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Thread: Swarthy?

  1. #1
    Get it off! It burns! Dennis E. Taylor's Avatar
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    Swarthy?

    My current WIP is in edits. My current editor is a pit bull. That's not a complaint, BTW.

    He doesn't like the word 'swarthy'. Believes it has negative connotations. A brief dip into the interwebz reveals only a definition of (relatively) darker skinned and possibly follicle-y gifted.

    I don't want to give unnecessary offence, but my character needs to be, well, swarthy. Opinions? Alternatives? A quick synonym search was not helpful.
    Formerly Angry Guy.

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  2. #2
    Sophipygian AW Moderator Alessandra Kelley's Avatar
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    "Swarthy" has a bad taste in my mind from many, many old stories where it was a euphemism for "ethnic", and had seriously negative connotations. Good guys were never "swarthy".

    How about "olive-skinned" or "tan" or even "dark"? "Mediterranean" has almost exactly the same connotations the old "swarthy" did without the negativity.

  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW Jan74's Avatar
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    Could you type out the sentence for us where you use the word?
    It can be used negatively, but not always. It's only negative when used certain ways in a sentence. Maybe you just need to alter the sentence? I'm sure somebody much more advanced than me will give you advice. Good luck

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  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW Jan74's Avatar
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    Well and there you have it...Alessandra and I chimed in at the same time

    "You fail only if you stop writing" ~Ray Bradbury~
    "The road to hell is paved with adverbs" ~Stephen King~
    WIP Romance or Women's fiction, hopefully by the end I'll know.
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  5. #5
    Get it off! It burns! Dennis E. Taylor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jan74 View Post
    Could you type out the sentence for us where you use the word?
    It can be used negatively, but not always. It's only negative when used certain ways in a sentence. Maybe you just need to alter the sentence? I'm sure somebody much more advanced than me will give you advice. Good luck
    “This pilot sucks,” muttered one of the crew. Ivan craned his neck to look over the seat backs and identified the speaker as Raul Alfaro. Dark-haired and swarthy, Alfaro spoke with a faint Spanish accent.
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  6. #6
    Rewriting My Destiny Cyia's Avatar
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    I've seen a lot of commentary about the use of this descriptor for the goblins in the Potter-verse. None of it good. I think that was actually the first place I ever saw it used in a modern novel, which threw me, because somehow I'd come to associate "swarthy" with "swashbuckling," likely from some books about corsair pirates.

    Point-being - try and find another way of saying what you're saying.

    Dark-haired and swarthy, Alfaro spoke with a faint Spanish accent.
    Dark-haired, with skin like tanned leather (if he's an older man)
    Dark-haired, with olive skin that would reveal his Mediterranean roots without the Spanish accent.

  7. #7
    Perpetually in transit Helix's Avatar
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    How about:

    “This pilot sucks,” muttered one of the crew. Ivan craned his neck to look over the seat backs and identified the speaker as Raul Alfaro. Dark-haired and swarthy, Alfaro spoke with a faint Spanish accent.

    And let the reader decide if he's a dark-haired Spaniard or a blond one.

    Although wouldn't Ivan have noticed that the speaker had a Spanish accent?


  8. #8
    Moderator AW Moderator Sophia's Avatar
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    I was thinking about this word today, for the first time since I was a child, I think, so it was a huge surprise to see it in a thread title. When I read the word as a child, I had the impression the character it was describing was dark-haired, dark-skinned, sweaty, lecherous, criminal, and male; that it was shorthand for people with brown skin, and that it also applied to girls, and so would be used to describe me as well as my family, and that by extension, the other stuff was attached to me and my family automatically, too. It's just what I picked up as a child, and so the associations I have with it might not be down to its actual meaning.

    These days, it seems a very old-fashioned word. I'd expect to see it in an old magazine of short stories, with a lurid cover showing leering pirates. I'm not going to assume anything but the literal meaning of it nowadays if I saw it in your novel, but there are maybe words that would convey the meaning you intend that would fit more seamlessly in a modern novel.

  9. #9
    What to my wondering eyes... AW Moderator Sage's Avatar
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    I have only noticed this word in relation to pirates, and I had no idea it meant dark-skinned.
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  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW Davy The First's Avatar
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    Earthy?

    Hearty?

    Irish? (lol)

    Raul Alfaro. Dark-haired and swarthy, Alfaro spoke with a faint Spanish accent.
    to
    Raul Alfaro. Dark-haired with an earthy, muscled physique, Alfaro spoke with a faint Spanish accent.
    or
    Raul Alfaro. Dark-haired with an earthy musk and muscled physique, Alfaro spoke with a faint Spanish accent.
    Last edited by Davy The First; 11-24-2017 at 06:03 AM.

  11. #11
    THE EXPLORERS is out now!! Toothpaste's Avatar
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    Yeah it's one of those terms like "gypped" that maybe at one time didn't feel like a big thing, but now that people actually understand where and when it was used . . . it's pretty icky. It's okay to have initially used it in ignorance, after all we all learn and grow. But I would trust your editor on this one. I'm not sure this is the hill you want to die on, not when there are so many other descriptors that could work for this. I know you really think swarthy is it, but I think you have the writing chops to come up with something equally as perfect.

