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SuspiciousCookie
03-07-2014, 09:17 PM
Hellos, it's me again.

I was wondering if any of you had any collections of medieval slang terms to use? I'm writing on my high fantasy novel right now and it occurs to me that I need to use slang or some sort thereof for smalltalk between criminals and lowlifes, but oftentimes I feel at a loss for what words could be used.

For example, medieval vulgar terms.

Obviously I can't just take words we use today since they're just that: Today's terms, not used in the middle ages. Of course my novel doesn't take place in the middle ages but (as I said) in my own high fantasy world, but that doesn't mean I can just use today's words then. It would feel very much out of place.

I could make up my own words, but I'd like to hear what suggestions you guys have first, since making up words might leave a reader guessing as to what exactly that word means, whereas words that already exist should be anchored in one's consciousness (or can easily be looked up).

Friendly reminder: I'm not looking for "general" medieval terms like cuisses, greaves, a coat of arms, etc., only slang; replacements for words like "dude", "what's up?" etc. and I don't want to have to read through all ASoIaF books again for that. :o

Cheers.

Torgo
03-07-2014, 09:21 PM
May I recommend Jonathon Green's slang timelines for various things here (http://jonathongreen.co.uk/timelines/)? You can dial them all the way back to medieval times.

Green's the world's foremost authority on slang in English and you can feel confident about the dates given here (though of course the further back you go the less certain things become.)

TheNighSwan
03-07-2014, 10:16 PM
You're writing in modern English though.

I never found it was a good idea to include archaic (or outright obsolete) words and grammar in a text to make it flavored as if it was written "back then" — "back then", people spoke a really different language that would be completely unintelligible to us.

This makes even less sense in a fantasy setting that isn't even in our reality.

Just make your characters talk normally, using neutral language that is not connoted with a particular time period.

OR

For a fantasy setting that isn't related to our world, invent your own slang and idioms.

SuspiciousCookie
03-07-2014, 10:25 PM
May I recommend Jonathon Green's slang timelines for various things here (http://jonathongreen.co.uk/timelines/)? You can dial them all the way back to medieval times.

Green's the world's foremost authority on slang in English and you can feel confident about the dates given here (though of course the further back you go the less certain things become.)
Thanks! A very useful resource. I bookmarked it.

You're writing in modern English though.

I never found it was a good idea to include archaic (or outright obsolete) words and grammar in a text to make it flavored as if it was written "back then" — "back then", people spoke a really different language that would be completely unintelligible to us.

This makes even less sense in a fantasy setting that isn't even in our reality.
Thank you, but I humbly disagree. Of course I can't write the book completely "old-style", but I believe it adds to the immersion to include at least a few archaic words in a high fantasy novel. It makes the world seem more real in my opinion. :)

King Neptune
03-07-2014, 11:23 PM
Most Medieval English slang is now either standard English or dropped from the language, but there are a few words that are still slang, two examples are f*ck and c*nt. That link looks like fun.

SuspiciousCookie
03-07-2014, 11:29 PM
Heh, yes, indeed. The link Torgo posted also included "cunt" as one of the earliest (recorded) slangs of "vagina." I plan to use it, along with "fuck", "cunt", "cock", and others quite often. Well, not in an overflow-manner, but sometimes.

Right now, I'm especially looking at the term "You've got to be kidding me" slash "Are you (freakin') kidding me?"
I reckon that's not entirely medieval-ish, so can anyone think of an alternative way of saying that?

KellyAssauer
03-07-2014, 11:31 PM
Now why the swyve (http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=564484&highlight=swyve) would I know any medieval curse words?


*sometimes spelled swive.

Torgo
03-07-2014, 11:31 PM
Heh, yes, indeed. The link Torgo posted also included "cunt" as one of the earliest (recorded) slangs of "vagina." I plan to use it, along with "fuck", "cunt", "cock", and others quite often. Well, not in an overflow-manner, but sometimes.

Right now, I'm especially looking at the term "You've got to be kidding me" slash "Are you (freakin') kidding me?"
I reckon that's not entirely medieval-ish, so can anyone think of an alternative way of saying that?

Nay then you jest, and now I well perceive
You have but jested with me all this while:
I prithee, sister Kate, untie my hands.

