|Slang City Mail|
|November 14, 2008|
Slang of the Week: Mary Sue (noun)
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.