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Author Topic: Accuracy
Meredith
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THE BARD'S GIFT is a young adult alternate history set against the failure of the Norse colony in Greenland ca. 1350. I've done a fair amount of research for this project and I've tried to be as accurate as I can (except, of course, where the story turns speculative [Smile] ).

Early readers of the first few chapters stumbled over one term in particular--or maybe two. It's accurate, but I admit it does sound funny to modern ears.

Since there's little to no information directly about the Greenland colony other than a handful of sagas set much earlier (ca. 1000), I've had to use information about life in Iceland (where most of the Greenland settlers came from).

Although it was defunct in Iceland by 1350, they originally had a unique form of "representative" government called the Thing. Yes, that's the real name. [Razz] They were attended by the regional chieftains and their supporters who were called thingmenn.

The Thing itself doesn't (currently) play a major role in my story, but the thingmenn of a chieftain do. I could change this to something like liegemen or supporters, but I'm reluctant to do this. I'm more inclined, right now, to italicize the term and leave it.

Any opinions?

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Grumpy old guy
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Meredith, perhaps a glossary at the end might work. Like a list of characters etc. Part of the Wikipedia entry says:

A thing (Old Norse, Old English and Icelandic: þing; German, Dutch ding; modern Scandinavian languages: ting) was the governing assembly in Germanic societies and introduced into some Celtic societies, made up of the free people of the community and presided by lawspeakers, meeting in a place called a thingstead.

It was, in fact, the precusor to modern parliments.

Phil.

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Meredith
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I actually do already have a glossary. [Smile]
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Grumpy old guy
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Well then, I'd suggest that your previous 'readers' didn't read it too well. As for sounding funny, who says so? Just get them to look up the dictionary. The entry in my old, and very cheap one, says under thing, "An assembly, a parliment . . ."

Phil.

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lizluka
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I actually think 'thingmenn' sounds kind of cool. I thing that a problem you might run into is people (like me, before I read this post) who don't know that it's a real term. If they think you just made it up, then they'll probably read certain atmospheric conotations into it. Which may not be bad, depending on the tone of your story. I think it would look funny italicized though.
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Grumpy old guy
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lizlika has a valid point, and, italics are a cheat in writing; use them at your peril. Having thought about this a little since my last post, peharps 'showing' the thing in action might be the solution to your problem. All it needs to be is a short scene where the concept is introduced and 'explained'.
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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
lizlika has a valid point, and, italics are a cheat in writing; use them at your peril. Having thought about this a little since my last post, peharps 'showing' the thing in action might be the solution to your problem. All it needs to be is a short scene where the concept is introduced and 'explained'.

IME italics are often used with foreign words, which this is. That was what I intended.
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Robert Nowall
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It used to be the basic SF / fantasy reader was the savvy, nerdy kind of people who, if they see something unfamiliar, like a new word, they'll either (a) deduce its meaning from its use, or (b) go to the reference books and try to figure it out. (Look at Tolkien, who created several distinct languages and put them in his works, as well as using unusual and archaic (but correct) English words here and there.)

Unless every sentence has some unfamiliar phrase or word in it, I'd say, go with it. (A glossary at the end wouldn't hurt...)

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rcmann
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I think I first encountered the word "Thing" in the way you are using it while reading one of Poul Anderson's books more decades ago than I want to remember. Like Robert Nowall says, it used to be that you could reasonably expect a spec fic reader to be willing to think for themselves.

Now, you are lucky if your readers are fluent in their native tongue.

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Meredith
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@Robert Nowall and @rcmann:

I'd agree with both of you except for two things.

1) This is a young adult story. Although Maggie Stiefvater's SCORPIO RACES got away with using the nearly unpronounceable Gaelic for water horses, so . . .

2) On FIRE AND EARTH, I have now had two agents who purportedly represent fantasy comment that they don't know what a berserker is. That is more frustrating than I can adequately express here.

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rcmann
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It is the saddest thing in the world to me. I commented on my blog before about this deterioration.

Ever read one of the "old" McGuffey Readers? I mean the ones that were printed late nineteenth/early twentieth century? I read one that my parents used in the 1930s. The average reading level is about what is expected of my teenage son, who is first year college work. But that book was intended for grade school use.

Sad.

