The Venereal Disease Channel Imaginatizes Greatastically

People have been asking me to weigh in on the whole “SciFi Channel changing its name to Syfy” thing, so here’s me weighing in: Meh. It seems like pointless fiddling for the sake of pointless fiddling to me, but if it makes them happy, then, you know. Have fun with it, guys. I like a fair amount of the programming, so I’ll watch it whatever they call it.

That said, I think they might have picked a better name. Apparently one of the motivating factors to change the name from “scifi” to a phase-changing-vowel-filled homonym was to have a name that was trademarkable and extensible, and it seems no one else in the world actually uses the word “syfy” for anything. Well, except Poland, where the word is used to identify crusty, scabby sexually transmitted diseases, and no, this is not a joke. No one there is going to use the word to associate with their product, any more than someone here might try to market, say, Chlamydia™  brand adhesive bandages.

Note to SciFi Channel: when your new brand identity means “venereal disease” in any language, it’s the sort of thing that — excuse the term — gets around.

You would think  NBC Universal’s brand people might have caught this (heh) ahead of time. They do have people for this. And maybe they did catch it, but figured, heck, who knows Polish? Aside from 40 million Poles? Problem is, this is one of those things that Those Perverse Internets, and the equally-perverse people involved in them (not coincidentally SciFi Channel’s primary viewing demographic) will find out almost immediately and then proceed to have a big ol’ jolly field day with. As they did, and are doing.

Look: When your core audience looks at your new branding and exclaims “Hey! It’s the Venereal Disease Channel!” from the day you announce it until the day, a few years later, when you find slink away from it and try to pretend it never happened, you may have chosen your brand identity poorly. Yes, “Syfy” is brand extensible. But then, the Polish “syfy” is extensible too, in its way, although not in a way most people would want. So, yes, this is a problem. Glad it’s not my problem.

To be honest, however, the incipient “Syfy” branding doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the new brand’s tagline: “Imagine Greater.” I mean: really? “Imagine Greater”? What, were complete sentences too dear down at the marketing shop? I know there’s a recession on, but maybe they could have checked in the couch cushions for loose change. Or if they were simply intending to break grammar into pieces, for jazzy, kicky effect, why not go all the way? “Imagine Greater” is settling for the bronze when “Imaginate Greatably” is within one’s grasp. And, hey, it’s brand extendable.

“Syfy” tells me the branding people involved here don’t know how to read Polish, and you know what, that’s fine. But “Imagine Greater” suggests they don’t know how to read English, either, and that’s not. Seriously, SciFi Channel: you paid someone for “Imagine Greater”? Hell. I wouldn’t have given that to you for free. Clearly I need either to get into marketing, or run away from it as fast as I possibly can.

151 Comments on “The Venereal Disease Channel Imaginatizes Greatastically”

  1. The original version was a complete sentence. The boss told them he’d only sign it off if they removed “genital discomfort” from the end of the sentence.

  2. I just tweeted this, and requested it be re-tweeted. I only have 25 followers, but they’ll ‘spread’ the word.

  3. This was the network that decided that Mystery Science Theater 3000 needed a ‘story arc’ when it moved over there from Comedy Central. (As Kevin Murphy put it, “We don’t need a story arc, we’re a puppet show!”) So this latest example of Clue Impairment shouldn’t really be a surprise to anybody.

  4. “Imagine Greater” must have come from the same agency that came up with “Army Strong”. (obviously, Grammar Weak.)

    “Imagine Greater” is settling for the bronze when “Imaginate Greatably” is within one’s grasp.

    Imaginating greatably embiggens us all!

    ATHENA: Dad, I don’t think “greatably” is even a word.
    JOHN: Nonsense, “greatably” is a perfectly cromulent word.

  5. “Imagine Greater” has been hurting my inner English teacher since I learned of it yesterday. So much so that it’s overwhelmed my opinion of “SyFy.”

  6. So SF/F are global enterprises — I’m recalling the introduction that suddenly appeared in one of JS’s Chinese translations, and his casual mention that the novel had been serialized in a Chinese SF/F magazine with a circulation of 300,000 — and yet the recent discussions on race and our beloved genre seemed to take place entirely within an American context. On the one hand, understandable, as most of the participants seemed to be Americans talking about American publishing. On the other hand, why? Isn’t one of the appeals of SF/F getting beyond our home culture? On the other other hand (thanks, o lurker in e-mail for sending it), how difficult is it for people to transcend their local time and place? Will the Grnthians of Sirius B still sound like Americans no matter what the author does?

    Sorry not to have posed these questions there instead of here, but the comments were closed by the time Blogging Hour arrived in Tbilisi.

  7. Surely “Imagine Greater” is perfectly acceptable in an era where “Think Different” can capture hearts and minds.

  8. Actually, without any knowledge of any language beyond English (except for a smattering of Spanish I can’t use and the ability to suss out German and most Latin-based languages), my first impression of “Syfy” was…


    Maybe some classical Greek nerd thought he’d found a way to play on “Sysyphus” and was utterly clueless that not everyone, even a lot of well-read people, know what that is.

    Or maybe Ron Moore’s next project, once CAPRICA is underway, will be a collaboration with Roland Emerick.


    Yeah, I think I’ll watch that with my family.

  9. “Clearly…” Oh, the latter, the latter. Marketing is where people who are just too smart to be comfortable in PR go., PR, in turn being one step ahead of HR, which is pretty much the white (or more likely stripey pink) collar bottom of the food chain. (Don’t say “banker”, I’m a banker).

    There are, no doubt, great marketing people, just as there are great PR and HR people. It’s just very seldom that one comes across solid evidence of them.

    All IMHO, of course.

  10. I suspect it’s a case (I hope) of wanting to improve your brand identification, so you hire a company that’s theoretically expert in it, and they look at SciFi Channel, which, aside from “The Loaded With Really Shitty Made For Our Channel Knock-Off Movies And The Occasionally Great Show,” nicely describes the content and feel they have. But they have to DO SOMETHING. They can’t really collect their fees if they write a paragraph that says, “Really, SciFi Channel works, don’t change anything, now where’s the check?”

