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Orianna2000
10-28-2012, 05:31 PM
I need some language experts. I'm writing a romance with sci-fi elements, about an alien who crashes on a planet whose civilization is about the same as our 1930s. The country he lands in is militaristic and xenophobic. They shun religion--gods and goddesses have no place in their society. The people are trained/brainwashed from birth to respect the government and almost-but-not-quite worship their leader, who is a military general.

I have the MC say things like, "For mercy's sake," instead of "For God's sake," and "It would be a victory," instead of "I'd be lucky." Phrases that represent the mindset of the people. Now I find myself needing a substitute for "hell" and "damn," as I realized that those are both religious in nature. They wouldn't say them, so I need something unique, something that fits their culture. I don't want to go the Farscape route and just make up random curse words like, "Frell," or "Freck." I want the profanity to have significance to the people.

Not sure if this is the right forum, but I wanted some language experts to weigh in. What sort of words might they use instead of "Hell" and "Damn"? Any suggestions? Even just a nudge in the right direction would be useful.

RichardGarfinkle
10-28-2012, 05:58 PM
You can use more natural processes to indicate ill-wishing. One of my personal favorite curses is an ancient Greek one that roughly translates as "To the crows with it." basically meaning may it be eaten up like carrion.

In Frank Herbert's Dune Messiah there is a Fremen cuss "Dehydrate it." meaning the direct object is of no use except for its water.

We have some similar things in English, like the usages of garbage, trash, and rot ("trash it," "it's just garbage" etc). The natural world has enough possible processes to imply the desire to have something fall apart into its component parts and stop bothering people.

Witch_turtle
10-29-2012, 03:46 AM
One of my personal favorite curses is an ancient Greek one that roughly translates as "To the crows with it." basically meaning may it be eaten up like carrion.

Jim Butcher's characters in his "Furies of Calderon" series used "crows" as a curse as well. Probably based off this historical fact, as I believe the fantasy culture contained a lot of ancient Greek/Roman elements. If memory serves me, though, there were also...evil or dangerous crows, of some kind? It's been a while, sorry :)

I don't think you need a language expert. RichardGarfinkle is right, think of things that have a negative connotation in your created society and play around with those to come up with slang terms. Many of our slang terms have religious backgrounds but many also don't--think about all the nasty words you can call someone that technically refer to women and female body parts.

Drachen Jager
10-29-2012, 09:34 AM
Googled: list of curse words in different languages

http://blog.buttermouth.com/2008/04/how-to-swear-100-ways-in-20-languages.html

http://www.youswear.com/

There are more on the list but those should give a good idea. Many foreign cultures have swears that are completely different from ours, I know in Mandarin, saying "turtle eggs" is about as bad as it gets, or calling someone a turtle egg as an insult.

Joemassaro
10-29-2012, 07:19 PM
The best way to devise oaths, both profane and sacred is to look at what defines your world and it's culture. Christians might use "go to hell" (but not exclusively) and "god help us" because hell and god are two important and defining aspects of Christianity. What defines your world and it's people(s)? The above comments are spot on. You don't need to be a language expert. Just be consistent with your created world and it will build on itself.
Joe

buz
10-29-2012, 07:32 PM
(this post includes bad words)

Swearing in many cultures can revolve around a few key elements: a) netherparts (dick 'n' balls), b) excreted things (piss 'n' shit), c) insulting one's mother, father, family and ancestors (fuck the eighteen generations of your ancestors 'n' motherfucker), d) sexual things (infinite possibilities). Religion can play into it, but I think those are the essentials.

So, for hell or damn, you can get as simple as "piss" or "shit" or "balls" or as flowery as "a suppurating pox on my dick" or "may my ancestors invite a rabid dog to crap in my mouth" or "bull-dicked wraiths fuck my ears" or whatever.

(...I kind of find creative swearing enjoyable :P )

thothguard51
10-29-2012, 07:34 PM
I assume your alien speaks the same language of the world he/she landed on. It not, it won't matter because no one will understand what he is saying. Still, even if he/she does speak the same language, unless this world only has one race, one culture, there will be lots of things he/she does not understand.

The character could wish someone good tidings in whatever words are representative of this, and for someone from a different culture, it could be an insult, or vice verse...

In my humble opinion, always keep in character and if need be, you could have another character correct him, that what he said was an insult, or praise where none should be given, or even an bad or good oath, where none is meant. If you get my drift...

Cyia
10-29-2012, 07:57 PM
Now I find myself needing a substitute for "hell" and "damn," as I realized that those are both religious in nature.


In context, they're both variants of condemnation. What's the worst punishment your aliens have ever devised? You could use that as a base. Or what do they believe happens when they die? Even if they're Atheist, they surely have a term for death and what comes after, even if it's an idea of oblivion or void. You could use that to - a sort of curse word / threat of death.

RichardGarfinkle
10-29-2012, 09:00 PM
In context, they're both variants of condemnation. What's the worst punishment your aliens have ever devised? You could use that as a base. Or what do they believe happens when they die? Even if they're Atheist, they surely have a term for death and what comes after, even if it's an idea of oblivion or void. You could use that to - a sort of curse word / threat of death.

