PDA

View Full Version : Swearing in a Fantasy World



Evaine
10-01-2006, 05:07 PM
I have a problem with one of my characters, who should be using 'colourful' language, but in the context of a society where the main religion worships The Goddess (so no 'God' or 'damn' or 'Hell') and where bastardy is not seen as a problem, so is not used as a swear word.

Any ideas on what he can say instead, when he breaks his ankle, or when he's talking about someone he thinks is a complete creep?

Serenity
10-01-2006, 05:44 PM
You could use the Goddess' name as a swear word, I've seen this done in several of the fantasy books I've read. (David Edding's Belgariad/Mallorean come to mind) Or make one up, just keep it consistent.

For example, in a WIP I've got going, it's set under the oceans and they don't go above the surface. So their 'go to hell!' is acutally 'go to the sky!'. 'For the love of God!' became 'For the love of the Deep!'.

Come up with something that 'sounds' like a swear word, but keep it relevant to your world:

"Zat!" he swore. Where maybe 'Zat' is the name of a town destroyed by whatever 'evil' is in your world or it's the name of a particularly hated/bad/evil person in your world's history. (Please bear in mind that was completely made up off the top of my head... :tongue )

Just my two cents.

UrsulaV
10-01-2006, 06:27 PM
I'd caution using made-up swear words...well...cautiously. When they work, great, wonderful, they're unobtrusive, but when they fail, they're a bit sad. (Anybody remember "tanj"?) You can get away with all manner of religious curses, but bad words are culturally ground in, and not so malleable.

For expletives, the old stand-bys for practically every human society are sex and excrement. No matter what your religion, those two are great favorites. (Blood works too.) So when he breaks his ankle, I'd suggest that perennial favorite, "OH ****! MY F*CKING ANKLE!" and even if you worship a goddess, you are still likely to recognize the less stellar qualities of dogs, so there's always "Son of a *****."

Be wary of particularly lengthy constructions. My Catholic grandmother liked "Saint Anthony!" as her profane standby, but in times of stress used "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" and "Holy Mary, mother of God!" but she was a very specific sort of character--there's a lot more people who simply yell "F*CK!" and if everybody's curses go on for five lines, it starts to get stilted. Anne Bishop comes to mind--her great curse was "Something something, something else, and something something something something!" with the end result that all of these tormented sadomasochist characters reminded me irresistably of my Catholic grandmother whenever they were upset.

I think the thing is--stuff like "Sweet Jesus!" or "Saint Anthony!" are easily interchangeable. Mild curses based on the names of holy figures, you can do a fair bit with, because it's a completely understandable construction. We understand that people yell the name of a god when they're upset, we get that. So your characters can yell "Sweet Meredith!" or "Holy Bonejigger!" or whatever your gods are named, and it's comprehensible.

But when you get into stuff like "****!" where it's not a construction, it's just a bad word, something that our culture has agreed collectively is naughty--that's pretty hard to fake. There's no cultural weight behind it, so we're not shocked by the bad language, we just go "Okay..." It's not something where you can just change out the word for a synonym, either--if someone breaks their ankle and yells "FECES!" they're gonna get a lot of really strange looks.

So I guess what I'm saying is that you can easily come up with a curse with the impact of "Sweet Jesus!" or "Saint Anthony!" because they belong to a fairly weak category of religious curses, and they're easily interchangeable. But you'll have hell's own time trying to make up a word that's got the impact of "****."


Note: The censors really ate this post, huh? Insert a four-letter word for one's excrement or the verb to excrete in place of all the asterisks, and you've got it.

ChaosTitan
10-01-2006, 07:53 PM
So I guess what I'm saying is that you can easily come up with a curse with the impact of "Sweet Jesus!" or "Saint Anthony!" because they belong to a fairly weak category of religious curses, and they're easily interchangeable. But you'll have hell's own time trying to make up a word that's got the impact of "****."

How about frak? :D

Here's a few quick examples that are culturally bound expletives (and I'm borrowing these from a comic book series).

"X'Hal!" The name of an alien goddess, often shouted when the alien is surprised by something.

"Great Hera!" Same thing, this time from someone of mythological upbringing, and later changed to "Great Gaiea!" when her background changed.

The character could still shout things like that when injured, in place of our traditional f-bomb (which would seriously stand out in a fantasy setting). Once or twice when annoyed or injured (usually by cat claws) I've yelled "Christ!" Sub in your local deity, and you're good to go. ;)

badducky
10-01-2006, 08:08 PM
Culturally and historically many different things can be used.

The Dutch traditionally swore using their word for "Plague!", for instance.

Street slang from every era provides a fruitful bounty of useful slang. My favorite fantasy usage of slang is in the video game "Planescape: Torment".

Toss off, Cutter.

UrsulaV
10-01-2006, 09:28 PM
Oh, I remember a game called Shadowrun that I played back in high school. They had an interesting way to swear that I suppose people just pick up after reading the book. I think it was "drek". I don't know what it connotates, but it looks all right on paper.

I loved Shadowrun, I have played it with great passion and zeal, but some of the slang was just sad. If anybody in our group said "chummer," conversation would be halted until we picked ourselves up off the floor.

That's the problem--if you do slang badly, it becomes laughably dorky.

mdin
10-01-2006, 10:05 PM
Hey. I loved Shadowrun. There's a new Shadowrun-based video game coming out for the PC and Xbox 360 pretty soon.


Anyway, a lot of swearing has been around a long time, and the meaning isn't always clear to present-day users.

I would echo the warning about using something that sounds a bit cheesy or stupid.

Medievalist
10-01-2006, 10:40 PM
Cursing in very many languages and dead cultures involves oaths on sacred objects or on the deity's body parts.

