Examining trends in fanfiction.
Modern fanfiction has an extensive history, like any subculture that has existed for 50+ years. It has its own war stories, from the tales of why fanfiction.net has a warning for why you cannot write Anne Rice works (spoiler, she’s litigious) or the dark ages of password protected message boards that are now dust in the wind.
But like any subculture, it also has a changing language. Looking at tags now, you could easily catch the sight of things like Dead Dove Do Not Eat or “tooth-rotting fluff,” but that is the modern lingo. Ten years ago, when descriptions had to be much shorter than an AO3 summary, the language was shorter and full of jargon that was not quite as parsable to the casual observer.
Take, for example, lemon and lime.
The citrus scale has been a classic of fanfiction since the 1990’s. Sites like Fanlore trace its sour origins all the way back to 1980’s anime, specifically the hentai Cream Lemon. Early fandom communities used “lemon” as a shorthand for sexually explicit content, and like a lot of fanfiction terminology it migrated to other fandoms.
While the citrus scale technically included everything from oranges to grapefruits, most writers typically only used two parts of the scale: lemon and lime. Both featured explicit content, but at different levels. Lemons were fully explicit, actual sex. Limes were sexual content, but on a lesser scale. While systems like the ones on fanfiction.net had ratings (K through M) they were imprecise and didn’t allow for full tagging. There wasn’t an easy way to say why your work was rated “M,” whether that was for gore or for sex. The citrus scale allowed for some level of precision in communicating the sexual content of a piece without describing it in detail.
Effectively archaic in the age of precise tagging, it’s rare to see the citrus scale in a modern community, and frequently its usage will be met with annoyance from younger readers who don’t recognize it. During the heyday of fanfiction.net, explicit writers used lemons and limes frequently to denote the precise nature of their content in as few words as possible.
Amanda Hudgins is an occasional writer, former rugby player and wearer of incredibly tall shoes.