A Twitter meme about the difference between sci-fi and fantasy is bringing me joy this week. For example, Amy Louise with the handle @Amylouioc wrote “Fantasy is when Irish words are randomly thrown into conversation and Sci-Fi is when all street signs are in Japanese”.
Fantasy is when Irish words are randomly thrown into conversation and Sci-Fi is when all street signs are in Japanese hope that helps
— Amy Louise (@Amylouioc) September 25, 2022
They’re super funny, but also on target and rooted in what we’ve talked about in the Grammar Girl podcast before: Readers expect certain things from different genres. We’ve talked about how word choice matters – if you’re writing a fantasy novel, you may want your characters to drink ale instead of beer or whiskey. If you’re writing a romance novel, your readers expect some kind of “happily ever after,” often called simply an HEA.
Hear about the importance of word choices using the link above or by clicking the player below.
These memes hilariously illustrate more subtle differences between the expectations readers or viewers have for the different genres. They fall into the “funny because it’s true” category.
You still die or heal, just differently
When you get down to brass tacks, the same things often happen to characters in sci-fi and fantasy. They just happen in different ways.
Fantasy is when your portals are made with magic and sci-fi is when your portals are made with technology pic.twitter.com/agEvm9qstE
— Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin) September 27, 2022
Sci-fi is when nanobots heal the otherwise unsurvivable injury. Fantasy is when magic heals the otherwise unsurvivable injury.
My back hurts so I’ll take either
— Sarah Nicolas aka Sarah N Fisk (@Sarah_Nicolas) September 24, 2022
Fantasy is when a dragon incinerates you.
Sci-fi is when a plasma weapon incinerates you.
— (HIATUS) The Loony Liberal (@PG13ScottWatson) September 26, 2022
Fantasy is when you can move things with your mind by whispering Latin.
Sci-fi is when you can move things with your mind because of a botched lab experiment.
— PowderCat (@PowderStone) September 25, 2022
Tools have different uses in sci-fi and fantasy
And yet, sometimes the same tool can have a different use in different genres.
fantasy is when potions are made in vats and sci-fi is when meat is made in vats
— brian j. white (@talkwordy) September 26, 2022
It’s not just words; it’s spelling too
The details of your word treatment can change depending on the genre. For example, even color spellings can get the “sci-fi or fantasy” treatment. It feels right that the traditionally British spelling would go with fantasy and the traditionally American spelling would go with sci-fi. There’s also a rumor that romance writing uses “grey” — the more British spelling — in the style of the beloved British writer Jane Austen.
Fantasy is grey and sci-fi is gray
— Sunyi (@Blind_Nycteris) September 26, 2022
And of course, we’ve talked before about the famous (infamous?) tendency to put apostrophes in fantasy words. We call it the “boing”!
Fantasy is Th’i’s. Sci-fi is TH-i5. https://t.co/BS5oWZaQf0
— Eerie Chimera 🎃 (@erniechiara) September 26, 2022
Even spaces can make a difference. (And bonus points to Jeremy for including horror.)
Sci-fi is when you fall into a wormhole. Fantasy is when you fall into a worm hole. Horror is when worms dig holes into you.
— Ghost Shipp (arrrrrr) (@JeremyCShipp) September 22, 2022
Do sci-fi and fantasy have a shape?
Foundational work in linguistics shows that people are likely to perceive the made-up word “bobua” as naming something round and the made-up word “kiki” as naming something spiky. Is fantasy round? Is sci-fi spiky? That seems right to me. (Learn more about the “bobua-kiki” studies.)
Sci-fi is when your tropes are kiki and fantasy is when your tropes are bouba
— arch mage (@deepfates) September 24, 2022
All literature reflects an opinion about society
You’ll find many biting observations about the representation of women and minorities in sci-fi and fantasy. As with any work of fiction, both sci-fi and fantasy reflect the opinions of their creators, often in a way that says more about today’s reality than either the past or future.
Fantasy is when women are treated as sex objects and sci-fi is when women are treated as sex objects
— Esca Flonase (@escaflonase) September 25, 2022
Fantasy is when you pretend Black ppl didn’t exist in the past and sci-fi is when you pretend Black people won’t exist in the future
— adrianne⁷ (@writersrepublic) September 24, 2022
Paraphrasing Philip K Dick who was paraphrasing someone else:
Fantasy is stuff that couldn’t happen but you kinda wish it would. Sci-fi is stuff that could happen but you kinda hope it doesn’t.
— Riley John Gibbs (@RileyJohnGibbs) September 25, 2022
Settings and descriptions differ between sci-fi and fantasy
Sci-fi and fantasy are vastly different visually, of course.
Fantasy is when women are in long dresses and Sci-Fi is when they’re in tank tops. Hope this helps. pic.twitter.com/DiRSj78CRn
— Raychelle Burks (@DrRubidium) September 26, 2022
Fantasy is when it’s filmed in a forest on the outskirts of Vancouver. Sci-fi is when it’s filmed in a rock quarry on the outskirts of Vancouver.
— zeddy (@Zeddary) September 24, 2022
And readers or viewers want to focus on different things.
Fantasy is when there’s an entire chapter dedicated to describing food, sci-fi is when there’s an entire chapter dedicated to describing transportation.
— Carly Lane-Perry (@carlylane) September 23, 2022
Pew pew: It’s ‘sci-fi’
And since all this writing is on Twitter and doesn’t follow any particular style, you may be wondering whether it’s “sci-fi,” “Sci-Fi,” “Sci-fi,” or “scifi.” Whew! That’s a lot of choices. Associated Press leans toward “sci-fi,” but says “sci fi” (without a hyphen) is fine too. The Chicago Manual of Style also seems to prefer “sci-fi.”
All your favorite actors
People went wild posting pictures of their favorite actors in a sci-fi role and a fantasy role. Here’s one of many, many examples.
Lemme clear it up for you. Sci-fi is when your Ian McKellen looks like this, and fantasy is when your Ian McKellen looks like this. pic.twitter.com/I3lQMUrU1y
— Marcie ✨Painting With Magic ✨ (@MarcieLondonArt) September 23, 2022
This one hits a little too close to home. It hurts! #FireflyForever
Sci-fi is a show about a group of outcasts in space set in the future. Fantasy is expecting the show to get a second season. pic.twitter.com/pWGCBr4e2w
— Wh*donesque (@whedonesque) September 24, 2022
Listen to Grammar Girl for more cool language stuff
If you like the oddities of language, you’ll love the Grammar Girl podcast, where every week, I dig into writing, history, unexpected facts, and, of course, grammar rules. Find the whole show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or listen to the latest episodes below:
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