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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Passing the port from left to right at the Science Fiction Writers of America dinner

“Dammit, Clive, don’t be a bloody fool. Think of your wife. And the children. And the regiment.”

It was a British thing. One passed the port from right to left. When in a moment of madness poor, doomed Clive passed the port to the right, there was only one way to atone.

Back in 1979 when that episode of Ripping Yarns came out, I expect our colonial cousins were amused at our former belief that right-to-left was fine yet left-to-right was abominable. Such absurd stress on an insignificant difference in the manner of performing an everyday action!

The Yanks of 1979 laughed at Brits of 1979 laughing at Brits of 1879. The Yanks of 2022 say, “Hold my beer.”

Jim Treacher retweeted this from “Undoomed”:

Read their statement and was like: Holy shit, what did she do? Did she drop N-bombs on stage while wearing a white hood and setting a cross on fire??

Undoomed is referring to the following statement by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) on the removal of the author Mercedes Lackey from the Nebula Conference.

Click on Undoomed’s link to find out what Mercedes Lackey actually did. Dashed bad show. Off you go, Mercedes.

57 comments to Passing the port from left to right at the Science Fiction Writers of America dinner

  • lucklucky

    It is a power tool.


    Someone wanted to get rid of her. A competitor for example.
    Someone wanted to promote himself.
    Someone wanted to protect their place, job. Maybe made some “mistake” and this shows purity.

  • bobby b

    The SFWA was infected years ago. No hope for any of them. This is entirely in character and is no surprise. Their favorite books generally lack all SF merit and exist only to serve the woke.

    They can be idiots, or people of idiocy. It makes no difference how you say it.

  • Fraser Orr

    I read the statement, I’m still not clear what she exactly did.

  • I read the statement, I’m still not clear what she exactly did.

    If the statement said what she actually did, it would undermine the statement.

    If you click on the link to Undoomed’s tweet, they say what happened.

  • Natalie Solent

    Fraser Orr, click on the word “Undoomed”.

  • Fraser Orr

    Got it. Thanks. Well if that is the case not only should she be cast out, but surely this is a perfect case where burning at the stake is the only appropriate punishment? Please everyone excuse me, after reading that I need to go lie down on my fainting couch.

  • Natalie Solent

    I can’t remember if I read any of her books during the period in my youth when I devoured all the SF I could find. But according to Wikipedia, Mercedes Lackey’s fiction “explores issues of ecology, social class and gender roles.” I would guess she is left wing. However she must be pretty old by now. In today’s climate being progressive yourself won’t save you if you go a bit Biden. Unless you are Biden, of course.

  • Ferox

    She would have been fine if she hadn’t committed the unforgivable crime of being so pale.

  • lucklucky

    Every progressive that would live in a remote island for 5 years will return as a racist.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Thanks for the link to “Undoomed,” Natalie. I totally get this. In an online group I was part of, in discussing the people who had played in my RPG campaigns, I said that I had had one transgendered player. That got me attacked for the sin of transphobia because I had said “transgendered” instead of “transgender.” It didn’t seem to occur to the person who attacked me that if I actually feared, hated, or was disgusted by trans people I would simply have refused to have one as a player . . .

    But without that link, from the SFFWA statement, I would have had no idea what Lackey had actually said. It amazes me that they think people will take their accusations seriously when they can’t bring themselves to say what the person they’re accusing actually did.

    On the other hand, I just reread the Heinlein letters collected in the Virginia edition, and I saw that already sometime around 1970, he was commented on leftist dominance in the (then) SFWA. I don’t think it’s new.

  • Genuinely funny, but hard to say which bit is the most hilarious 😀

  • Alan Peakall

    I am inclined to wonder what would happen to anyone who solemnly intoned National Association for the Advancement of People of Color every time reference needed to be made to the NAACP, but I am in no hurry to try that experiment myself!

  • In today’s climate being progressive yourself won’t save you if you go a bit Biden. (Natalie Solent, May 23, 2022 at 9:29 pm)

    It’s not merely that being PC yourself won’t save you. Woke culture is snitch culture. Being part of it means your ‘slip’ is more likely to be heard by someone looking for their blog’s ‘denunciation of the day’. It also means you are more vulnerable to their cancellation. The more PC Mercedes was, the more she will have purged her own income stream, social circle and support network of people who will dare show mercy to Mercedes.

    It’s a well-verified effect. In Stalin’s day, one of the things that increased your chance of arrest was working for the NKVD – a side-effect of the general fact that it was easier for them to prepare cases against people they already had on file. They had quotas to fill, and communists have no more minutes in their day than capitalists. The same merely statistical side-effects apply today.

