Mid-Atlantic Popular &
American Culture Association

User menu

Skip to menu

You are here

"Do some research, fanboy": On the Changing Meanings and Uses of fangirl and fanboy

Joe McVeigh (University of Jyväskylä)
Presentation type: 

The words fangirl and fanboy have been used as disparaging terms to describe overzealous fans of a topic, especially those related to pop culture. They are synonymous with words like nerd and geek, and like these words, their meanings have begun to shift as pop culture has been ascendant both socially and financially for over a decade. As “nerd culture” has become more accepted (and monetarily valuable) in society, some of the terms used to describe fans of pop culture have also shifted and ameliorated. This research uses a random sampling of 3,600 concordances from five English-language corpora to chart the changing meanings and connotations of fanboy and fangirl. The terms are no longer primarily negative, nor are they only used as derogative words, although those meanings still exist. Instead, the data shows that people now self-identify with the label fanboy or fangirl. The research also investigates the people and communities who are targeted by these terms and suggests that there is an unequal relationship between who gets called a fanboy or fangirl, as well as who gets to call themself a fanboy or fangirl. The data indicate that people use fanboy and fangirl to identify with like-minded groups of people as much as they are using these words in name-calling and othering. The results show that while speakers may celebrate the popularity of (formerly) derided communities and the reclamation of terms used against their members, we should be mindful of the history of the language that we use, as well as how the negative meanings and connotations of fangirl and fanboy have not entirely disappeared.


About the presenter

Joe McVeigh

I am a corpus linguist and full-time university teacher at the University of Jyväskylä and a postgrad at the University of Helsinki. I teach linguistics and English literature courses. My research interests are corpus linguistics and marketing, as well as storytelling and character descriptions in comic books. I also serve as the web editor for Varieng’s eSeries, Studies in Variation, Contacts and Change.

Session information

Pop Culture Charged and Changed Meanings in and Beyond the Classroom

This panel will explain the need for pop culture added to the syllabus. It will also discuss phrases that define aspects of pop culture and the changes that occur with names and phrases over time.

Back to top