The Origin of 'Fanboy'

Tech writer Harry McCracken hunted down the origins of the now-pejorative term "fanboy," as in "Apple fanboys defend everything Steve Jobs says." His adventurous history, which plunges into old comics, zines and computer bulletin-board systems, is highly recommended. In short:

  • Both Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary get the etymology of "fanboy wrong," and McCracken is such a "fanboy" fanboy that he puts them to shame. He's been investigating the word since 1991.

  • The word as currently used traces to the 1973 zine Fanboy (pictured), distributed in very small numbers at a Chicago comics convention.

  • Fanboy co-creator Jay Lynch took the word "Funboy" from the 1960s humor magazine Charlatan, to which he contributed, and combined it with "fan," as used to describe regular readers of particular comic books.

  • Underground cartoonist Robert Crumb inserted the term into his cartoon in the Village Voice in 1976; a bearded old man uses the word to address a fawning young man who idolizes him. Crumb had visited Lynch in Chicago earlier that same year.

  • In 1982, the word appeared in an illustration involving the newspaper comic character Zippy the Pinhead, as well as on the cover of a collection of photographic comic strips. In both cases, the word was applied to obsessive comic book readers.

  • "Fanboy" was applied to tech starting in the mid-1990s, on Usenet online discussion forums. During the same period it also appeared in one Warner Brothers TV cartoon.

  • In 1999, DC comics issued a six-issue series called Fanboy.

  • In late 2004, use of the term began a steady ascent online, according to Google Trends, and has only grown since.

  • The term was originally only very mildly disparaging and something of a term of endearment. Then it was fairly mean. But now it's so common as to have lost its bite, partly because it's been reclaimed by some of the people it was meant to insult.

  • If you read this far you're probably a fanboy of SOME sort. Just embrace it and go read the original article already, nerd!

Update, May 19 - A reader tells us the word "fanboy" appears, with its moden connotation, in this 1967 episode of Dragnet.