    SyFy, aside from the STD thing, is just going to confuse people, some of whom are going to pronounce it, “sy-fee” and “siffy” and not get that, it’s, you know, science fiction oriented.

  11. Gnah. I’m a little beyond “meh” on this one and into “Gnah” territory, not least because I fear this is the precursor to unleashing a huge, pallid slew of micro-budget pabulum across the channel. Badly written horror. Reality TV in myriad boring forms. More reality TV dressed up as investigating the “Paranormal” (which apparently these days means “made up” or “delusional”). All those films that you’d only rent as a drunken student to admire how appalling they were.

    And all the while, the ratio of spaceships per broadcast hour dwindles towards zero. Perhaps we did that to ourselves – the cost of producing Battlestar Galactica could well put them off anything like that for ages. And there’s still Stargate Universe, which promises to have a spaceship in it.

    I hope I’m wrong. Oh, I desperately hope I’m wrong. But…. gnah.

  12. and not get that, it’s, you know, science fiction oriented

    Well, that’s been something I have been wondering about for a while now, given the arrival of wrestling (and not even good greco-roman wrestling either, which I could excuse) on the channel, and the seeming over-predominance of horror and “which cheerleader is going to get slain this week” flicks.

    There seems to be less and less actual, you know, science fiction on the damn channel.

  13. MarkHB:

    “And there’s still Stargate Universe, which promises to have a spaceship in it.”

    I can indeed verify the existence of a spaceship. I’ve been on it!

  14. “Think Different” annoyed me, but it did its job. It told everyone that Steve Jobs was back. It restored Apple’s reputation as being the innovative, creative computer company. (Whether Apple deserves the reputation is up for debate and not what I’m talking about here.) Apple dropped the slogan in 2002 when they started their Switch campaign and yet, we still remember it.

    I don’t think “Imagine Greater” will be as successful. For one thing, if you twist your mind enough, “Different” can look like a noun. “Greater” is always going to look like a comparative adjective. For another, Apple is not the name of a venereal disease in any language as far as I know. However, I can understand why their ad agency chose to evoke an ad campaign (originally launched over 10 years ago) that had been so successful, even if the resonances are all wrong.

  15. See, I don’t care about the name change, I care more about the revulsion that the channel seems to have for the core demographic it pretends to not want to cultivate. I mean, this isn’t the first time they’ve tried to rename the channel, nor is it that surprising, given that they clearly see Spike as their model to follow.

    But stuff like this sort of illuminates the mind-set:

    “The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular,” said TV historian Tim Brooks, who helped launch Sci Fi Channel when he worked at USA Network.

    Mr. Brooks said that when people who say they don’t like science fiction enjoy a film like “Star Wars,” they don’t think it’s science fiction; they think it’s a good movie.

    “We spent a lot of time in the ’90s trying to distance the network from science fiction, which is largely why it’s called Sci Fi,” Mr. Brooks said. “It’s somewhat cooler and better than the name ‘Science Fiction.’ But even the name Sci Fi is limiting.”

  16. You know, back many, many years ago, there’s a legend about a company called Standard Oil, which, for reasons we needn’t consider now, decided the time had come to change its name. After considerable research, they went with “Exxon”, because their researchers had determined it didn’t mean anything in any of the principal languages of the countries where they did business.

    Yes, it didn’t mean anything. They decided this was better than a name that meant something, um, inconveniently detrimental to their business’s best interests.

  17. I’m with MarkHB. First there was John Edwards, now one whole night is devoted to Ghost Hunters, which is stupidity in its highest form.

    Don’t even get me started on the WorstMonsterMoviesEver which can usually be picked out from their one word title “Komodo!”, “Gargoyle!”, “Manticore!”, “Rabbit!” (oops, that one snuck in from Night of the Lepus) and all feature a cast of characters that get eliminated by the bulletproof creature in question until only a boy/girl pair romantic pairing remain (sometimes the plucky comic relief survives too).

  18. I care more about the revulsion that the channel seems to have for the core demographic it pretends to not want to cultivate.

    God, yes, you could write some good essays on that topic, from the apparent love-hate relationship with women (and the Internet) to its ability to buy prized assets (Earthsea! Earthsea!) and make them suck….

  19. I suppose choking to death with laughter while reading this entry is a better demise than catching syfy.

    My heirs might still sue somebody, though.

  20. @23 Thanks for that quote! I had no idea what the background was.

    Not I understand the change any better, mind:

    “[…] even the name Sci Fi is limiting.” ??

    Well, I’d say “embarrassing disease” is about as limiting as it gets. Well done, the branding people.

  21. From what I saw of the “official” press release excerpt (whatever that means) over on AICN, what it all boiled down to was ownership. NBC/Universal doesn’t get to own “scifi” or “sci-fi” so they came up with something else.

    Poorly, of course.

  22. Grammar is now dead. The venereal disease channel killed it. I know that grammar was already hurting, perhaps even on a respirator. But grammar was, at last, killed by syphilis. It is tragic, really.

  23. From GateWorld: “The main reason for the change, according to Bonnie Hammer, former head of the network and now president of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Universal Cable Productions, and her successor David Howe, is that the name “SCI FI” was too limiting.” Wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to move ECW to another NBC-owned channel and just send Ghost Hunters to another realm? IMHO this is just another example of programming by the lowest common denominator – greed.

  24. Well, you know. I don’t have any problem with the channel owning its brand; it’s a useful thing. I just think they could have come up with a slightly better name.

  25. Andrea (30), grammar has indeed had a vicious marketing infection for some time. As David Foster Wallace observed in his fantastic essay “Tense Present”: “The founders of the Super 8 motel chain must surely have been ignorant of the meaning of suppurate.”