Telergic
03-08-2014, 12:18 AM
Swive is solely a verb, surely. Fuck is too, of course, but when you say what the fuck, you use it as a noun.

mayqueen
03-08-2014, 12:26 AM
I write historical fiction. Some folks may disagree, but I only use fuck as a verb. I recently read a novel that was supposed to be historical fiction and one of the characters says, "What the fuck?" It was so modern to me that it pulled me out of the story.

Maybe turn to one of those Shakespeare insult guides to help you craft an old-feeling lexicon of curses?

snafu1056
03-08-2014, 10:12 AM
I'd go with just inventing my own slang. Actual medieval slang would probably be baffling to modern ears. Create some words and phrases that sound slanggy, but are easy enough to understand without a glossary.

Bolero
03-08-2014, 08:37 PM
Slang and swearing can include contemporary references that are of contemporary importance - or in short an awful lot are religious in origin.

Cor blimey - God blind me (or so I've heard)
Hell and damnation - still used today.

And then my brain runs out - I'm sure I used to know more.

But in inventing something, you'd want to have the context of your world. A fantasy example is from Lois McMaster Bujold's The Hallowed Hunt. The world includes a god called the Bastard. One of the characters swears with the word "dratsab".

Medievalist
03-08-2014, 09:26 PM
Neither fuck or cunt were slang or are slang now; they are considered vulgar or obscene, but they are not slang. They were both used in Chaucer's era, but instead of using cunt for instance, he used the informal but not vulgar quaint/queynte. As here in The Miller's Tale:


As clerkes ben ful subtile and ful queynte,
And prively he caughte hire by the queynte,
And seyde, “Ywis, but if ich have my wille,
For deerne love of thee, lemman, I spille” (ll. 3275-3278).

That is:


As clerics are very subtle and very clever,
And privately he caught her by the precious thing,
And said, "Indeed, but unless I have my will,
For secret love for you, lover, I spill.

You'll notice that Chaucer puns on both meanings of modern "quaint": (http://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=quaint&submit.x=51&submit.y=19)

adj. quaint·er, quaint·est
1. Charmingly odd, especially in an old-fashioned way: "Sarah Orne Jewett ... was dismissed by one critic as merely a New England old maid who wrote quaint, plotless sketches of late 19th-century coastal Maine" (James McManus).
2. Archaic Unfamiliar or unusual in character; strange: quaint dialect words.
3. Archaic Cleverly made or done.
[Middle English, clever, cunning, peculiar, from Old French queinte, cointe, from Latin cognitus, past participle of cognōscere, to learn; see COGNITION.]

Chaucer knew the word cunt perfectly well, but by alluding to it with the similarly sounding "quant" he could pun and not be rude—and he was writing right at the point where cunt has started to change from a word for vagina to a rude word that people don't use in polite company.

You'll also notice the use of "spill (http://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=spill&submit.x=55&submit.y=33)" to mean "die", and yeah, there's a pun there too on spilling blood, the ME meaning, and spilling semen.

What you really want is informal language, not so much slang (http://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=slang&submit.x=36&submit.y=32).

Look for ways of creating your own idioms using the basic English you already know, or idioms that while still used are older.

Bolero
03-09-2014, 10:36 PM
I'd just add that you might want to do some research into smooth ways of writing dialect. I've not ever done it myself (write dialect) but I remember reading Monica Dickens' autobiography when she comments on having been taught how to write easily readable dialect speech. (Taught by a well known author she met personally, can't remember who that was.) Basically there was a way of writing word order and choice that gave a flavour of a dialect without it being clunky and full of apostrophes, odd spellings and the like ( 'ee bai gum) etc

So you could use those techniques to give a flavour without necessarily using many obviously archaic phrase. Just a suggestion on a slightly different research route to achieve what Medievalist has already suggested.

ClareGreen
03-09-2014, 10:42 PM
In some dialects, the verb to the end of the sentence goes. And it's all questions, now, isn't it?

In others, there's the little things what give it away as not proper-like.

And so it goes on...

Reziac
04-27-2014, 10:20 PM
Check out this book:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Dictionary_of_Slang_and_Unconventional_English

While it's not medieval as such, it does give some history that might be useful. Seems to me you could do backformations, take an existing slang phrase and use older forms of the words, and arrive at something appropriate for a fictional world.

JoeHill
04-27-2014, 10:53 PM
Eala!('Hello' in Old English)

There seems to be some slang here: http://www.citrus.k12.fl.us/staffdev/social%20studies/PDF/Medieval%20English.pdf