A Brief(ish) History of the Word "Otherkind"

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Elfinkind Digest

The word otherkind was coined on the mailing list Elfinkind Digest in April 1990 by a poster named Elezar. The variant otherkin was first written in July 1990 by Torin. The Otherkin Timeline has this to say:

1990-04-18: In the listserve Elfinkind Digest #16 was the first use of the word "otherkind," with a D, referring to real people who identify as other than human. Korra'ti explained to me [in an email 2010-07-22]:

"First use of the word 'otherkind' is in Elfinkind Digest #16, dated 18 April 1990, coined in quotes as a term to include non-elf 'others' cropping up on the list, and was a specific branching off from the word 'elfinkind.'

1990-07-09 or 10: On a listserve, the earliest use of the word "otherkin," (as a variant of "otherkind") referring to real people who identify as other than human. It's in Elfinkind Digest, #71. The archive of this document is still extant, and I myself have seen and read this primary source.

During these years, it seems that the words "otherkin" and "otherkind" are being used interchangeably, and "otherkin" is the less common of the two. At this time, the variant wasn't accompanied with a definition as though it was being newly introduced. It was just used as though its meaning was already understood by those involved.

I asked Korra'ti to look through the archives to find out the circumstances under which the word was coined. Korra'ti graciously put me in touch with the person who coined (or, at least, who was the first person on record using) the words "otherkind" as well as "otherkin," who turned out to be Torin / Darren Stalder, who was a bit surprised to hear about it.

Torin told me [in an email 2010-11-06] how the word came to happen: "From what I can remember, I got tired of typing elf/dragon/orc/etc.-kin and just used otherkin. It was convenience and practicality. […] There wasn't actual intent to form a new word; just shorthand."

By saying that they had read the primary source, I am not sure whether Orion meant only Digest #71 alone, or that they had a copy of the whole archive, but the mention of asking R'ykandar Korra'ti for more information implies that they did not have access to the entirety. I do have a complete archive, so I've read the Digest in detail up to a point (through #110, Sept. 7 1990, as of this writing) and have glimpsed a lot more in the context of text searches done to find primary source info for various internet discussions. The statement about April 18 is mostly accurate, although it might give the wrong impression Elezar put otherkind in scare quotes throughout, which is not the case; it used straight in both the subject line and most of the body, with the quotes only on the first use within the message body. But the second part, which (as a minor point) was July 9, paints a somewhat inaccurate picture of things.

First, Torin did not coin both forms, only otherkin. I'm not clear from the text above if this was something Dara directly (and in that case incorrectly) stated in the July 2010 email, or whether Elezar was unmentioned or the statement was otherwise unclear and Orion made a wrong assumption or came to a wrong conclusion. I suppose Orion did not have access to issue #16 when they were writing or they would have seen the name Elezar for themselves. There could also be editing errors afoot, e.g. the part about Digest #71 was written first and the information about Digest #16 added at a later time but the entry for Digest #71 not then updated to match.

Second, I have found no evidence within the Digest that Torin was writing out lists like he describes. He may have been doing so offlist, but neither were there very many other examples from other posters. This casts some doubt on the idea that he (or anyone) was doing it often enough that they were getting tired of doing so; and, if a shorthand was wanted, otherkind had already been in use for several months, which I doubt he could have been unaware of. Neither he nor anyone else used otherkin again until March 1991, which makes it look like an unintentional typo for the established otherkind rather than a deliberate spelling. (Indeed Torin himself never used otherkin onlist again, at least not up through Digest #1102 in December 1995.)

It's unclear exactly what period of time Orion is referring to when they say "during these years [both words] are being used interchangeably", but after the first instance of otherkin in July 1990 (#71), for more than four years it only popped up sporadically. If 1990-91 is meant, in that time there were 9 uses of otherkin in 9 digests, whereas in the same time frame, otherkind was used 509 times in 122 digests. So while otherkin clearly was understood (I did not see anyone asking what it meant or whether it was the same as otherkind), it was "interchangeable" only in the sense that people were aware the words meant the same thing, not in terms of relative popularity.