  12. #12
    Sophipygian AW Moderator Alessandra Kelley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sage View Post
    I have only noticed this word in relation to pirates, and I had no idea it meant dark-skinned.
    It's root might be Scandinavian. I know it's related to "svartalf", meaning "dark elf" or troll.

  13. #13
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    Why is it important to describe Alfaro at all? In the example given, the description seems kind of tacked on, for no evident reason.

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  14. #14
    Get it off! It burns! Dennis E. Taylor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyia View Post
    I've seen a lot of commentary about the use of this descriptor for the goblins in the Potter-verse. None of it good. I think that was actually the first place I ever saw it used in a modern novel, which threw me, because somehow I'd come to associate "swarthy" with "swashbuckling," likely from some books about corsair pirates.
    "Swarthbuckling?"

    "He cut a swarth through his foes..."

    I think I'll go with olive-skinned.
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  15. #15
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    This is my favorite blog entry in the world when it comes to describing skin:

    http://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/p...uide-words-for

  16. #16
    please distract me mccardey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dennis E. Taylor View Post
    my character needs to be, well, swarthy. Opinions? Alternatives? A quick synonym search was not helpful.
    Quote Originally Posted by Dennis E. Taylor View Post
    “This pilot sucks,” muttered one of the crew. Ivan craned his neck to look over the seat backs and identified the speaker as Raul Alfaro. Dark-haired and swarthy, Alfaro spoke with a faint Spanish accent.
    I dont see from this why you need to mention his melanin level. Perhaps a different quote would make it clearer.
    Last edited by mccardey; 11-24-2017 at 08:52 AM. Reason: words

  17. #17
    Have pen, will travel Cindyt's Avatar
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    I love me some swarthy men. The hairier the better. My main MC in the crime thriller is quite the darkling.
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  18. #18
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Helix View Post

    And let the reader decide if he's a dark-haired Spaniard or a blond one.
    Just me, I guess, but I have to admit I don't understand this advice. Why put that on the reader? What's wrong with describing the character?

    But then, I'm one of those readers (and writers) who sees the story and its people in a very visual way, like watching a movie. And in a movie, I get to see what people look like. Also, from a purely practical standpoint, it's helpful to get a brief descriptor to aid in remembering the character later.

    To the OP--"swarthy" simply means dark, but it is a somewhat old-fashioned term, and since so many people see it in a negative light, there are other descriptors you could use.
    Last edited by BethS; 11-24-2017 at 12:22 PM.

  19. #19
    Perpetually in transit Helix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BethS View Post
    Just me, I guess, but I have to admit I don't understand this advice. Why put that on the reader? What's wrong with describing the character?

    But then, I'm one of those readers (and writers) who sees the story and its people in a very visual way, like watching a movie. And in a movie, I get to see what people look like. Also, from a purely practical standpoint, it's helpful to get a brief descriptor to aid in remembering the character later.

    To the OP--"swarthy" simply means dark, but it is a somewhat old-fashioned term, and since so many people see it in a negative light, there are other descriptors you could use.
    I think that it's probably worth trusting the reader to form an image of the character. We know that he has a Spanish name and a Spanish accent. Unless it's absolutely vital to the plot that we know his melanin level, as mccardey put it, what's the purpose of this third detail?


  20. #20
    Heckuva good sport frimble3's Avatar
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    'Dark haired, with a piratical air, Alfaro spoke with a faint Spanish accent'?

  21. #21
    Heckuva good sport frimble3's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alessandra Kelley View Post
    It's root might be Scandinavian. I know it's related to "svartalf", meaning "dark elf" or troll.
    And yet, I find a sort of dissonance in the thought of a swarthy Viking.

  22. #22
    It's just a jump to the left... SWest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by frimble3 View Post
    And yet, I find a sort of dissonance in the thought of a swarthy Viking.
    Then you might find this pejorative usage interesting.




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  23. #23
    A seadog looking for crewmates Elenitsa's Avatar
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    I think the word simply describes somebody dark-skinned. Could have European origin - Italians, Spaniards, Greeks, people from Portugal and Southern France are swarthy. And I see no negative connotations when I read such a description. It is something objective - he isn't blond.

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  24. #24
    Sophipygian AW Moderator Alessandra Kelley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elenitsa View Post
    I think the word simply describes somebody dark-skinned. Could have European origin - Italians, Spaniards, Greeks, people from Portugal and Southern France are swarthy. And I see no negative connotations when I read such a description. It is something objective - he isn't blond.
    This is the problem with going with flat dictionary definitions.

    The word “swarthy” was routinely used in a negative way nineteenth and twentieth century literature and news stories to smear ethnic and dark-skinned people and associate them with piracy, dirtiness, greasiness, and criminality.

    It does not matter how much one clings to etymological purity and myths of inoffensiveness. Socially the word is a slur as much as “colored” is.

  25. #25
    Willing to Learn MythMonger's Avatar
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    I have a negative association with it. I first remember hearing the word on SNL in a mock Dukakis vs. Bush debate. Definitely meant as derogatory:

    Michael Dukakis: I am the son of Greek immigrants. My parents were little people - little swarthy people.
    https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-l...paign-88/n9702 (around the 9:13 mark)

    This, in combination with the Bush: He's Whiter SNL political ads from the day made the point clear, I think.
    https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-l...whiter/2859801
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