When you need to Get Away From It All in science fiction fandom, that's… Gafia

A new entry from the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction

There are many terms from classic and modern SF that remain unresearched, and the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction will be continually updated, especially as additional resources are put online. Boing Boing is syndicating new entries from the HDSF on a regular basis. (Read the series introduction.)

Gafia, gafia, gafiate

There is a category of words known variously as auto-antonyms, contronyms, or Janus words (after the two-faced Roman god). These are words having opposing meanings: dust can mean both 'to sprinkle dust upon' and 'to clean by removing dust'; sanction can mean 'to penalize' or 'to permit'. Auto-antonyms can arise in various ways: etymologically distinct words can develop the same form (the senses of cleave meaning 'to separate' and 'to adhere' stem from entirely different words); different varieties of language can develop contrasting meanings (in British English, table means 'to discuss a topic', but in American English, it means 'to postpone a topic'); words can be interpreted in different ways, by normal processes (to luck out usually means 'to be lucky', but occasionally means 'to be unlucky').

The classic fandom term gafia is an example of this kind of varying interpretation. It is unquestionably an acronym for "getting away from it all." What the "all" is, however, can be construed in different ways. When the word first appeared, in 1940, the "all" was the real world: gafia meant 'participation in fandom', as a form of escapism. (The word is credited to well-known fan Dick Wilson, who coined it in reference to the British spy Cedric Belfrage's 1937 book Away From It All: An Excapologist's Notebook.) As fandom evolved, the "all" got reinterpreted to refer to fandom itself, and gafia developed the opposing sense 'the state of having quit fandom; cessation of involvement in fannish activities'. This is found by 1950, and was certainly the main meaning by the 1960s, with writers observing the semantic shift.

The HDSF had already had entries for the verb gafiate 'to leave fandom' and the noun gafiation 'the state of having gafiated'. We are now adding the original form, in both meanings, as well as the noun gafiate 'a person who has quit fandom', first used in 1956.