Words on their shelf. Keep it handy for perusing, it will improve your science fiction IQ, jump-start your writing, or be a helpful resource when a particular writer makes an obscure reference to the early days of SF. If you buy any SF related non-fiction this year, this should be it.

Want to be part of the community of that helps find citations for words? Go to the Science Fiction Citations Project and contribute.

Comments are closed.