  • decnine

    Some years ago, I was arranging my mother’s admission to residential care because Alzheimer’s had taken away her capacity to live independently. In conversation with one of the Social Services functionaries who became involved, my mother referred to ‘coloured people’ (which had been the ‘correct’ usage before my mother’s mental decline). She was firmly told that the correct usage du jour was ‘black people’. I can’t imagine how the self absorbed idiot expected my mother to remember that.

  • Being reminded of my two-year-old post PC Savage – paladin of wokespeech, it occurs to me you could rework that ‘Not-the-Nine-O’clock News’ sketch to have constable Savage repeatedly arresting Mr Kodogo not for such things as

    “wearing a loud shirt in a built-up area during the hours of darkness”


    “loitering with intent to use a pedestrian crossing”

    but for the deplorably racist hate-speech crimes of

    “mentioning, an in an approving way, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured people”


    “describing himself as a coloured person”

  • William H. Stoddard

    Niall: Back in the day, when Berke Breathed was still funny, there was a Bloom County strip where the lawyer character was dealing with his mother’s use of language. She said “colored people” and he objected; the strip went through “Negroes” and “blacks” and ended up with his saying “people of color” and her saying “colored people!”

    Canadian publications seem to be moving to BIPoC, for “black/indigenous/people of color.” There’s a peculiar implication there that neither black people, nor native Americans, Métis, or Inuit, count as “people of color,” but politically correct language is often weird.

    The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association mandates that “Black” should be capitalized. It also mandates that “White” should be capitalized—but other racial terms based on color are not. Admittedly, many of the other color terms are probably still considered offensive and not to be used at all, but they don’t actually use those terms even to denigrate them.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Her writing style is fun to read, being easy and accessible. When she started her ‘Elemental Masters’ series, I bought every one. It fell in with my own esoteric leanings, and the stories are set in late Victorian England.

  • William H. Stoddard
    May 23, 2022 at 10:58 pm

    Transgendered rather than transgender? This is more of the Pronoun Wars. I have been accused of transphobia because I used the word “shim” for a person whose body didn’t match their clothing. I told her that he and she were assumptions, it was an insult, and I was too old-school to use they as a singular. Mind you, this was an artist defending a character in her webcomic. I assume it was hers, because sie used a female name.

    (They didn’t know me personally, just online.) I told her, “Dammit, I’M transsexual. I’m old. The world keeps changing words around me.” Among other things.

    The whole thing reminds me of The Princess and the Pea.

  • Stonyground

    Can there conceivably be any other purpose for having approved terms for different ethnic groups that constantly change, other than to catch out people who fail to keep up? My 25yo daughter informs me that people of Oriental appearance are now referred to as being East Asian. How long before saying East Asian is denounced as being racist and some other approved term has to be used instead?

  • Sam Duncan

    Related comment on an unrelated forum. I think people are beginning to notice.

  • Stonyground

    “invalidate someone’s lived experience”

    Why would I care whether some random person considered my lived experience valid or not? Why would anyone?

  • I was too old-school to use they as a singular. (Ellen, May 24, 2022 at 2:18 pm

    Good for you. That said, I’m so old-school I do use ‘they’ as a first-person singular pronoun [correction: third-person singular pronoun] when referring to an arbitrary single member of a group (whose members are not all of the same sex) – when, that is, I haven’t bothered to personalise them with some sex-implying name. It might be a slightly-commoner-in-UK-than-US thing (Julie near Chicago, alas no longer with us, used to joke-criticise me for it) but I suspect it’s more my reading having included a fair amount of old, even mediaeval, texts.

    The time may come when I shall have to insist on my self-motivated long-standing use of this idiom – or else avoid it lest I be thought a coward cringing to the PC. (As evils of wokeness go, I suppose there are worse consequences than that.)

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Present politics aside, the idea of an epicene singular third person English-language pronoun has a surprisingly long history.

    The History of ‘Thon’, the Forgotten Gender-Neutral Pronoun

    ‘Thon’, short for “that one,” appeared in our Unabridged dictionary from 1934-1961. Though the word was dropped for lack of use, other gender-neutral pronouns—’they’, ‘their’, and ‘them’—remain.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Niall Kilmartin writes, “I’m so old-school I do use ‘they’ as first-person singular”

    Tsk, tsk, Niall, I think you mean third person singular.