Not strictly accurate. While they would presumably have a concern with death, they might not have any life after death ideas at all. While all human cultures have had some (often a lot) of ideas about this, aliens need not have such among their concerns and fears, therefore they need not have any cusses related to it.

Orianna2000
10-29-2012, 11:32 PM
Good points. I'm trying to do as suggested and make the curses authentic for the culture. I've got a few already, but I'm having difficulty with "hell" and "damn." As in, "Hell, I'd give my right arm for the chance to see my family again." or "Damn! They're following us."

The thing is, I don't want to just invent words. In Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels, they have curses based on the world and its traditions. "Shells" and "shards" are clever expletives inspired by a broken dragon egg. But hers is a world that's explored in more than a dozen novels, it's rich and full, and it's utterly unique. Since mine is just a one-off novel, I don't have time to explain the history of the invented curse words. They need to be self-explanatory.

As far as life after death, they believe in nothingness, a void. As for punishments, the worst thing would be locked up in a prison camp, left to rot. I considered using "rot" as a curse word, but I was afraid I'd have to explain it, which (as I said above) I'm trying to avoid.

I'll have to give this more consideration.

Joemassaro
10-30-2012, 06:01 AM
Good points. I'm trying to do as suggested and make the curses authentic for the culture. I've got a few already, but I'm having difficulty with "hell" and "damn." As in, "Hell, I'd give my right arm for the chance to see my family again." or "Damn! They're following us."

The thing is, I don't want to just invent words. In Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels, they have curses based on the world and its traditions. "Shells" and "shards" are clever expletives inspired by a broken dragon egg. But hers is a world that's explored in more than a dozen novels, it's rich and full, and it's utterly unique. Since mine is just a one-off novel, I don't have time to explain the history of the invented curse words. They need to be self-explanatory.

As far as life after death, they believe in nothingness, a void. As for punishments, the worst thing would be locked up in a prison camp, left to rot. I considered using "rot" as a curse word, but I was afraid I'd have to explain it, which (as I said above) I'm trying to avoid.

I'll have to give this more consideration.


I don't think you need to worry about explaining a word. You only need to do it once, and can do it through clever exposition. Here is an example with the word "rot."

"Let her go you filthy piece of rot!" Darvin spat, glaring at the disheveled, pockmarked under dweller. Normally he avoided
using slurs, but "rot," as plague ridden under dwellers were called, was as good a term as any to describe the slimy bandit Kevis Janak.

Joe

StormChord
10-31-2012, 02:53 AM
It's a warrior culture, correct? It seems like the swearwords would be rooted in taboos; to this guy, "fraternize" is probably a bad word. Cowardice, desertion, and everything considered an abomination to the army would probably be in this guy's verbal arsenal.

The words you're talking about - "hell" and "damn" - are basically used for emphasis. You could find fairly simple replacements. "Rot" is not a bad replacement for "damn", and you don't necessarily need to explain it. Be warned, however, that "rot" is a bit of a britishism. You might need to be careful about accidentally making him sound posh.

Orianna2000
10-31-2012, 05:48 AM
Point well taken. Coward or deserter would be good insults. I'll brainstorm the concept and see if I can come with a few more.

RichardGarfinkle
10-31-2012, 11:02 AM
Point well taken. Coward or deserter would be good insults. I'll brainstorm the concept and see if I can come with a few more.

There can also be less serious insults refering to competence. One dervation of the word rookie is that it comes from recruit. So that a rookie mistake is the kind a new recruit might make.

Melisande
11-04-2012, 09:26 AM
Seems to me that if the people are under opression and do not like it, their curse words would allude to that, like, "lock", "chain", "bars" (as in jail bars), "jail" and other words of distinction.

I could sound like this (if you don't mind)

- Bar, they are following us! or

- Lock and chains, I'd give my right arm to see my family again! or

- Enjailment!, why didn't I think of that sooner?!

Orianna2000
11-04-2012, 06:07 PM
Seems to me that if the people are under opression and do not like it, their curse words would allude to that, like, "lock", "chain", "bars" (as in jail bars), "jail" and other words of distinction.

Interesting idea! The thing is, the culture doesn't really notice that they're oppressed. Most of the people have been brainwashed from infancy to acknowledge that the state is all-powerful, the General is wise and benevolent, and anything the government does is for the people's benefit. The General is very manipulative, so the people don't even realize they're living in poverty. Dissenters are dealt with quickly and severely, so no one dares speak up against their society. But for the most part, why would they want to? They're all one big, happy family with the General as their loving father.

That said, your suggestion could be applied anyway, just to the situation as it is. They're a proud people, militant, and national, so it would have to be something along those lines. "Flag-burner" could be an insult, perhaps. "Deserter" or "collaborator" would be huge insults.

I'm still having trouble thinking of something simple and basic to use in place of "hell" and "damn," though. I'm thinking maybe a shortened version of something else. Because "damn" is actually short for "damnation," right? So it makes sense that maybe the word would be abbreviated over time, to make it easier to say.

Smiling Ted
11-04-2012, 08:23 PM
Bodily fluids and functions go a long way, and they usually have one-syllable names. Perfect for cursing.