By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 9:23 pm
I had fun writing about the history of the word”fanboy”–hey, Technologizer may never have another excuse to publish a 2800-word etymological essay. And I’ve been just as tickled to see the story spark conversation on several other Web sites.
Two posts elsewhere demand a bit of follow-up:
1) Word expert Ben Zimmer (who is, among other things, the New York Times‘ On Language columnist) was nice enough to notice my story. He blogged about something I knew about but didn’t thoroughly investigate: The use of the acronym “FANBOY” as a mnemonic device to remember the coordinating conjunctions For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, and So. As he explains, that convention dates to at least 1951–but turns out not to be very useful. He reasonably wonders if there was any “cross-pollination” between the use of FANBOYS and “fanboy.”
(FANBOYS existing as a mnemonic in 1951 doesn’t indicate that the concept of fanboys dates at least that far back–as I mentioned, there are plenty of earlier references to “fan boy” in the sense of a kid waving a fan. It also seems to have been the name of a not-very-pleasant-sounding occupation relating to coal mining.)
2) Ryan Tate of Valleywag wrote about my story in a kind post which mentions a reader’s claim that a 1969 episode of Dragnet uses the word “fanboy” in its modern sense. If so, that would beat Jay Lynch’s 1973 fanzine title as the earliest such reference
Which episode of Dragnet? Well, this one:
The perp in this show is, well, a total fanboy–and it’s striking to see the stereotype depicted in such loving detail in the 1960s, when comic-book collecting was not exactly a high-profile hobby. But I don’t hear the word “fanboy” used, and neither did my friend Andrew Leal when I asked him to watch. Maybe you can catch it.