  26. I agree Imagine Greater sounds awful. But is a forum where the phrase “[such and such] is epic fail” is bandied about so often really the place to make that point?

  27. Craig:

    When someone uses “Epic Fail” as part of their brand identity rather than a snarky colloquialism on Teh IntarWeebs, you can be assured I will bitch about that, too.

  28. “Think Different” annoyed me, but it did its job.

    Hard to argue with success.

  29. I wonder what the brain-trust at NBC Universal is thinking of this decision. I have yet to read anything positive about it; in fact, it’s been roundly ridiculed both within the industry and by the viewers. Maybe they think any press, even negative press, is better than no press.

    “Imagine Greater” is about as stupid as USA Network’s “Character’s Welcome.” The difference being that USA actually has a lot of great, and sometimes innovative, programming. It would be nice if this tag line actually meant something to the people at NBC Universal; pushing them to actually imagine greater programming than creature features and crappy reality television. Unfortunately, I doubt we’ll see any improvement there.

    Sci Fi is determined is to make cheap programming. Programming that attracts those sought-after demographics NBC Universal and their advertisers love. So that means we get Warehouse 13, a Eureka clone, rather than great science fiction. I may be one of the few looking forward to Caprica, but I hold no illusions that it could end up being a member of Sci Fi’s long list of one-season series regardless of how good it may or may not be.

  30. @25: My theory on the naming of SciFi Channel movies is that they have two buckets of words or word bits, and they pull one word out of each bucket to make a movie name.
    Man + Squito!
    Ice + Spiders!

    It could just as easily have been “Icesquito” and “Manspiders”.

  31. DPSquared, that’s quite magnificent. Thank you. I can now finally do my marketing exercise for the day.

    Use an Aussie or Cockney accent for this one:

    “Ooze staying at Super 8”

    With the dropped ‘H’, you see.

    I think I need a lie-down.

  32. Jimmy:

    Eh. As noted, I like a fair amount of SciFi’s programming at the moment, and of course I have a vested interest in at least one of their upcoming series.

  33. “I like a fair amount of the programming, so I’ll watch it whatever they call it.” – Scalzi

    This is going to sound like snark and it’s really not meant to be.
    But, besides BSG what new programming is worth watching on SciFi?
    Seriously, SciFi Saturday Night “The Most Dangerous Night on Television” is accurate but only in that the movies are so bad.

    So if there is good programming that I am missing please tell me. (Unless it’s the VERY SciFi wrestling, I’m not so into that.) (And yes that last bit was snark. :) )

  34. I’m completely with EvilJWinter @ 11. Having no knowledge of Polish, I’ve found myself using “syfy” (pronounced “sif-ee”) as a short hand for syphilis when it comes up in conversations.

    Don’t ask me how syphilis comes up in my conversations. Just, don’t…

  35. I honestly think the outrage on the ‘net would be far quieter if it had not been for this quote:

    “The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular,” said TV historian Tim Brooks, who helped launch Sci Fi Channel when he worked at USA Network.

    As many people have said, way to show that you hate your entire core demographic, boys. Not to mention it’s a particularly offensive way to alienate women viewers like me, who were already watching and hate hate hate HATE the out-of-date stereotype that “girls don’t like science fiction.” *headdesk*

    With geniuses like this behind the Syfylys Channel, I doubt programming will improve.

  36. I suppose on the one hand the SyFy bit could potentially be a huge publicity stunt. I mean, we are talking about it now. Whereas before this blog I had no idea they were changing the name. Which is largely due to their poor programming as of late.

    On the other hand, Imagine Greater was probably thought up by the same marketing gurus that came up with such awful commercials as “5 dollar foot longs”.

    What would be fun is if they started making SyFy commercials like the penis enhancement commercials.

    “Meet Bob, he has SyFy. (insert cheesy grin and thumbs up here). No, not a venereal disease, the channel!”

  37. Every day I wake up and wonder what happened to all the smart people. It’s like we’re living inside of a reality TV show of “The Marching Morons”.

  38. I too am less outraged by the name switch in general and more by that attitude in the quoted press release, yeah. The whole idea that it’s okay to have a channel devoted to science fiction as long as they don’t call it, y’know, science fiction irritates me immensely.

    Not to mention the part about the “female audience” apparently is not supposed to like that icky “science fiction” stuff. We do, trust us. You really don’t have to call it something else.

  39. Josh @46, I am shocked – shocked! at that anti-egaletarian, elitist attitude! As though intellect, disciplined mental habits and “learning” is in any way superior. We’re all emotional creatures reacting through instinct to God’s plan and anyone who says otherwise of obviously not just antisocial but delusional. Shame on you for thinking that any way is “superior” instead of just different!

    Sometimes, I get blind smegging drunk because there are so many people who’d say the above and mean it. I think of it as the temporary palliative to Doctorow’s Quandary, “Would you rather be smart or happy?”


  40. Not surprising, unfortunately, given the direction the channel has been moving in over the last few years. This is what you get for moving things away from the “geeks what got them there” towards the supposedly much more TV watching audience of….hmmm, exactly WHO is supposed to be watching some of that schlock they’ve been putting on lately (Ghost Hunters, ECW Wrestling, etc.)? Next, I suppose, it’ll be Rachel Ray with her “imagine greater” recipies (hey, I WATCH her, but on Food TV where she belongs). Yep, the Polish-inspired new name is probably closer to the reality of the way decisions are made in TV Land than we know–it takes me back to when President Carter had a really, really bad translator on a trip to Poland in the Seventies and he said something like “We’d really like to get to know you better” and the translator came out with some obscure dialect that made it out like “We’d like to know you in the Biblical sense” and all these Polish generals behind Carter turned to stare at each other with the best looks outside of a sitcom.

  41. My husband and I have formed the internationally renowned* Society for the Preservation of the Lowly Adverb Today (SPLAT).

    By the authority vested in me as one of the two charter members of the organization (also as one of the two -only- members of the organization), I hereby grant you honorary membership.