After December 1995, otherkin started to gain momentum on Elfinkind Digest and be used more frequently than before, but it did not overtake otherkind there until April 1997, and never came close in total count over the entire history of the list (rather, about a 1 to 1.6 ratio). My own quite possibly fuzzy memory of the lists I was on in the latter half of 1998 (e.g. wyldefae, twilightfae, TirNanOc) is that by that time, when people used such a collective word at all, it was otherkin and not otherkind; but it seems likely to me that "-kind" being right there in the name Elfinkind Digest had a reinforcing effect that wasn't present on other lists. However, I have neither direct evidence about contemporary usage from ca. 1996 of the major lists TirNanOc and Darkfae-L, nor my own memory; I wasn't on TNO yet at that time, and was never a member of Darkfae. By 1999, otherkin was definitely the form of choice on Elven Realities.

Did "otherkind" mean "other-than-elfkind"?

You may have seen it stated that otherkin(d) was coined by the elves of Elfinkind Digest to refer to non-elves, i.e., to distinguish between the elfin-kind, presumably pictured to have been a majority, and the other-kinds. But whatever the demographics may have been (and even in mid-1990, there were already enough non-elves that the idea was floated of changing the scope of the list), that narrative is not supported by the available evidence in the Digest archives.

First, Elezar was a dwarf, Torin was a wolf and centaur, and the few instances of lists like "elvenkind/dwarvenkind/otherkind" and "elf/dragon/orc/whatever names" that I could find were written by dragons. So however you slice that, it was not coined by elves.

Then, there's the fact that many of these early uses of "other" formations were pretty clearly intending to distinguish other-than-humans from humans, not other-than-elves from elves. Note that in the quote at the top of this page, R'ykandar characterizes "otherkind" as "a term to include non-elf 'others' " -- to include them in some larger category of "other", not to denote them specifically as apart from elves.

In the post where they first used "otherkin", Elezar explicitly included elves, and then kept saying "we" in a way that seems to include not only the list membership, but a more general group of non-humans out in the world, without reference to type:

Well, as a non-elf (but not quite human), here's my input on the origins of 'otherkind'. Elves and others of faeriekind are fairly noticable and slightly more common than dwarves (I seem to be the only representative of this kind here), or at least the faeriekind have been more 'visible' on the net. And my opinions on the origins of otherkind? Well, we have always been around, but the age is coming when we don't have to worry about being unnoticed for fear of persecution. Where do we come from? ...

Here's Torin with the variant (or possible error) "otherkin":

Can we be exclusively our own selves and still meaningfully interact (jobs, legal junk) with society? I think that there has to be part of us at least that is is a facade that we show to society. [...] Now if we could have our own otherkin community we might be a bit okay but what a target we would present.

This similarly sounds quite general and referring to nonhumans en masse of whatever type, but even if he meant only those who were present on the list, that would necessarily include elves. 

Were animal-folk (a.k.a. weres, shifters, or therianthropes/therians) included as part of otherkin(d)?

Not explicitly included, but not excluded either.

No one in the cases cited above directly says they are including animal-folk, but there were several wolves, at least, already on the list in the first half of 1990. In May 1990 Torin asked, "Could this digest be more of a digest for those people who are unsure of their complete affilation [sic] with humanity? Not all of us are whole or part elven" and an elf-wolf hybrid chimed in with a list of other kinds of nonhumans they had already met, including various mythfolk such as dwarf, hobbit, dragon, and nymph; hawk and wolf, which might map to today's therians; and even a Wookiee, possibly an early example of what we would now call fictionkin. So there was at least some sense of "any and all kinds of other-than-human" attached to otherkind at this stage. Also, it would be over two years before the Usenet newsgroup alt.horror.werewolves, which eventually gave rise to to the modern were or therian community, was even created (November 16, 1992), and a few years beyond that before were-creature spirituality became the main topic, so I conjecture that at this early point there was not really much sense that there even needed to be any distinction.

Last updated 9/06/2021