Smof, an initialism for Secret Master of Fandom, has come to be more-or-less a generic noun for a perennial conrunner — in particular, a Worldcon runner, or a fan who is a regular at the WSFS Business Meeting.
As a verb, to smof means to talk in a sercon manner about running conventions, other aspects of fandom or fan politics. (It's also sometimes used casually to describe intense, geeky discussion on any subject, e.g. "You don't want to go in there, they're smoffing crochet patterns.")
"The Secret Masters of Fandom" began as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the mythical group of fans who supposedly convened in smoke-filled rooms to "really" decide the course of future fandom, a jibe at the notion that the anarchistic meritocracy that is fandom is controlled by some powerful, behind-the-scenes cadre of fans. At Discon 2, Jodie Offutt remarked that the real Secret Masters of Fandom were the fen who kept con-hotel bathtubs filled with ice and bheer.
The initialism was likely coined in conversation, probably by Jack Chalker in 1963, whereas the full phrase is based on a 1950s Bob Tucker article. Tucker apparently derived it from Gerald Kersh's 1953 novel, The Secret Masters.
The term was used in a skit at the 1963 Worldcon that featured Hal Clement, and a "SMOF Award" was presented to Ted Sturgeon (Forry Ackerman received the award on behalf of the absent Sturgeon) making Sturgeon “whether he likes it or not, an Honorary Member of SMOF.”
With the explosion of conventions in the 1970s, it became taken up as the name for a loosely organized group of experienced convention problem-solvers — former Worldcon or major convention chairs of note, gonzo hotel negotiators, noted con programming types, etc. — who got together from time to time to engage in a little timebinding, pass on (or volunteer) their experience, and thereby ensure that fandom gets to do what fandom wants to do. (It now takes more fans to run a Worldcon than once attended them.) This definition was helped along by the creation of the Smofs List, a conrunners email list, and later by the creation of Smofcon.
Bruce Pelz once announced that he was Smof #2 — leaving it to others to fight out who is #1.
At the ConFusion precursor, A2 Relax Icon in 1974, Randy Bathurst, Mike Glicksohn, Rusty Hevelin and Ro Lutz-Nagey, all four wearing nothing but bath towels around their waists and paper bags over their heads, and employing ping-pong paddles, appeared as “The Secret Masters of Fandom.” Ro recalled on Facebook in 2013:
The Secret Masters of Fandom Panel!
It's from the Friday night of the A2 Relax Icon in 1974. This was a spur of the moment idea we four came up with at dinner right before the panel (I believe that there was some liquor involved.) I introduced the panel saying how lucky we were to have the Secret Masters of Fandom at our tiny con. Then I ran backstage and changed into paper bag and towel. We all had the cheap wooden paddles with the rubber ball attached. Why? It just made sense at the time.
We asked the attendees to ask us any fannish questions. We made up answers on the spot. It lasted no more than 10 minutes. Everyone had fun. TL Sherred’s wife came up behind us and put ice cubes down the back of our towels.
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