    It is not necessary for you to correct posters, signs, or cereal boxes, but if you wish to do so, here are your raw materials (come back and see me if you need more): ly ly ly ly ly ly ly ly ly ly ly ly.

    *Our friends in Australia and the UK know about it.

  42. I was making fun of the name change more last night. Now I’m getting miffed with “the image” they seem to think they need to get away from.

    Partially because while I may be older now, and have more of a sense of self built up, that crack about young kids in the basement kinda just hurts.

    Thank you, Scalzi, for making fun of this whole situation in a wittier and more coherent tone than I did.

  43. Re the mention of Exxon above. Worse than meaning nothing, the Standard Oil stable of brands in different countries and regions included Enco — which I recall means “stalled car” in another language. A fine choice for a gasoline brand. (grin)

    The problem I have with “Imagine Greater” is that I immediately associate it with the current lineup of shows, not the spec fic aspect of SF/F. And that’s not good.

    Dr. Phil

  44. I give this re-branding a FAIL.

    But I don’t watch Sci-Fi for anything other than Battlestar Galactica, so they’re about to lose me anyway.

    Having said this, I’d watch more SyFy if they stopped doing shit like Mansquito and did more stuff like BSG. Stuff that takes itself seriously and doesn’t deliberately go for cartoon gore, camp horror, and cheese.

  45. LMAO.

    I for one welcome our new SyFy-litic Overlords, and to keep track of insider news from same am signing up for their SyFy-list!

  46. We actually own Mansquito (under its less interesting DVD name, Mosquito Man). It’s cheese, but it’s a lot of fun.

    I’m more frustrated when they get someone like Bruce Campbell (in whatever crappy movie featured the alien shapeshifters at the airport) and waste his talent.

  47. Mark @ 48- I hope you are being sarcastic. Because if you are, then you are hilarious. If you aren’t, well… … …

    Yes, the age old question is: would you rather be smart or happy?

    Well my answer is: I would rather be smart, at least others don’t point and laugh at me or shake their heads at my stupidity. But I suppose that is the “smartness” coming to the surface. I can be smart AND happy too, just with loads of sarcasm to boot.

    Ohh, that’s a nice tag line for the SyPhy channel, “smart and happy”? Or “Smartness coming, we promise”

  48. 1. My mother watches the Sci Fi channel on occasion.

    2. NBC (corporate) back in the late ’70s-early ’80s changed their identification logo (not the peacock) only to discover that the same design was already being used by a Midwestern educational TV station.

    They never learn.

  49. Changing the name doesn’t bother me. It’s like Crime TV becoming Tru Tv. They lose the name everyone associates with their purported target market – but gain something brandable.

    I don’t even care that they seem to have done a spectacularly bad job of picking their new name. Everyone else does – so dreaded dumb name syndrome is nothing new, it’s to be expected.

    As a long-time science fiction fan I DO care that network executives took the opportunity provided by the interview to show how little they think of their purported target market. I was insulted.

    I don’t think I want to support the “We’re ashamed of our core market network.”

  50. @56, John

    The only movie that I’ve seen solely on the Sci-Fi channel that I even remotely liked was “Dog Soldiers” and that was bloody rotten.

  51. Standard case of marketing knobs run amok, trying to make themselves look useful. If I had a nickel for every time I saw some marketing knob do something pointless, useless, or confusing, well…I’d have lots of nickels.
    My own industry is very fond of “re-branding”. My company recently had it’s name changed from, well, it’s name, to simply it’s initials, which apparently no longer stand for anything. Our veep of marketing didn’t want to confuse people about what we do. Apparently, a string of random letters is more informative than whole words.

  52. I know how this happens. Committees.

    The famous Avis “We’re number 2. We try harder” slogan came about because the advertising agency said “Okay. Give us our heads. Let us pick a theme and run with it.” It would never pass a committee.

  53. Just what I needed in the world: viral SyFy, spread by looking. Idiots. I used to work for one of the founding companies of the computer industry (the BUNCH); they changed their name to a stupid thing, and now (except for a corner of the banking industry) they’re gone. Looking at BUNCH, that seems to have happened to a couple of them.

    For some reason my mind is playing Gloria Estefan’s Go Away.

  54. In retrospect, I’m not sure this is good or bad. Most of the best SF/F shows on TV are NOT on “Syfy”, anyhow. With BSG going away, they loose a lot of the interest factor.

    Doctor Who? I have the Intarwebs and BBC America, thanks. I grant you, “Syfy” has greater penetration, but so the DVDs.

    Caprica? Avoiding the ‘milking the franchise’ issue, the legitimate question needs to be asked: if you set a soap-opera drama in a SF setting and proceed to talk up how it really won’t be about SF at all, what’s the point, exactly? If it’s just window dressing then it sounds like an exercise in wankery.

    Ghost Hunters I’m not much of a fan, but my wife is. But seriously: the fact that the stars of the show haven’t given up their plumbing day-jobs should tell you something right there. Similar shows on Travel and elsewhere steal some of it’s sizzle, of course.

    Stargate I know it’s popular, though I’ve never really followed it. Probably “Syfy”‘s best hope, given that Stargate has generated such good ratings for them.

    Warehouse 13: A show based on a game supplement that will be turned into an MMO, where the producers talk up it being like a rip-off of three other concepts. This might be good, but given “Syfy”‘s history with such material, will likely have a visit from the Fail Whale.

    Eureka: A moderately well-received show, though it’s been bleeding viewers. Being famous for setting a new level for product-placement isn’t the show’s greatest hour, though.

    That’s not a terrible line-up, I suppose, but the bulk of Syfy’s material is made of pure and utter dreck. It’s no accident, I note, that most of the quality material is usually a joint production internationally….and that any truly successful show is viewed as something to be moved OFF of Syfy as soon (as they tried to do with BSG, iirc).

