As you may have heard by now, the SciFi Channel is changing its name to the SyFy Channel. It seems like a lot of people are having the same reaction that I did: “The Syphilis Channel? Really?”
Over at The Whatever, John Scalzi reports [via ellestra] that “syfy” literally means syphilis in Polish. With all due respect to the Poles, I think the bigger problem is that it means syphilis in English, too. Per the OED:
Syph (also siff, siph)
Abbrev. of SYPHILIS. Also with def. article.
…1925 Amer. Speech I. 24/2 For “syphilis”, “pox” was used widely many years ago, but has given place more recently to the simple abbreviation “syph”. 1930 J. Dos Passos 42nd Parallel I. 108 He got the siph off ‘n her. 1947 Horizon Sept. 202 We’re going to get the syph… 1969 P. Roth Portnoy’s Complaint 129 I’ll come down with the syph just from touching the ticket. 1971 B.W. Aldiss Soldier Erect Them mankey whores in yon knocking-shop’ll give you a dose as soon as look at you. There’s no’ a one of them as isn’t rotten with siff…
“Syph” meaning syphilis, it follows that “Syfy” would be the endearing form, “the cute syphilis,” or maybe, in honor of Buffy‘s Xander Harris, “the funny syphilis.”
For general reference to the Syfy Channel, though, I think “The Syph” makes a great nickname, one that lends itself to all sorts of wordplay. Just imagine the T-shirts.