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Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction [Hardcover]

by Jeff Prucher
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 7, 2007 0195305671 978-0195305678

Brave New Words is the winner of a 2008 Hugo Award for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy.

The first historical dictionary devoted to science fiction, Brave New Words:The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction shows exactly how science-fictional words and their associated concepts have developed over time, with full citations and bibliographic information. It's a window on a whole genre of literature through the words invented and passed along by the genre's most talented writers. In addition, it shows how many words we consider everyday vocabulary-words like "spacesuit," "blast off," and "robot"-had their roots in imaginative literature, and not in hard science.

Citations are included for each definition, starting with the earliest usage that can be found. These citations are drawn not only from science fiction books and magazines, but also from mainstream publications, fanzines, screenplays, newspapers, comics, film, songs, and the Internet. In addition to illustrating the different ways each word has been used, citations also show when and where words have moved out of the science fiction lexicon and into that of other subcultures or mainstream English.

Brave New Words covers the shared language of science fiction, as well as the vocabulary of science fiction criticism and its fans--those terms that are used by many authors in multiple settings. Words coined in science fiction have become part of the vocabulary of any number of subcultures and endeavors, from comics, to neo-paganism, to aerospace, to computers, to environmentalism, to zine culture. This is the first book to document this vocabulary transfer. Not just a useful reference and an entertaining browse, this book also documents the enduring legacy of science fiction writers and fans.

Frequently Bought Together

Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction + Fictional Worlds: Traditions in Narrative and the Age of Visual Culture, Vols. I-IV (Storytelling on Screen) + The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)
Price for all three: $62.14

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Editorial Reviews


"This is a fine work, helpful for anyone who has ever been asked what the hell we've been talking about all this time. Grade: A"--SciFi Magazine

"I had an embarrassingly good time poring through Brave New Words. It's more than a dictionary, it's a secret history of science fiction -- and of the last 50 years of popular culture."--John Scalzi, author of Old Man's War

"An excellent source for any library, the volume is highly accessible and a joy to read."--American Libraries

"An important and entertaining reference for any science fiction writer, magazine editor, fan, neophyte reader, or librarian....Both interesting and humorous. Many science fiction fans will probably read it from cover to cover. Highly recommeded. All levels."--CHOICE

"Bottom Line:This admirable and unique source demonstrates on nearly every page the surprising extent to which the language of science fiction has entered everyday English-terms and concepts such as beam me up, cyberspace, downtime, gateway, morph, newspeak, robot, and space cadet. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries with an interest in science fiction."--Library Journal

"One of those rare reference books that is both enjoyable to browse and useful as a reference tool, Brave New Words may be the best subject dictionary of 2007....Like the rest of the work, the forematter is written so clearly and precisely that it will be understandable to readers at all levels, which is important because the book has a very broad potential audience, from academics to the general public....For anyone needing information about an important science fiction author or subgenre, this is a definitive list, making it useful for readers' advisors, students writing papers, and science fiction fans of all ages. Brave New Words is highly recommended for all academic and public libraries."--Booklist, starred review

"Attentive not only to the vocabulary of science fiction novels and stories, but also to the critical terminology of the field and the colorful in-group language of science fiction fandom....furnishes a rich picture of both the literary genre and the quirky subculture....All in all, this is an outstanding dictionary, with a strong claim to being the best subject historical dictionary so far published."--Fred R. Shapiro, Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America

"Many science fiction aficionados will want to acquire this book for their home libraries. Public and academic libraries, especially those that maintain science fiction collections, will want to add this work to their reference collections. It is just plain fun to browse through the entries."--American Reference Books Annual