    One gets the feeling that NBC is embarrassed by Syfy, and feels it’s like their Porn stash they don’t want their mom to find under the bed.

  55. We all look forward to seeing sex aids and reviews of strip clubs etc on the s/f channel too. Now we all know what new caprica (the offshoot of battlestar galactica) has in it.

  56. It’s all marketing…which means not well thought out flash. The demographic thing kills me…it’s why I turned off Heroes last week.

    I need a snarky bumper sticker that says “If your a geek and you don’t know any girls, you need to get out of your parents basement. Go to the comic book store more often”.

  57. On topic: “syfy” in Polish means more generally something like “filth” or “mess” and I don’t think it is necessarily associated w/ venereal disease.

    Off topic: the “Think Different” stuff reminds me of an article about Steve Jobs in Wired a few months back. In the piece they talk about Jobs’s tendency to park in handicap spots on the Apple campus and how it prompted an employee to leave a note under his windshield wiper that read, “Park Different.”

  58. Somehow, through all of this, the last word in the phrase has vanished. The ‘pitch phrase’ was:

    “Imagine Greater Profits”.

  59. StephanieB @ 59,

    You may assume, yes, that I’m being intensely sarcastic. Also in my peculiar, easy-to-misunderstand way tipping my hat to Josh @46.

  60. @71 EthanH:

    “syfy” in Polish means more generally something like “filth” or “mess” and I don’t think it is necessarily associated w/ venereal disease.

    “Syfy” is the plural of “syf” which is the abbreviated and informal version of “syfilis,” the venereal disease. In typical usage, the singular “syf” would refer to the STD (as in “on ma syfa” – “he has syphilis”). The plural “syfy” is more likely to refer to general filth or mess as you say. It can also refer to acne, particularly those big, red, swollen pimples oozing with pus that look just like… well, you know.

    To say that “syfy” is not associated with venereal disease is like saying that the word “shit” is not associated with excrement because it can refer to many other things in the English language.

    Besides… does the Filth Channel really sound that great?

  61. Ok, I just laughed myself silly over this. Great way to start a day at the office — thanks!

  62. @ Craig #10: “Surely “Imagine Greater” is perfectly acceptable in an era where “Think Different” can capture hearts and minds.”

    I dunno. I’m tempted to say (to them, not you) “Speak Englisher!”

    “Imaginate Greatably”; the slogan that eats like a soup.

    (Don’t mind me…)

  63. However!

    This will finally silence those crust paleo-geeks that insist on pronouncing it “skiffy”.

  64. ‘the filth channel – coming to a cable lineup near you!’ Yep, that’s some great marketing there – not! (and from comments above on the current programming lineup, it sounds like I’m not missing out on much). and I second the sentiments by Elizabeth @43. been a Sf/f fan for 25 years and counting, and yes, I’m *gasp* a girl!

    JS – Soooooo jealous you got to walk on the spaceship. Iiiiiiii wanna spaceship, toooooooooo!!!! (not having access to Sci-fi or syfy or whatever they’re calling themselves, I’ve had to purchase the box sets of the stargate series to watch the show – currently only up to season 5 of SG1. gonna take me a while to catch up on the rest of the series…)

  65. @Izabella: Of course. Please note my use of “I don’t think” and “necessarily.” My point was just that the term has broader usage. My experience with Polish is mostly limited to family and since we rarely if ever sit around discussing venereal disease, I am probably erroneously thinking that the broader usage is the more common.

    So it would have been like me saying “I don’t think shit is necessarily related to excrement.”

    In any event, thanks for the clarification.

  66. Further clarification, in case anyone is interested:

    The singular “syf,” in addition to the STD, can also mean “filth,” particularly in descriptions of places (“taki syf!” – “such filth!”). More precisely, it means “stinking, rotting, decaying, disgusting filth.” It’s a mild taboo word, generally not used in formal settings. Like any other taboo word, it can be used extensively and creatively.

    The plural “syfy” can be used to describe filth as well, but would not usually refer to the STD.

    The adjectives derived from “syf” (“syfiasty,” “zasyfiony”) could mean either “filthy” or “infected with syphilis,” the former being much more likely.

  67. @EthanH: Your #84 was posted while I was writing #85 ;-) The “broader usage” is indeed more common than the literal usage – quite understandably, given that most of us encounter disgusting filth much more often than we encounter syphilis. What I’m saying is that “syf,” even in the context of broader usage, is still a taboo word. Just because “shit” can refer to any number of things doesn’t make it a polite word, does it?

  68. You know, if they’d gone with “Imagine More,” I wouldn’t have gotten so worked up over this. Name change, rebranding, fine.

    But “Imagine Greater” is so clunky, so stupid, so written-by-marketing-assclowns bad, that it warrants a deserves a scornful meh. Meh, I say, with scorn.

  69. Clearly I need either to get into marketing, or run away from it as fast as I possibly can.

    Get into marketing until you find it’s actually run by Duck-Billed Platypi from Epsilon Eriadni. Then gather together a group of mismatched but likeable actors and run away and keep running until someone figures out what’s going on and organisers a spectacular finale in an abandoned light engineering shop.

    Theophylact @49 – PsiPhi? I like it!

  70. The U.S. women’s professional basketball league, the WNBA, uses “Expect Great” as its catch-phrase and in ads. Most WNBA fans (including me) make fun of it.

    But hey, it is MUCH better than “Imagine Greatly!”

  71. Imagine Grammar


    Also, Mansquito is the best movie title ever. Seriously. It’s a name you’ll never forget, no matter how hard you try. Ranks right up there with “Cavernauts.”

  72. It reminds me of tabletop gaming in the late 80’s and early 90’s. There was a desperate rush to attract women, such that at one point I was actually paid to write a series of articles on the subject for a trade mag. Naming a game “the clap” and desperately insisting that we don’t live in mom’s basement was not one of my recommendations.

