Word Routes

Exploring the pathways of our lexicon

Twilighters vs. Twi-Hards

It's the biggest literary sensation since Harry Potter: Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga is coming to an end with the fourth and final installment in her best-selling series of vampire romance novels. Breaking Dawn goes on sale a minute after midnight on August 2, and bookstores across the country are holding Twilight parties for fans who want to buy the book as soon as it's available. The only question is: what to call this fervent fan base? Some want to be called twilighters and some prefer twi-hards. It's an indication of just how enthusiastic the fans are that this terminological issue has become a point of contention.

Subcultures organized around fantasy novels very often develop their own "ingroup" code based on the fictional worlds found within the books' pages. Followers of J.R.R. Tolkien know all about hobbits, orcs, and Middle Earth (all three are in the Oxford English Dictionary), while J.K. Rowling's readers are versed in Muggles, Quidditch, and horcruxes (so far only Muggle is in the OED). Twilight fans are building their own lingo out of Meyer's materials. So the midnight bookstore parties are called "proms" after the high school prom that the heroine Isabella Swan attends with her beloved vampire Edward Cullen. Those who want Isabella to end up with Edward in the final book call themselves "Team Edward," while those pulling for the werewolf Jacob Black are "Team Jacob." And young fans who have tired of the abbreviation OMG for "Oh my God!" have replaced it with OME for "Oh my Edward!"

In this efflorescence of Twilight talk, it's not surprising that the overarching name for the fan base should be the subject of debate. The more established term, twilighters, has been popularized by fan sites like Twilighters.org. But some fans started calling themselves twi-hards, and according to Entertainment Weekly, "the blogosphere erupted." Twi-hard is obviously modeled on diehard (or die-hard), referring to someone who obstinately holds on to traditional, outdated, or hopeless views. (Children of the '80s and '90s might chiefly associate it with the Bruce Willis movie franchise.) An article on MTV.com about the much-anticipated movie version of Twilight (set for release in December) used the label twi-hards, and many commenters who prefer twilighters were quick to criticize the rival term. One commenter explained that twi-hards began as a nickname lovingly bestowed on the fans by Michael Welch, one of the actors in the forthcoming movie who also writes a blog. Still, something about twi-hards rubbed the twilighters the wrong way. The MTV Movies Blog even ran a poll, and twilighters emerged victorious.

I rather like another runner-up term: fanpires, morbidly blending fans and vampires. And the older female demographic who have come to love Meyer's books may prefer to be called Twilight moms. Whatever the readers are known as, one thing is clear: these are fans who are seriously passionate about all things Twilight. You might even call them crepuscular.

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Ben Zimmer is language columnist for The Wall Street Journal and former language columnist for The Boston Globe and The New York Times Magazine. He has worked as editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press and as a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary. In addition to his regular "Word Routes" column here, he contributes to the group weblog Language Log. He is also the chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. Click here to read more articles by Ben Zimmer.

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