Had a boss at one of the engineering companies where I worked who told me that they used to be able to hire technicians with high school diplomas and be confident that they could be trained into the job. By the time we were talking, back in the 1990s, he told me that they could no linger be sure that someone with a B.S. degree was sufficiently literate and trained in math to be trainable for the technical requirements of a job as an engineering tech. He said many people were not, it depended on the school.

I am guessing that the same holds true for all lines of work.

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redux
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"The thing" is indeed a thing [Smile]

I looked up information on the origin of the word in Merriam-Webster because sometimes they give older variations of the word.

quote:
Origin of THING
Middle English, from Old English, thing, assembly; akin to Old High German ding thing, assembly, Gothic theihs time
First Known Use: before 12th century

If readers trip over "thing," even if italicized, perhaps you could consider using the Gothic term "theihs."

And here's an interesting explanation on the evolution of the word: http://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2012/07/thing.html

I should add that as a reader, when I see a word that is unknown to me or doesn't seem to be used in the sense I am used to, I turn to the dictionary. So, I am quite surprised, if not somewhat appalled, that you had two agents not know the word berserker.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by redux:


I should add that as a reader, when I see a word that is unknown to me or doesn't seem to be used in the sense I am used to, I turn to the dictionary. So, I am quite surprised, if not somewhat appalled, that you had two agents not know the word berserker.

I know. My perspective is: even if you haven't heard it used that way before, how hard is it to infer from the word "berserk" what a berserker would be? Sadly, it appears that, at least with some agents, I'm expecting too much. On the other hand, do I really want an agent that isn't at least smart enough to work that out?
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mfreivald
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I think most writers struggle with these things. It's like the observation that reality is sometimes way too far fetched for fiction--the reader simply won't believe it. (On the flipside, it's amazing what readers will believe when something is presented as fact.) I think terminology fights similar battles, and the craftsman has to adjust to these oddities of reader perception.

Meredith, you have an advantage, though. Since your story is based in real history, you could use the word(s) from the original language. (Assuming it doesn't sound ridiculous.) That's the first thing I'd consider, anyway.

Another thing to consider is that "thing" is a translation. There might be some greater nuances that you are missing. Like it may mean something more akin to "the Primary Thing" or "the Thing We Are" or "The Final Thing." Then you might find an English equivalent that works for that more accurate meaning. (Accuracy of meaning is never the same as word for word translation.)

Although icelandic languages are Old English, I would bet in Greenland what you are dealing with is more Nordic, so finding something in the language that is close to "thing," but has more colorful meaning might be a rewarding exercise.

I personally think this is one of the more fun aspects of speculative fiction--looking for those words which will give a unique flavor to your story. Think of it as a recipe, and find the ingredients that attains the flavor you are going for. I think that's far more important than accuracy in speculative fiction.

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lizluka
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quote:
Originally posted by Meredith:


2) On FIRE AND EARTH, I have now had two agents who purportedly represent fantasy comment that they don't know what a berserker is. That is more frustrating than I can adequately express here.

Ouch. Just, ouch.
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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by mfreivald:

Meredith, you have an advantage, though. Since your story is based in real history, you could use the word(s) from the original language. (Assuming it doesn't sound ridiculous.) That's the first thing I'd consider, anyway.

Another thing to consider is that "thing" is a translation. There might be some greater nuances that you are missing. Like it may mean something more akin to "the Primary Thing" or "the Thing We Are" or "The Final Thing." Then you might find an English equivalent that works for that more accurate meaning. (Accuracy of meaning is never the same as word for word translation.)

Although icelandic languages are Old English, I would bet in Greenland what you are dealing with is more Nordic, so finding something in the language that is close to "thing," but has more colorful meaning might be a rewarding exercise.


The Greenland settlers almost all came originally from Iceland. (The Icelanders almost all came from Norway, originally.)

Thing is a translation only in the sense that "th" is substituted for an extra consonant in Icelandic with looks like a slanted p and represents the "th" sound in Thor. (There's another consonant that looks sort of like a "d" with a slash across the stem, and represents the softer "th" sound in father.)

Research can be a dangerous thing. [Razz] [Big Grin]

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extrinsic
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Or research, deep research may hold an answer. "Thing" in the context of an assembly also has a prefix: Lands, or Landsting for the supreme assembly of a Scandinavian nation or colony. Greenland's national assembly circa 1400-1500 had a Landsting, as the region does today. More likely than not, Greenland's Landsting credibly predates that early era as well.