Vincent
10-02-2006, 07:07 AM
I always found swearing to invented deity's to sound a bit clunky. Especially when they are obviously just mimicking our own curse phrases, replacing a key word or two to turn "Dear God!" into "Dear Urzk'imnet the Insoluble!"

tigaseren
10-02-2006, 07:24 AM
I've always found references to animals, genetics, and weather are good. One of my favorites: bloody thunding son of a three legged goat! or some such. I don't curse in real life, so I get to be inventive, I've actually said 'bloody thundering son of a three legged goat' on occassion. (anybody familiar with the Monty Python 'your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries' ?) I also make up specific curse words for my culture, one such: 'derroot'. But if I do I always make a note of defining them within the book (derroot means 'dirt father' and is used to suggest that a man is so uncarring about sexual partners that he'd have sex with a hold in the ground. It comes from a society that is obsessed with racial purity so it makes sense.)

Shadow_Ferret
10-02-2006, 06:36 PM
Well, Conan used to yell "Crom!" all the time, the name of his god. In addition he used other oaths based on Robert E. Howard's mythology.

My own work each character swears according to their beliefs. They use their version of "hell."

I have no problem with a story's characters cursing according to how that society operates.

Variant Frequencies
10-02-2006, 07:32 PM
I loved what they did on the show Firefly, which died all too soon. They replaced cuss words with words or phrases that were close in sound or meaning. "Hump" or "rut" in place of the F word. As in, "We're humped." "Gorram" instead of the G.D. we're used to.

Lyra Jean
10-02-2006, 07:55 PM
I love Firefly. I have the series and the movie Serenity. They also cursed a lot in Chinese.

What about Farscape and thier use of Frell.

Kentuk
10-02-2006, 08:10 PM
I have a problem with one of my characters, who should be using 'colourful' language, but in the context of a society where the main religion worships The Goddess (so no 'God' or 'damn' or 'Hell') and where bastardy is not seen as a problem, so is not used as a swear word.

Any ideas on what he can say instead, when he breaks his ankle, or when he's talking about someone he thinks is a complete creep?

Swearing is so stylized. It is the same old words over and again. I like being vulgar and shocking without resorting to profanity. Body functions are fertile ground. In a recent story a barbarian seeks to take a widow but doesn't want the baby, calls it another man's spit. She kills him of course.

"You smell like crap" isn't nearly as evocative as saying "You smell like navel lint."

In regard to religion people often swear by the old gods least they offend the new.

Evaine
10-02-2006, 11:15 PM
Thanks for all the ideas - he already says "Goddess!" but there are a few ideas here to add some variety.
I like the "three legged goat".

Anthony Ravenscroft
10-03-2006, 12:43 AM
First, you need to understand your own question.

What -- for you -- is the difference between swearing, cursing, & profanity?

In Japan, saying "You smell like butter!" could get you killed. Yet, there's an African culture where saying that a woman smells like rotting meat means you find her very sexy.

Study Maledicta. http://www.sonic.net/maledicta/ Here's a good list of subjects: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maledicta

Why would your characters say naughty things? To appear macho? To express frustration? To complain to the gods?

Do they believe in magic? If so, does "words have power" not operate in your world?

MattW
10-03-2006, 04:57 AM
Whoreson

/thread

Taurus Rising
10-05-2006, 04:21 PM
I have a problem with one of my characters, who should be using 'colourful' language, but in the context of a society where the main religion worships The Goddess (so no 'God' or 'damn' or 'Hell') and where bastardy is not seen as a problem, so is not used as a swear word.

Any ideas on what he can say instead, when he breaks his ankle, or when he's talking about someone he thinks is a complete creep?

First off, I echo UrsalaV's caution. Made up swear words can stand out and be distracting. That said, here's some ideas - all of which are silly guidlines only:

"(blank)balls" with the blank as dung-, ant-, goat-, or basically any word of one strong syllable.

Buggernuts.

"(blank) me" with the blank as any strong one syllable verb, usually something unplesant.

"(this) and (that)" with "this" being a single syllable and "that" being two, and both "this" and "that" are plural. Good alliteration helps, but isn't necessary. "Stars and garters", "Frogs and fishguts", "Balls and biscuits"

"(important person) on a stick!"

and for the PG story, there's always the dependable, "Blast it!" and "Bosh".

PattiTheWicked
10-05-2006, 04:41 PM
I remember when I was about nine, i heard someone say "Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick." The visual made me laugh so hard that it's stuck with me ever since.

I also am a fan of using various deities' body parts in swearing, such as "What in the name of Zeus' butthole?" or "Neptune's nipples!"

Sadly, I'm one of those people who didn't discover Firefly until after its demise -- and thanks to the movie, Serenity. I'm planning on getting caught up via the wonder that is DVD.

Evaine
10-05-2006, 11:07 PM
Anthony Ravenscroft asked some good questions above.
One of the places where I want to use strong language is where the character breaks his ankle. I'd say "Oh, sh!t!" in that situation, but he'd say something else.
On another occasion, he wants to describe another character he doesn't like. I'd say "What a bastard." But in that society, being a bastard isn't something you get insulted for, so he needs something else to say.
And magic is based on manipulation of the four elements of Fire, Water, Earth and Air, so words don't have the power they might have for a wizard of Earthsea, for instance. However, my character is a bard, so words are important to him.

Just a thought on alliteration - thanks, Taurus Rising. An oath which is now obsolete in my part of the world, Lancashire in the UK, was "Blood and sand!" which came from a silent movie about bullfighters starring Rudolf Valentino. There's a possibility.