This one fascinates me. I personally use sci-fi, SF, science fiction, and speculative fiction pretty interchangeably, and I’ve never understood the conniptions some folks have about the term sci-fi. This is despite the facts that I’m a third generation fan, that I’ve been going to conventions for 25 years, and that I write and publish in the field.
I really don’t get it. Yes, some people use the term to denigrate the field. However, for those who think science fiction is a waste of time, it’s not about terminology it’s about content. They’re going to dump on science fiction no matter what you call it. In my experience they also use the term science fiction to denigrate the field. If you talk to them about SF, they assume you mean San Francisco until you explain it to them, then they dump on SF. Likewise speculative fiction.
This whole debate seems to me to be a sterling way to let the people who hate the field define the way you should talk about it, and to turn the term sci-fi into something that people who are on the pro science fiction side of the fence use to bash each other over the head with. In short: getting worked up over sci-fi seems terribly counterproductive.
2013 Update: Adding in my comments from the original post in response to Lyda noting that Sci-Fi registers as a media fandom thing for her or a non-reader thing.
I don’t get the non-readers thing. I’ve used the term sci-fi all my life and I am not a media person and never have been. I don’t watch television at all and haven’t in more than a decade and I rarely watch movies. I come from a family culture of reading first and media as a distant and barely visible second. I picked up “sci-fi” exclusively from literary sources.
Actually, thinking about it, it rings as an academic/literary term for me, c-sci, poli-sci, sci-fi.