    Honestly, what is with the “social outcast” obsession, anyway? Nerd glasses are the mode now! Retro irony is big bucks. Go with SciFi! Brand the hell out of it, then cheese it up a notch. People will bring their own bread and fondue forks. We DIG that stuff, man!

  73. Oh NBC/Universal, why not just kill the channel altogether? Oh, wait, “Mansquito” wouldn’t even fit on Spike. Or something.

    I just want Eureka to come back. The show has been bleeding viewers because Sci-Fi (SyFy) moved it and then put it on indefinite hiatus. Which they did Farscape–and I won’t get into how the channel screwed that up.

    (And by the way, they did the product placement because that was the stipulation to keep the show on the air.)

  74. @Izabella: Ha. I didn’t realize that it was a borderline curseword. What a salty gang of dear old aunties I have!

    Thanks again for the expanded definition.

  75. Elizabeth@43 wrote:
    As many people have said, way to show that you hate your entire core demographic, boys. Not to mention it’s a particularly offensive way to alienate women viewers like me, who were already watching and hate hate hate HATE the out-of-date stereotype that “girls don’t like science fiction.” *headdesk*

    Well, Elizabeth, I’m prepared to duck and cover but Tim Brooks is right — and with all due disrespect to the “core demographic”, the tsunami of sexist (even misogynistic) bullshit that broke over ‘Battlestar Galactica’ from pretty much the moment Katee Sackhoff and Grace Park’s casting was announced makes me think your problem should be with the fucktards who live down to the stereotype, not the person who pointed it out.

  76. WizarDru@67 wrote:
    Caprica? Avoiding the ‘milking the franchise’ issue, the legitimate question needs to be asked: if you set a soap-opera drama in a SF setting and proceed to talk up how it really won’t be about SF at all, what’s the point, exactly? If it’s just window dressing then it sounds like an exercise in wankery.

    No, the point Ron made is that the ‘Caprica’ won’t be set on a spaceship, have a big honking space battle every week, evil replicants working out their nefarious plots…

    And, once more, I’ve got to say I find the “soap opera” sneer absolutely hilarious. Ever read fraking Dune?, is about all I’ve got to say in rebuttal.

  77. One thing that puzzles me: they’re saying that the new name is pronounced the same as the old. How do you get “skiffy” from “SyFy”? There’s no k-sound in “SyFy”. ;-)

  78. I personally am not opposed to soap opera, as long as it’s not the blatantly one of the following: hyper-sexualized, hyper-teenified, hyper-stupified.

    Smart, adult soap opera can be very entertaining, which is basically what BSG is — in between the killer space battles and squee exterior CGI shots of the fleet, that is.


  79. *points back at response #26*

    I saw what they did to Earthsea. What a debacle.

    Consequently, the Crap Channel will never have my viewership or support in any fashion ever. again.

  80. sleeplessinoregon @83: “the filth channel”

    I dunno, “Dirty Jobs” does pretty well by the Discovery Channel… ;-)

    Theophylact @49: I have a T-shirt that says that…

  81. ‘Imagine Greater’ is so non-English, I had to read it three times to parse it as something that might *just* make sense. The feeling it evoked was disgust followed by dismay. I wish I’d been there in Siffy’s focus groups to let them know. I suppose most Siffy viewers will translate it in their minds as ’embiggen see with brain’.

    Compared to this, the name change wasn’t so bad. I suppose part of the reason for it was that Siffy viewers couldn’t pronounce ‘Sci-Fi’ or understand its derivation.

    I’m with you on this one Josh (#46).

  82. Erin@103:

    Interesting POV. Should I boycott our host’s next novel, because the Macmillan Publishing Group is to blame for a pretty high proportion of English language crap that crawls into print?

  83. I figured out what “Imagine Greater” reminds me of: the kind of skewed attempts at English that you’d find on T-shirts and shopping bags in Japan. Maybe they’re trying to subconsciously hook the anime crowd?

  84. It all began like this:

    “Most of our shows are crap; let’s make better shows.”

    “Ridiculous! Let’s rebrand instead.”

    “OK. Since our shows are crap how ’bout ‘The Crap Channel’?”

    “Not bad but we can’t own that brand. What about a synonym in another language?”

    The next day, after consulting linguists at major universities in Europe:

    “I’ve got it. One of the meanings of the the Polish word ‘syf’ means ‘filth’.”

    “Yes…yes! Add a ‘y’ — Syfy. It’s almost like one of those texting shorthand word thingies like LOL or WTF. I don’t know what they mean but it’s so Web 2.0!”

    “The only problem is that it can also mean syphilis.”

    “Only you, me and 40 million Poles have to know that. It’s not like there’s a web site where you can look up that kind of stuff.”

    “Great. ‘SyFy’ it is. I’ll organize a focus group to test it.”

    “Not necessary. It’s perfect; everyone will love it.”

    “But the executives will want documentation.”

    “Well then, find those people that helped us develop ‘Shark Attack 3: Megalodon’. If they like it we can’t go wrong. Or crackheads; everyone trusts a crackhead. I’ll bet they’ll even come up with a great tagline for us.”

    “Yeah, a tagline like ‘Imagine greater quality by pretending our shows are good’.”

    “Too many letters. But maybe the crackheads can do something with it.”

    “Should we maybe float this idea on the the blog on the off-chance we’re wrong?”

    “Hell no! They’re just a bunch of science fiction geeks. I hate them. I hate them so much I can’t even stand the idea they watch our channel. I wish we could just make them go away.”

    “Perhaps we just did.”

    “Man, our bonuses are going to be HUGE this year!”

  85. Shawn Struck #80–

    Actually, I think “Skiffy” would’ve been better than what they went with. It has a rather nice ring to it, and someone could have created a puppet and named it “Skiff–the Alien Mascot!” Said puppet could have have Cthulhu’s purple face-tentacles, warble promos and commercials in a high-pitched alien Minnie Mouse accent, and serve as comic relief.