    I, too, have always found it natural to say “they” in contexts such as “If anyone rings, tell them I’m in the bath.” However having “they” for all third person pronouns except singular inanimate would be too confusing. Ellen, “shim” sounds quite nice, and avoids the initial “th” voiceless dental fricative sound that many non-English speakers and some English speakers find hard to say. I could not pronounce that sound until a friend taught me how to do it while I was at university. However, as with all these linguistic innovations, the trouble is that however good they are in principle, they come across as eccentric until a critical mass of people adopts them, which doesn’t happen because they come across as eccentric.

    I shall re-plug my post about all this from 2017: “Armed neutrality in the gender-neutral pronoun wars”. (OK, it’s not new to either of you, but (a) it might be new to some people reading this post, and (b) you might like to re-read my honeyed prose, and, indeed, your own.)

  • bobby b

    “One passed the port from right to left.”

    Ah, now I get it. Finally clicked on the vid and realized this was not about traffic management while approaching British shipyards, which did not strike me as overzealous rulemaking.

  • Sam Duncan

    Thon is thought to be a contracted form of “that one,” and was coined in 1858 by Charles Crozat Converse.

    Hmm. I’ll have to check my OED 1st Edition about that. Yes, thought so:

    Thon dem. pron. [app. a comparatively recent alteration of yon, the initial consonant being assimilated to this and that.]: The demonstrative pron. and adj., pointing to something more remote in place and time than that. Used in Scotland, Ulster, and the four northern English counties. Written examples not found before 1800; app. not in Ramsay nor in Burns.
    1804 Tarras, Poems 96 Leuk down the gate; what squabble’s thon, That ca’s the throng’s attention? … 1818 Miss Ferrier Marriage I. ii. 18 “Hoose!” repeated the driver, “ca’ ye that a hoose? Thon’s gude Glenfern Castle”.

    It was still very common among my grandparents’ generation, the plural being thir, but seems to have more or less died out with them. Probably coincidence but, given the timing, I don’t think it’s impossible that Converse heard it used by northern Brits and liked the sound of it.

  • I have always maintained that any group that has to change its name every five or ten years has something terribly wrong with it. Among the “woke” the same custom exists in external form: as soon as a group gets a new name, the Woke start assuming it is being used pejoratively and insist we stop our evil tongues this very instant. Not, of course, that that will save us.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Natalie: I think you’re right about the obstacle to adoption of a new pronoun. On one hand, few people are likely to become accustomed to using a new pronoun unless they hear other people using it with some regularity; but those other people themselves need to hear people using it with some regularity. It’s a “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” sort of problem. And on the other hand, if people haven’t heard it, they’re not likely to know what it means, or remember it, or understand what you’re talking about, which is a disincentive to using it—at least if your goal is to communicate, rather than to assert your privilege by demanding that other people comply with your arbitrary demands.

    The fact that there have been a lot of different common gender third person singular pronouns coined makes it even harder for any one of them to become widespread enough to establish itself. The best attempt I’ve seen was Marge Piercey’s “person, per, pers, perself,” which might almost be actual English—but it’s not quite good enough. On the other hand, singular “they” is immediately understandable and seems to be spontaneously reinvented all the time.

  • Fraser Orr

    A few comments:

    * Regarding “thon”, I grew up in Scotland and definitely remember that word being used by older people with strong scottish dialect. FWIW, I remember it more as an Edinburgh term than a Glasgow term, but could definitely be wrong there.

    * Regarding singular they — I feel perfectly comfortable and natural using it instead of a generic he. In professional settings I think it is almost a necessity.

    * However, I was recently reading a bit about the GamerGate controversy and read the wikipedia article on Zoë Quinn who was at the center of the controversy. Zoë apparently prefers to use “they”, but I invite you to read the article a little. The use of “they” I think is quite confusing. It takes a bit of mental gymnastics to realize the article is talking about Zoë in the singular. In fact I gave her name several extra times in this paragraph marked with italics where I would normally have used a pronoun. However, I think most readers would agree that had I used “they” instead of Zoë it would have been quite confusing. Of course Zoë has a perfect right to use whatever pronoun they prefer. TBH, to me, the use of “they” here is a bit dehumanizing, though no doubt Zoë would disagree.

  • ‘they’ as first-person singular

    Niall, I think you mean third person singular.

    Yes indeed I did and do; too busy spending the 5-minute-grace period checking for any typos in my text to think whether what I wrote was what I meant. 🙂 I am suitably warned to check for meaning, not just for grammatical and spelling correctness.

    Thanks for the link to the old post where we all said much of this before – and, in my case, rather better.

  • snag

    I’ve heard people in the UK use BIPoC. Not sure what colour they imagine indigenous British people to have been.