About the Author

Jeff Prucher is a freelance lexicographer and an editor for the Oxford English Dictionary's science fiction project. He has previously been a bookseller, office temp, editorial assistant for Locus, and software quality assurance engineer. He lives in Berkeley with his family.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (May 7, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195305671
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195305678
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,145,242 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
This is a great reference for Science Fiction fans and I think it will be of interest to all sorts of non-SF fans too. It's well written and surprisingly readable for a dictionary - there are sidebars scattered among the definitions on topics such as Time Travel, Expletives & Profanity, and of course Star Trek. The definitions are fascinating - for example, who knew that the word robot is derived from the Czech word for forced labor? I certainly didn't, and I've been reading books about robots practically since I learned to read. I also learned, among many useful pieces of information, that I am a passifan (as opposed to an actifan) - that is, I read SF, but don't actively participate in fan culture, and these two words have been used since the '40s. The author's blog ( is also interesting - especially the section on words that didn't make it into the dictionary and why. I recommend this dictionary for all sci-fi fans (acti and passi alike) and for anyone who's interested in language and pop culture.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Joys and Jibes: Review of "Brave New Words" July 20, 2007
This is an impressive reference text and one that can also be read selectively both for erudition and just plain fun. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of BNW, however, is the amount of reading the author Jeff Prucher engaged in to produce the extensive citations contained with the text: a glance at either the Works Cited (281-309) or the Bibliography of SF criticism (310-342) will leave one wondering how Prucher had time for anything in his life over the past decade other than reading.

One of the primary virtues of this book is in fact the Works Cited section which could serve well as a comprehensive reading list for anyone interested in becoming acquainted with SF from its hoary beginnings to a point within a few years of the present; as well, the Bibliography of criticism is an invaluable asset for academics wishing to augment their understanding of specialized niche areas in the SF field. And certainly in regard to these ancillary appendices was, for me at least, the list of author pseudonyms (279-80): who would otherwise know how many alternative names Henry Kuttner had?

Of course the quotations illustrating the various lexical entries in the dictionary are themselves impressive by suggesting through their chronology the length of time a term has been in common use; by the variety of sources for these terms, from novels to short stories to fanzines; and by how well each quotation illustrates a slightly different shading of the meaning of a particular term. I was, however, somewhat disappointed that so few of these citations derived from the Golden Age of SF (essentially pre-1945 and back to the days of Gernsback), but that may be the result of prucher having had difficulty accessing the pulp magazines of this era.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars who knew? August 5, 2007
I have been reading science fiction since I was a child, but never in an organized fashion, nor with the exclusive focus of fans or fanatics. This book, which I approached with the idea that it might be too specialized or dry, turns out to be fascinating! It reads like the best histories, with curiosities and discoveries on each page. It is a delight to learn the origins of terms, not least because it illuminates the creativity of sci-fi authors in mining their own knowledge bases for new locutions. Buy this book! You will read it more than you imagine.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This review is going to be short simply because nothing I can say could be as helpful in your decision-making as Gene Wolfe's very excellent introduction. I'll give you a minute to read it.

. . .

See? Wasn't kidding was I? Very well done.

Anyway, if you want the opinion of this unpublished non-science ficiton writer, I think that if you're interested in science fiction and if you're interested in language, then you ought to own this book.

This isn't like most of the Oxford Dictionaries I've seen. The definitions are scanty and the etymologies are long - but consider the subject matter. Most of the words in here are either rather common in modern parlance ("android," "spaceship") or highly idiosyncratic ("grok"), neither of which lend themselves well to wordy definitions. And, moreso than in most other subjects, the definitions of the words shift and change over time.

Also entertaining are the short essays between letters. They're entertaining and well-written, but also highly informative and on-point.

This isn't a book to sit down and read cover to cover for most people, but it's an excellent book to scan through and a helpful reference for those sci-fi words you've always wanted to know a bit more about. And, for someone like me who only participates in sci-fi fandom at the very edges, it's a handy glossary for a lot of industry terms as well.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No Doctor Who? October 3, 2011
By ceheape
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This dictionary is amazing, and I marvel at the amount of work that went into making it.

However, I bought this dictionary in the hopes that who was in it, or "the Doctor" or something of that sort. I'm working on a definition paper and "the Doctor" is my topic, and I need a specialized dictionary in which I got my definition. I found no such mention of Doctor Who, though I have yet to read the entire thing. Is Doctor Who mentioned in this at all? Please, help would be appreciated.
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