    See! Two minutes of messing around, and I can do better than SyFy’s (ugh! that’s really horrid, y’know) expensive marketeers! Where’s my check?

  86. @hugh57

    Skiffy comes from “scifi”, as said by a small minority of nerds who insist on pronouncing the “c”

  87. Having spent some serious time working with a couple of marketing professionals, I can vouch that they were lovely people with no command of English whatsoever. In particular, their grammar and their command of vernacular and connotation were non-existent.

    Within a relatively brief space of time, I saw the following ad campaigns hit the market (company names redacted):

    “Let (paper) take you to the cleaners!” (Paper was being distributed by the local dry cleaners.)

    “You are not a disease. You are not a number. You are not, at our hospital.” Which might almost have worked, except it was a radio ad and that all important comma did not come through.

    “For a rememberable dining experience.”

    There were others, but those were the ones that made me moan and clutch my head. “Imagine Greater” seems positively benign.

  88. Syfy, really? Was Psi Phi taken or something? At least Psi Phi would be something a sci fi nerd could look at and chuckle, but syfy just hurts the brain to look at. They took something that wasn’t broken and tried to fix it.

  89. I reread the comments and realised somebody else posted the same suggestion. My gut says that Psi Phi was taken by SOMEBODY, but the point still stands.

    Or maybe the marketing goons thought such on option would make our headbrains feel ouchie.

  90. Actually, I think “Skiffy” would’ve been better than what they went with. It has a rather nice ring to it, and someone could have created a puppet and named it “Skiff–the Alien Mascot!”

    “Skiffy” was actually a rather good children’s SF novel by William Mayne, about a child whose parents are part of a terraforming team; all I remember about it is the Geophages, large docile (alien?) creatures that eat soil and are used by the engineers for earthmoving.

  91. Craig Ranapia @100:”No, the point Ron made is that the ‘Caprica’ won’t be set on a spaceship, have a big honking space battle every week, evil replicants working out their nefarious plots…

    And, once more, I’ve got to say I find the “soap opera” sneer absolutely hilarious. Ever read fraking Dune?, is about all I’ve got to say in rebuttal.

    I’m not sure what kind of rebuttal that is, really. I don’t remember holding Dune up as what Caprica should be. I do know that Dune is a SF story that would not work without it’s SF elements…and that all the pre-release press I’ve heard about Caprica so far is that it’s uses SF elements as window dressing for a show that could be done without them. Which makes it no more SF than, say, ‘Kings’. If that’s not the case, then I welcome Caprica with open arms. But if Caprica is just a family drama (regardless of quality) that just happens to take place in an SF setting, where the SF elements have no impact or value in the story…well, then it’s not for me. I would wager a good number of viewers would feel the same. I’m not nearly as interested in the details of Daniel Greystone’s unfaithful wife and the civil rights attorney who opposes him. When Moore refers to Caprica as an SF version of ‘American Beauty’, I find myself uninterested. That doesn’t mean it won’t be a great show…it means I personally have no interest in that kind of a show.

    Besides which, BSG having a ‘big, honking space battle every week’? Which BSG is that? It certainly isn’t Ron Moore’s show. When it has them, they’re impressive…but this is also a show that could go half a season without a single battle. Hell, they’ve gone a few episodes with nothing more than some exterior shots of the Galactica and the fleet. Which is fine, but if Moore is trying to make the case that they’re getting away from all that ‘space battle’ stuff, that seems a little hyperbolic. I find his calling BSG ‘Black Hawk Down’ in space to be a tad disingenuous, though I understand his reasons for doing so. I will be glad to be proven wrong and find we have another great SF series on our hands.

  92. Grrr. Messed up a tag, there. Sorry ’bout that. I don’t like italics THAT much.

  93. All I remember about that movie is Angelica Huston carrying her space cleavage with more dignity than was strictly necessary. :)

  94. Wasn’t this (or a situation exactly like this) a running gag on 30 Rock recently? Perhaps NBC should hire the show’s imaginary legal department.

  95. OMG Ice Pirates is teh awsum.

    It ranks up there with Buckaroo Banzai and Big Trouble in Little China as one of the all-time great camp SF&F classix.

    “Why is he black?”
    “Because… I wanted him to be perfect!”

    And how about Bruce Vilanch’s cameo?


    “Big macho guy…”

    On a more serious note, am I the only one who liked Moon 44? Sure it went straight to video, but it had a great cast and was well done, for a small-budget SF flick.

  96. If it were based on their movies, I’d expect them to be the Giant Snake Channel.

    Does anyone actually look forward to another variation on the giant critter theme starring washed up 80’s sitcom actors?

  97. Have we checked whether SyFy (ridiculous) is using an Asian-based marketing firm? “Imagine Greater” reminds me of any number of creatively-translated directions for assembling cheap furniture or toys I’ve dealt with.

    It also put me in mind of the English-version website of a Taiwanese electronics firm I was researching a few years ago. Their motto, proudly displayed in bright blue, 48-point type: Smart Your Life!

  98. There’s nothing wrong with “Army Strong”. It’s not supposed to be a sentence, it’s an isolated descriptive phrase, in the style of “ice cold” or “snow white”, where the “noun” is playing adverb to the straight-up adjective.

  99. I hear them talk about wanting to get away from ‘Space Battles’ and it’s the absence of such that keeps me away from the channel.

    I guess it’s that whole mis-match thing.

  100. Have we checked whether SyFy (ridiculous) is using an Asian-based marketing firm?

    Oy… Mary Anne, are you receiving? Meanwhile, I’m actually a little more worried about producers and networks not being willing to take a chance on something other than a string of procedural clones, and pink-slipping anyone who knows (or even cares) about SYFY/SCIFI/SF/SKIFFY/SCIENFIFICTION/WHAT-FRAKING-EVER that’s pitched above the level of an extended toy advert aimed at four year olds.

