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November 14, 2008

Slang of the Week: Mary Sue (noun)
an idealized character representing the author of a piece of fan fiction

Katie hoped one day to win the Pulitzer Prize, but the best she could do at the moment was Mary Sue stories about Starship Troopers.

Celebrity quote
“Another female agent, Monica Reyes, was introduced in the last two seasons, but her character was far less complex—plus, she was irritating and unworthy of locking lips with Scully. Fleshing her out would take too darn long, and it might be seen as excessive rewriting by slash fans, who are sticklers for precedents. Creating a whole new female character, meanwhile, seemed too Mary Sue.”
- Writer Noy Thrupkaew

Next year, we can look forward to yet another Star Trek movie. As a non-trekkie, I am not crossing the days off my calendar until this happens. However, I was amused to learn a couple of weeks ago that the producers had invited Leonard Nimoy (the original Spock) to be in the film, causing a slighted William Shatner (Captain Kirk) to post a YouTube video expressing his disappointment at not being included.

Many Star Trek aficionados are comfortable being called trekkies. However, others prefer trekker as the “politically correct” version and think of trekkies as going overboard in their enthusiasm--perhaps devoting years of study to the fictional Klingon language or wearing a Star Fleet uniform to the post office. (Such people exist; I have worked with them.) By that definition, a trekkie might be more likely to write a Mary Sue story than a trekker.

So where did the term Mary Sue come from? Even in the early days of fandom, trekkies were sharing their wildest fantasies in zines. In Boldly Writing: A Trekker Fan and Zine History 1967-1987, Joan Marie Verba explains that the name came from a character in an early satire of this kind of fan fiction. Paula Smith’s very short 1973 story “A Trekkie’s Tale” recounts the adventures of Mary Sue, a Starfleet officer whose charm and brilliance make her the most popular girl on the ship. “While the four officers languished in Sick Bay, Lt. Mary Sue ran the ship,” explains Smith, “and ran it so well she received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Vulcan Order of Gallantry, and the Tralfamadorian Order of Good Guyhood.” Captain Kirk tries to seduce her, and Spock admires her logic, but ultimately she dies of the "jumping cold robbies," to the chagrin of one and all.

The story (and term) spread rapidly, and according to a 1978 article in the academic journal American Speech, Mary Sue was well entrenched by 1976, when it appeared in a Trekker Dictionary called The Strekfan's Glossary. Since then, this term has been adopted for other fan fiction, such as the X-Files in the example above.

What’s New?
“I have just as much of a right to be here as any of these little skanky girls. What, am I not skanky enough for you?” Translated movie quotes from Knocked Up and Gone, Baby, Gone.

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: Need help writing your own fan fiction? Try Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon by Michael Adams.