  • I was recently reading a bit about the GamerGate controversy and read the wikipedia article on Zoë Quinn who was at the center of the controversy…

    Reading deeply partisan Wikipedia on a topic like GamerGate is a mistake.

    The Zoe Quinn incident was analogous to Archduke Ferdinand getting assassinated in Sarajavo: it precipitated a cascade of events that triggered World War 1. But it was just the trigger, it was not “at the centre” of World War 1.

    GameGate was not about the vile Zoe Quinn, that was just the trigger. Indeed I went to many GamerGate events in UK and never heard her name mentioned even once by anyone: it was all about corruption in the games journalism & the gaming industry generally, and a confrontation between normies & wokesters… and the wokesters got stomped.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Both ‘colored’ and ‘of color’ are bizarre when referring to people, and not just for the lack of an U.
    I have yet to see a transparent person — nor could i seen thon, if one existed.

    And if you say that white is not a colo(u)r: with one possible exception, I have yet to see a human who is truly white, as distinct from White.

    And speaking of pronouns: Estonian and other languages have *only* neutral pronouns. Although there are distinct words for mother and father, sister and brother, wife and husband, daughter and son, etc.

  • Snorri Godhi

    On a personal note: I suppose that Oxbridge people like Natalie and Niall have been to many dinners where port has been passed around the table, but i have been to only one, at Trinity College, Cambridge.

    There was not just port to be passed around, but also madeira, and iirc sherry. When i had had enough to drink, i let the madeira bottle loiter on my right, and my host (sitting at my left) suggested that i might want to pour some for myself, and then pass it to my left. My host had a very English sense of humor.

    (When the time came to get up for more drinks in the Master’s lodgings, i was slightly unstable on my legs. My liver had not yet developed its full processing power.)

    Related to the video: my host told me at that dinner that the first time he met a woman at one such event, she was working in a betting shop, and for a moment he thought that maybe his reactionary fellows were right to vote against having women as guests.
    As i said, a very English sense of humor.

  • Ferox

    Lots of interesting comments here, but everybody still seems to be dancing around the point that this is a thoughtcrime which has a component of deep race hate in its definition: one “race” is totally immune, and can use any racial appellation whatsoever – sp*c, w*p, ch*nk, d*go, k*ke, n*gger, colored person, person of color, black, white, yellow, redskin, greaser, wetback, cracker, ofay, honkey, etc – without suffering any consequences at all, and not even any frowns of disapproval.

    Everybody seems fine with this – which is odd – but as long as it is true, these sorts of ridiculous social power flexes will continue without cease. And get worse and worse and worse.

    It’s the linguistic equivalent of kneeling. Really, in my opinion it is long past time to hold every human being to the same standards of social behavior, and to toss out the idea that certain groups are privileged to use words due to “reclaiming” which all other groups are absolutely forbidden to use. One standard of behavior for everybody, enforced not by laws but by the normal social pressures. It’s the only actually workable option.

    PS – To be clear, I think that nobody should use the words in that list, not that everyone should use them. But I think if you hear someone using one of those words, you should be able to know whether or not you disapprove without seeing a picture of them.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Snorri Godhi writes, “On a personal note: I suppose that Oxbridge people like Natalie and Niall have been to many dinners where port has been passed around the table” – I did go to a few, but I think that the rule that one passed the port to the left only lived as playacting by that point; something to make jokes about. That “Ripping Yarns” sketch was then only a few years old and would certainly have been referenced if anyone did pass it to the right. Something I may have mentioned on these pages before is that most people who went to Oxford scarcely interacted with the Oxford Union / Bullingdon Club set. My friends typically had previously attended grammar schools, wore anoraks, studied science subjects and were much more likely to get excited about breaches of the rules of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons than those of dinner party etiquette.

    I would like to think that the ever-changing rules of Woke terminology will someday be a joke for the historically aware. Sadly at the moment careers and lives really are ruined by not knowing the latest change.

  • I suppose that Oxbridge people like Natalie and Niall have been to many dinners (Snorri Godhi, May 25, 2022 at 10:55 am)

    Oxford people like Natalie and Niall, please Snorri, not ‘Oxbridge’. I may tolerate the vagueness of ‘they’, but when it comes to which university I am of, I must insist on not having some imprecise term imply a non-binary confounding with those who attended Fenland Poly. 🙂 Like passing the port, the rule is that one always ‘goes down’ when departing from either Oxford or Cambridge to anywhere else, so to travel a circuit between the two would be a closed always-descending loop, like Penrose’ infinite staircase.