Like Congress, like Assembly, like Parliament, Landsting or Thing as a proper noun may not take a definite or indefinite article and may be used in a nonnumbered context. Congress convened. Assembly meets the third Monday of Michaelmass. Parliament ruled that the Stewarts and the McCleods must set aside their blood feud. Landsting, or Thing, elected a sergeant at arms for the next session.

Context and texture are paramount for readers to access an unusual term's meaning without burdensome or disruptive summarization or explanation. A best practice gives enough detail in scene without explaining the term so that readers understand the meaning and can infer an association with their supreme assembly, regardless of nationality.

Frank Herbert's Dune uses a similar term for the milieu's supreme council: Landsraad.

Italicizing a foreign term signals that the term is uncoventional to the native language of a text. Italics for a native term used in a milieu's everyday speech might send an unintended signal. Italics may also signal a formatting shortcut that in essence summarizes meaning without providing adequate context and texture to appreciate the meaning sufficiently without resorting to a dictionary or a slog through other reference sources; thus, disrupting the reading experience.

First law of writing effectively: facilitate reading and comprehension ease.

[ November 08, 2012, 06:04 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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rcmann
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Or, since your book is being written in English rather than Old Icelandic, you could just call it an assembly.
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Brendan
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quote:
2) On FIRE AND EARTH, I have now had two agents who purportedly represent fantasy comment that they don't know what a berserker is. That is more frustrating than I can adequately express here.
And these are agents for young adult??! Given that the term is used in half the fantasy role playing games on the market (either as a character type or as a power available to certain characters), be glad they didn't take your story up. If they don't understand the real competition for their own market, they probably won't last long. I mean, how will they know whether the story isn't just another well-written RPG rehash?
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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
Or, since your book is being written in English rather than Old Icelandic, you could just call it an assembly.

That'd work fine. Going back to the first post, though. The real question wasn't as much about the specific terms "Althing" (national) or "Varthing" (regional).

My real question was more about the term "thingmenn" for the chieftain's supporters.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by Brendan:
quote:
2) On FIRE AND EARTH, I have now had two agents who purportedly represent fantasy comment that they don't know what a berserker is. That is more frustrating than I can adequately express here.
And these are agents for young adult??! Given that the term is used in half the fantasy role playing games on the market (either as a character type or as a power available to certain characters), be glad they didn't take your story up. If they don't understand the real competition for their own market, they probably won't last long. I mean, how will they know whether the story isn't just another well-written RPG rehash?
I've pretty much come to that conclusion. I'm not a gamer, but I do know that "berserker" is used in some of the more popular games out there.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Meredith:
quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
Or, since your book is being written in English rather than Old Icelandic, you could just call it an assembly.

That'd work fine. Going back to the first post, though. The real question wasn't as much about the specific terms "Althing" (national) or "Varthing" (regional).

My real question was more about the term "thingmenn" for the chieftain's supporters.

My understanding Thing formally is a legislative assembly that's a check and balance to an executive role. Thingmenn don't support a chieftain or other leader, per se. They are like Senators and Legislators only not bicameral the same way. Ancient Thing was constituted to keep the peace between contentious clashing factions for a greater good, as in blood feuds, for example.
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MAP
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I like Thingmenn, it gives your world a little flavor and separates it from stories that are based on other cultures.

I think it is cool.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
My understanding Thing formally is a legislative assembly that's a check and balance to an executive role. Thingmenn don't support a chieftain or other leader, per se. They are like Senators and Legislators only not bicameral the same way. Ancient Thing was constituted to keep the peace between contentious clashing factions for a greater good, as in blood feuds, for example.

According to my chief source, the chieftain (godi, in which the "d" is that odd character that represents the "th" sound in father) attended the Varthing (regional) with all of his thingmenn and the Althing (national) with at least one in nine of his thingmenn.

"The godi looked after the interests of his thingmenn, and the thingmenn provided armed support in feuds and other disputes."

William R. Short. Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas (Kindle Locations 331-332). Kindle Edition.

I did use chieftain in place of godi.

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extrinsic
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The Incorporation and Integration of the King's Tributary Lands Into the Norwegian Realm c. 1195 - 1397 by Randi Bjørshol Wærdahl.

Parts of Greenland settled by Norse folk were Norwegian tributary lands.

Lowercase thorn þ; capital case thorn Þ.