  101. Is there a moratorium, or a statute of limitations as to when @Scalzi stops reading comments on blog posts? If so, have I passed it?
    The reason I ask is simply because I have a gripe that I would like to share, that is along the same lines as the ones introduced in the post above.
    See, a lot of people are using the word “BIZ” as abbreviation of the word ‘business.’ in Arabic, BIZ means a female breast, in a very deragotary way. It bothers me a heckuvalot the way it’s being used today. Especially when they introduced the domain .biz. I thought that was the silliest thing. Why bother checking in other langauges, right? Is it elitism?
    In any case, I do get a chuckle every time I hear it, like a second grader kind of chuckle when they hear “bad” words.
    Oh, and the MSNBC celebrity show, “ShowBIZ Tonight,” might just as well be the name of the Arabic version of “Girls Gone Wild!”

  102. I think its just another case of pointless fiddling about.
    Reminds me of what happened in UK with post office spending a fortune thinking about changing name to consignia when post office does the job.
    I suppose it keeps all those image consultants in jobs.

  103. I was going to say:

    “Nah, it’s just the person who pitched it to NBC has the same crappy handwriting as I do. What it really said was: ”

    but then @93 beat me to it.

    Well, in the dark wilds of south-west Canuckville, we don’t have syfy, but I do find that Space seems to be much less spacey than it was. Luckily the late night “Movies From Space” seem to be the same cornball Hollywood it’s always been, rather than the could-only-be-made-for-tv stuff you people are talking about. Not that “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” or the original Toho Studios stuff is any *better*, mind you, but the right kind of crap has a quality all its own (says the dedicated Tromaddict).

    What has always got me about issues with the “core demographic” is that a lot of the overgrown boys living in their parents’ basements have good jobs with better earning potential in the pipeline, *and no SOs, children, or mortgage to leach disposable income* almost by definition. So, they spend on stuff. Granted, it’s likely niche stuff, so they don’t trigger the Big Company Advertising Dollars, but it is still a very viable targetable demographic. The trick is to figure out how to turn that demographic on without triggering the “ew, nerdy” auto-turnoff of a, granted, larger demographic.

    But I thought that was the point behind niche channels allowing for niche marketing? I know, megacorporations have trouble with niche anything – when there were 3 channels, everything had to be generally accessible; now that there’s 110, they still all have to have 5%+ of the market, and can’t turn off anybody…

  104. Hilarious with a double f*cK. I thought their renaming the channel to SyFy was their way of telling us we Americans are now too stupid to know psi and sci is pronounced “sy” and not “ski”. Thanks for clarifying their thinking for me.

  105. The Scientifiction Channel?
    Fantastic TV?
    Imaginative TV?
    Fantasy & Science Fiction Channel?

    But no: SyFy.

    “We Break the Limits Of Your Imagination”?
    “For Fantastic TV”?
    “Watch what could be, what couldn’t be, and what might be.”
    “Because Reality Just Got Old.”

    But no: “Imagine Greater.”

  106. Thank you for posting about this.

    I tend to be out of the loop but my husband reads your blog every day and I deliberately haven’t before because he enjoys telling me about it. (I feel like I would ruin the moment for him if I said I already knew about your blog posts for the day.)

    Since I have female bits, I decided to send a passionate letter to the SciFi channel about their press release and how pointless it is to insult the only people who actually care about their channel. I linked to a copy as my website for anyone who cares.

    In the process of writing the letter, I realized that what I like about SciFi can be condensed to two words.

    “Different. Special.”

    Any takers on that as a new slogan?

  107. don’t get me started on “Think Different.”

    Wasn’t Apple’s “Think Different” a response to IBM’s “Think” motto?

  108. What I found most ridiculous is that they’ve spent so much money on this rebranding thing and knew the all the meanings of it in Polish yet they still went with it. I think it’s the old, pre-internet mentality when such things were found out only by few people with right friends. Now everyone knows new word in Polish. Not what they expected I’m sure. It’d be hard to find a word more suited for making bad jokes. Especially since there’s hardly more appropriate Polish word for what most people think about most of the stuff they show. So maybe it was intentional – you couldn’t say you were not forewarned – it’s right there, stuck on your screen. We are showing syfy (crap).

    As I understand bad English was intentional. Because bad English is cool.

  109. It’s akin to that advertising consultant in the 1950s who specialized in creating brand names. For a detergent manufacturer, thy said that words beginning “Dr-” suggested softness and words ending “-k” suggested power. Then they recommended the brand name “Dreck.”

    Or the Chevy Nova. It sold very poorly in Latin America, where “No Va” means “It won’t go.”

  110. I haven’t had time to read ALL of the comments so this may have been mentioned before. I was especially taken with the press release use of language ( which, among other gems includes “brand evolution”, “non-linear digital platforms”, and “opening the brand aperture” (and doesn’t that conjure some images?).

  111. “opening the brand aperture”

    Oh my. Makes my posterior start hurting just thinking about that one.

    I have to get some bumper stickers made over at stickermonkey. You can’t make this stuff up.

  112. I thought ΞΦ would have worked much better. For those who don’t know the Greek alphabet, that’s Xi Phi.

  113. Typo?

    “when you find slink away from it”
    “when you finally slink away from it?”

  114. (posted in wake of the Stargate: Universe cancellation announcement)

    I happen to own a number of hardback books, each of which has emblazoned on its cover, an endorsement that it is

    <swooshy-logo/> A (SCI FI|SyFy) ESSENTIAL BOOK

    This weekend’s project: me, those covers, and a razor blade or X-Acto knife suitable for excising the aforementioned endorsements. And screw the possible damage to resale value of said books, because right now I care so much less for the SciFi^WSyFy network, its recommendations of essentialness, and the poxy marketroids who fostered this slide below submediocrity than I could ever care about the potentially–negative financial impact.

    A number of the books in question are quite good. I’m certain that this had nothing to do with Clap^WCrap Network brandvertising and everything to do with quality publishers such as Tor, who know a Good Thing and believe that delivering Good Things to their custom is job one.

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