If you’ve been confused or unsure about any of the terms mentioned on this site, or just want to expand your knowledge of fandom and fannish words and phrases, take a look below at our glossary.
If there are any other words or phrases you’ve been unsure of and want clearing up, let us know so we can add it to the list.
The Glossary of Digital Fandom
Acafan: A term to describe someone who studies fandom and fan culture, but also takes part in fan culture themselves. For more information, see Henry Jenkins’ blog Confessions of an Aca-Fan.
AO3: Otherwise known as “Archive of Our Own”, a self-publishing platform for the fans, by the fans.
AU: Alternative Universe. Often used in reference to a fanfiction where the author has placed their favourite characters in an “alternate universe” situation completely different from the canon. For example, there’s the coffee shop AU, the high school AU, steampunk AUs and even crossovers with characters from other texts.
Beta: a ‘nearly complete prototype of a product’ (Merriam-Webster). Can be referred to for websites, as sites that still need to be worked on before they are fully functional for the public. Fanfictions can also be ‘beta-ed’, meaning they are being edited or checked by a second member of a fandom, often a close friend of the author.
Canon: To describe something that is in-keeping with the source material. For example, in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter has green eyes. That is a fact according to the original text.
Cosplay: ‘Costume play’, an act of fans creating costumes based on favourite characters and even roleplaying as the characters. Done for fun, competitions, and often for conventions.
Cultural Artefacts: A term for anything created by humans that gives information about human cultures and individuals (e.g. books, films, art work).
Cyber-Fandom: Exclusively online fan communities, fan practices that take place on the Internet.
Extended Universe: Also known as “Expanded Universe”. Refers to the extension of a media franchise, everything that surrounds the main text. For example, the extended universe of the Harry Potter franchise includes new stories from The Fantastic Beasts series, The Cursed Child play, Pottermore, and other information within the world of the canon.
Fancasting: The practice of fans creating their own “dream cast” for a specific adaptation of a text, for example, wanting to cast Dev Patel as Harry Potter for a more diverse cast of characters.
Fanfiction (“fanfic” or “FF”): Written fictional works by a fan that center around a particular source text. There are many different types and genres of fanfiction, for thousands of different fandoms.
Fannish: Adjective used to describe something relating to a fan, or fandom, or a characteristic of fandom. E.g. “fannish practices include writing fanfiction, making fan art, etc.”
Fanon: Something that is not part of the actual canon, but a majority of those in the fandom take to be true. This could also be something of a trend within the fandom’s fanfiction or art. For example, it’s fanon that Thor Odinson (of the MCU) likes Pop Tarts.
Fanzine: A type of amateur magazine created for fans, by fans. Would typically include news about a particular fandom, along with theories, discussions, articles and even fanfiction and fan art.
Filk/Filking: A musical genre and community tied to science fiction and fantasy fan cultures.
Fluff: A genre of fanfiction that includes often romantic or happy-ending themes, includes no explicit content.
Gift Economy: A model of exchange/system where valuables are not traded or sold but given without explicit agreement. For example, fandom is a gift economy because fanfiction writers post fics for nothing in return (but they do often get validation in the form of comments, likes, shares, recommendations, etc.)
Headcanon: A headcanon is a sub-branch of fanon where the idea about the character or text is not within the actual canon, but becomes a part of the fan’s ideology around the text so much that they themselves believe it to be true. E.g. the headcanon that Harry Potter is a person of colour.
Machinima: Refers to the use of real-time computer graphics to produce a cinematic film.
Mary Sue: A type of character in fanfiction, often RPF (real-person fic), who has no defining characteristics, and is “the perfect girl” in every sense. Can also be called “Gary Stu” in the form of a male-identifying character.
NSFW: Not Safe For Work. A tag used to classify work (e.g. fanfiction or fan art) that is of an explicit nature.
Oneshot: A type of fanfiction that is standalone, not part of a series or part of a bigger story.
OTP: “One True Pairing” – a fan’s absolute favourite pairing from a media text, the couple they love above all else.
RP: “Role Play” – another type of fanfiction or fan activity where fans write (or even act) out scenes as chosen characters.
RPF: “Real person fic” A genre of fanfiction writing that features real-life people, this could be from the perspective of the reader (e.g. “Imagines” where writers place themselves in the fic), or celebrity or influencer-based fanfiction (e.g. fanfiction about popular YouTubers).
Participatory Culture: A culture that centers around participation and engagement. Can be seen as an opposing concept to consumer culture, as individuals are encouraged to get involved. Fandom, as a result, is an example of a participatory culture.
PWP: “Plot? What plot?” also known as “Porn Without Plot” – a type of fanfiction that purely focuses on explicit content between characters, without much real action or development (AKA, plot).
Queerbaiting: A controversial issue within media fandom, the concept of creators including homosexual subtext within a TV show, movie, etc. and never pulling through with real, explicit representation of queer characters. For example, the BBC’s television adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, where it was often hinted in trailers and snippets that there was seemingly sexual tension between Holmes and Watson, however, this romance was never canonically addressed.
Ship: Short for ‘relationship’ – often used as a verb, e.g. “I ship Stucky”, the act of imagining two characters or people are in a particular relationship. Can also be used as a noun, e.g. “My favourite ship is Drarry”.
Slash: Genre of fanfiction that involves a queer ship, often male/male or female/female (also known as “Femslash”). This term came about originally from Star Trek fanfiction writers who described their work in the format Kirk/Spock, or other variants of this. Therefore the “/” became just “slash” over time.
Source Material: Refers to the original text that a piece of fan content is based on. For example, Harry Potter fanfiction is based on the source text; the Harry Potter series of books.
Spoilers: Refers to something that gives away a part of a plot that the individual wanted to find out by themselves. E.g. “In the season finale, what happens is…” “No, don’t give spoilers!”
“The Powers That Be”: Refers to the creators and producers of media texts that become the object of fandom. Often known throughout the fandom as powerful, all-knowing beings.