A text on the Norse milieu (for political texture of the cultural era) during the medieval ages, free PDF download of Alan Crozier's English translation, book with maps at;

http://www.scribd.com/doc/79140805/The-Incorporation-and-Integration-of-the-Kings-Tributary-Lands-Into-the-Norwegian-Realm

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Meredith
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Thanks for the link, extrinsic. I'll check that out more thoroughly over the weekend. [Smile]

Primary sources on Greenland are thin to say the least. Yes, both Iceland and Greenland were territories of Norway. Even Iceland was mostly ignored by the Norwegian crown for the first couple of hundred years. In practice, Greenland was just too far away and too poor to be worth much effort. As far as I've been able to find, the king sent out a few bishops and that was about it.

Contact with the Greenland colony was lost in the last half of the 14th century. No one even tried to find out what happened to them until Denmark sent an expedition at the end of the 18th century. They found the colony abandoned and assumed that the Greenlanders had starved to death. (My story proposes a different fate. It is, after all, an alternate history.)

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Grumpy old guy
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quote:
originally posted by Meridith:
IME italics are often used with foreign words, which this is. That was what I intended

But, the point is, thing is not a 'foreign' word to your characters. If I were to set a story in the USA and have a character say "Konichi-wa", that would be an acceptable use of italics. Also, in telepathic communication in SF, the use of italics is de rigour. But in general, italics should be avoided at any cost.

Phil.

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Robert Nowall
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Can't help with the language...but, as for the agent, (1) if an agent can't make the mental leap that a berserker is, at the least, a guy who's gone berserk, the agent probably isn't on the ball about other things, too...and (2) I always thought the agent was supposed to represent and / or help the writer, not pick about things like that.
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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
Can't help with the language...but, as for the agent, (1) if an agent can't make the mental leap that a berserker is, at the least, a guy who's gone berserk, the agent probably isn't on the ball about other things, too...and (2) I always thought the agent was supposed to represent and / or help the writer, not pick about things like that.

Absolutely agree about #1

#2, well, agents have always been picky, and with the current state of the publishing industry . . .

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
quote:
originally posted by Meridith:
IME italics are often used with foreign words, which this is. That was what I intended

But, the point is, thing is not a 'foreign' word to your characters. If I were to set a story in the USA and have a character say "Konichi-wa", that would be an acceptable use of italics. Also, in telepathic communication in SF, the use of italics is de rigour. But in general, italics should be avoided at any cost.

Phil.

That's not what I'm seeing in published works. Just sayin'.
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MattLeo
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I'm with Phil on this one. A glossary is a good idea.

As for rcmann's suggestion of simply using "assembly" in place of "þing", it's worth considering although it may go a bit too far. One of the reasons readers read fantasy or historical fiction is to be transported to an alien society with alien rules and institutions. So "thingmenn" for "retainers" is reasonable.

This is a craft issue. Use of a foreign or pseudo-foreign term is a device which works in the hands of some authors but not in the hands of others. I think the difference is that strong writers don't just write to fulfill their pet theories, they write with an ear cocked for how something will strike the reader. Thus unfamiliar words are often annoying because they float in the general fog of the manuscript's incomprehensibility.

I think when an unfamiliar word is used it is important to pay special care to its first occurance. Let's say we use "thingmenn" in its Middle English sense. You might try an appositive phrase, e.g., "Cnut rode up flanked by two thingmenn -- armed soldiers in his personal service." Thereafter assume the reader knows what a "thingmann" is.

Extrinsic's guidance on italics depending on the story's milieu matches my instinct. If a term is a foreign term to the POV character, italicize it. If it is in his native language, I wouldn't italicize -- at least not past the first use where you might want to draw attention to it. On that first use you might want to hint that yes, this is a foreign word, you don't expect the reader to know what it means so he should pay close attention.

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Meredith
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Thanks.

My instinct is that thingmenn stays. I'll look at the first use and see if I can't throw the reader a lifeline at that point. [Smile]

As I said above, there already is a glossary that defines this and many other terms--the proper names of the types of ships and boats being used, specifics of the buildings and layout of a Norse farm of the period, certain mythological beings mentioned in the story, and a couple of real, but little known creatures (Greenland shark, anyone?).

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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For whatever it may be worth, the Isle of Man (in the Irish Sea, between Ireland and Great Britain) still has a Thing. And where they meet is a pretty cool place, in my opinion.

As for the clueless agents (regarding berserker), sounds to me as if they are looking for any excuse to reject--and it's a darn poor excuse at that. If that's the worst they can find in your manuscript, I'd take that as a good sign, and not bother with such agents in future.

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