    Like Natalie, I spent much more time in each of the games shop, the SF library (and other libraries), the comic shop, the firework supplier, at the range, on the training area and etc. than in the black-tie/white-tie gents outfitter. I (like Natalie) had friends in accord with those tastes (I expect it shows 🙂 ).

  • Snorri Godhi

    After writing my comment above, i remembered the Italian comedy, Fumo di Londra, which i watched long before my aforementioned dinner at Trinity (but much later than 1966, when it came out).

    It is about an Italian antique dealer (the great Alberto Sordi), an anglophile, in his first visit to London.

    Most of the movie at the link is in Italian; but if you start at about 54:50, you can see the hostess of an upper-class dinner getting up and inviting the ladies to join her for coffee. (Shouldn’t it be tea??)

    Alberto gets up to follow the ladies, but is told by the host that he is supposed to stay at the table for port. Then he sits down, grabs the bottle, and tries to pour for the host at his right.

    I guess that you can figure out the rest, even if you don’t understand Italian.

  • pst314

    Irony: I saw a retweet of something Mercedes Lackey said disparaging talk of cancel culture as merely the complaints of conservatives who have no moral standing to complain.
    It’s like watching Bolsheviks getting liquidated one by one by other Bolsheviks, albeit with less blood on the floor. “But I’m one of you!”

  • pst314, yes it really is a hoot.

  • pst314

    I realize that Mercedes may well have been attracted to leftism because of of her psychological problems, a fact which might earn her some sympathy or at least pity, but her approval of leftist efforts to destroy the lives of conservatives makes it impossible not to laugh her her current distress, no matter how devastated she feels.

  • I assume this is what pst314 had in mind. IIUC, this is a report of a deleted (by Mercedes, it is stated) original. If she is indeed a self-described “flaming liberal” then I can well believe it.

  • Doug Jones

    After getting my 23andme results, I’ve taken up the habit of checking off “other” for race and filling in “Neanderthal-American”. Hell, at 2% caveman, I’m about 20x more ethnic than Elizabeth Warren.

  • the other rob

    Samuel R Delaney is black? You learn something new every day.

  • William H. Stoddard

    pst314: I’m not concerned about Lackey’s feelings, but I am concerned with the thinking behind SFFWA’s actions toward her. My own experiences make me think it’s very likely that my libertarian views would inspire equally repressive reactions from them.

  • sonny wayz

    Julie near Chicago, alas no longer with us, …


  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Until recently, you ate with the clean right hand, and cleaned your bottom with the left hand only. So using your right hand to pass the port would have been the only way to do it.

  • The Pedant-General


    “Although there are distinct words for mother and father, sister and brother, wife and husband, daughter and son, etc.”

    That’s hideously cis-normative and thus transphobic. ;-P

  • A minor, but pertinent digression. The right side of a ship is starboard, and historically was not used to make port. The left side is port. QED

  • Tom H

    What we need is a universal word without any connotations of gender, race, creed or colour. May I suggest “fuckwit”.

  • …and that bullshyte is why I no longer buy books from “new” authors. PC shyte is out of hand in 99% of newer authors and books. Since I choose not to support that, I don’t buy many books any more.

  • KilroyJC

    Judean Peoples Front vs. Peoples Front of Judea.

  • Robbo

    Re port-passing:
    What is important is that everyone at the table passes it the same way. It’s a bit like which side of the road you drive on

  • Sam L.

    The STUPID is STRONG in some people.

  • Kirk

    Were Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen still alive, they’d be respected members of SFWA still.

    No more need be said. Know the value of the organization by its behaviors, and what it tolerates in its membership.

  • Dan Menes

    For years I have been trying to remember the name of “Ripping Yarns,” which I must have seen on PBS not long after it came out. I particularly remember the episodes “Escape from Stalag Luft 112B” and “The Curse of the Claw,” although I was unable to recall the titles. Thank you for solving a small but persistent mystery for me.

  • HAVC

    Like many others I stopped tracking the weirdness of the SRWA organization for quite a while. At 65 I have been reading SF and Fantasy since the 5th Grade – I know I started late. The genre used to attract individuals that were pretty hard to shock on a variety of topics and across a broad set of views. And that was back in the day with more traditional publishers and limited vanity press. Once the industry became ‘respected’ with more money at stake, it is not surprising that it has become its own little Home Owners Association.

    And while I do not always agree with some authors views, when they produce a good read – something to be enjoyed, not endured, I will buy the book. And my guess is that many of us have a set of set of book shelves are that eclectic. The SF/Fantasy genre provides such flexibility for story telling and teaching. To include not just sociology, but also science, history, language and so much more.