Book Review: Firefly: The Gorramn Shiniest Dictionary and Phrasebook in the ‘Verse

I missed the Firefly bandwagon back when it initially aired, probably because I didn’t have cable at the time or something. I recently dove into it on Netflix and wrapped up the series and Serenity movie just in time for Titan Books to release Firefly: The Gorramn Shiniest Dictionary and Phrasebook in the ‘Verse and explain a great many things to me. Heck, the title alone showed me that Netflix’s subtitles were wrong — it’s spelled “gorramn,” not “gorram.”

Across 160 pages bound in a gritty and embossed, tactilly satisfying hardcover backing, we’re treated to glossy stills of the crew of Serenity, definitions of coined terms unique to the show, explanations of slang and expressions, and, perhaps most importantly, episode-specific translations of the Chinese phrases used in the show as they were meant in context. Remember that time Wash said “All the planets in space flushed into my butt?” Me neither, but I know now! You even get bonus translations of public announcements in Li Shen’s Space Bazaar. I’ve fumbled through enough YouTube videos of literal translations to appreciate having the real story in print before me. Each character in the show also gets profiled for how they talk, their own individual slang, expressions, accents, and whether they speak “properly” for their time and place in the universe. Beyond the crew of Serenity, passing characters like Nandi, Saffron, and Ruby get entries as well.

In addition to definitions of words used more traditionally like “sanguine” and “prayer,” there are tons of words with either a meaning specific to the show, such as “shiny” or “humped,” or terms made up just for the situation, like “gorramn” or “prairie harpy” or “jake.”

Also included are loads of imagery like schematics of Serenity, discussion of the significance of the cutlery selection in the galley, close-ups and notes on different weapons and gadgets, Inara’s official companion papers, a hand-drawn map of Jaynestown the crew used to stay oriented during shooting, and a blood-stained poster detailing the Independents’ defeat at Serenity Valley. In one of the interviews later in the book, it’s explained that this work covers only the language used in the television show, not the Serenity movie or the comic books, due to restrictions based on licensing and canonical differences.

Firefly: The Gorramn Shiniest Dictionary and Phrasebook in the ‘Verse seems like a no-brainer to pick up for Firefly fans. It’s a handy reference to have around, makes a great coffee table book for those with sci-fi-minded friends, and while it’s not structured with narrative like a typical cover-to-cover read, it’s hard to put down for the curious or fans of linguistics. It’s impressive how much effort went into the smallest details of both the set and the dialogue, things that maybe even the die hard fans haven’t all picked up on yet.

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Mark Buckingham

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