The subject of the weekly prompt from my Florida writers’ group was sci fi, a topic about which I have very little knowledge and scant interest in. Here for your amusement is the piece I submitted.
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I had no idea of the meaning of sci fi, the weekly prompt from my Florida writers’ group, so I asked a few of my learned friends.
“I’m not surprised you don’t know,” my doctor friend sniffed with a whiff of condescension. “It’s a medical term for sciatic filiarae, a spinal disease caused by a small, threadlike roundworm. Sci fi is nasty stuff.”
“Sounds like it,” I shuddered. But I didn’t think that was the meaning intended by the writer’ group, so I asked some other folks.
“Sci fi is a short term for scintillating fidelity,” my aging-hippie friend smiled dreamily, exhaling a fragrant plume of smoke through his nostrils. “Just listen to the sound from these speakers!” The large black boxes were pumping out the strains of Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds, never one of my favourite bands, so I turned and left my friend to his relaxed ruminations.
My brother-in-law, a pretentious, retired university professor, told me the meaning in no uncertain terms. “It’s short form for sciolistic fieldwork, something we tenured academics do to advance the frontiers of knowledge. It comes from a root-word meaning to dabble, like a dilettante. Any thing else you’d like to know?”
Sorry I’d asked, I shook my head wearily and gladly moved on, still not convinced I had found the meaning for the prompt.
“Ah, I’m glad you came to me,” my ornithologist friend smiled when I approached her. “Sci fi is how we birders refer to the extremely rare scissortail firebird, an eastern subspecies of the northern Oriolewith a distinctive split tail. You must tell me where you saw it.”
“I haven’t actually seen one,” I demurred, “but thanks for the info.”
My business consultant friend had yet another answer. “It’s a rather pejorative abbreviation for scion firms, companies that are being run into the ground by the wastrel children of wealthy industrialists. No self-respecting financial advisor would ever recommend investing in a sci fi, believe me. You haven’t, have you?”
“No, no,” I assured him. “My money’s safe.”
Rather desperate now, I approached a botanist friend with the question. Even she had to look it up, but she was quite confident in her answer. “The term refers to the scirocco filaree, an invasive weed most often found in the southwest part of the country. Ranchers hate it, because it’s like a noxious drug that poisons their herds when they ingest it, like locoweed.”
“I can sympathize,” I said, thinking of my hippie-friend.
My next query was to the daughter of an old friend, a young woman who had recently graduated from a PhD programme in nuclear energy. “Glad you asked,” she said, pleased to be consulted. “My dissertation went on at length about sci fi, which is scintilla fission, the quantum-splitting of unicellular organisms, dividing the cell into two more-or-less equal parts. If you have an hour or so, I can give you the executive summary of the process.”
Pleading time constraints, I thanked her graciously and took my leave, still quite frustrated at having no confidence in any of the definitions I’d been given.
At the next meeting of my writers’ group, I apologized for not having produced a response to the prompt. “I could never pin down the meaning of the term,” I kvetched, hoping they would understand my dilemma. “I went to a lot of authoritative sources, but everybody had a different definition.”
“Tell us what they thought it meant,” one of my writing colleagues said. “There must be something that would fit the bill.”
I ran through the entire list of explanations I’d received from my friends, smiling ruefully all the while. “That’s it,” I said when I finished. “That’s all I got.”
“Wow!” another colleague exclaimed. “I can see why you’re so confused. Those are pretty far-fetched descriptions. They could be straight out of some sci fi novel, for goodness sake!”
“Exactly!” I agreed, feeling somewhat vindicated.
And then, too late, the light went on.