This is topic what to call parents?! dilemma in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

To visit this topic, use this URL:;f=1;t=008067

Posted by kirsten.j (Member # 10779) on :
Hi everyone,

I'm working on a sci-fi short story from the POV of a 16-ish-year-old girl who lives in a society on the moon a couple thousand years in the future. The society is childish, anti-intellectual, indulgent, hedonistic (just to give you an idea of their culture).

I can't figure out how I want my character to refer to her parents. I need labels that are recognizable equivalents of "Mom" and "Dad" but that also fit with the society/culture/time period of the story.

I could just use normal labels such as Mom/Dad, Ma/Pa, Mother/Father, etc. I don't like doing this, because it makes the story seem as if it's taking place in OUR time and OUR culture-- I would rather give the reader a sense that this is a futuristic society very different from our own.
It also suggests that the society is descendant from English-speakers, while I'd rather keep it neutral in that sense.

I could also make up my own terms -- which is so hard for me! Everything I think of just sounds cheesy and stupid. If anyone has any suggestions, please share!! They would have to be simple and straight-forward terms, clearly meant to indicate Mom/ Dad-- nothing complicated-- but also completely original.

I could make the characters call their parents by their first names, which would fit with the society/ culture nicely (the entire culture has a lack of seriousness regarding any kind of structure). I would have to make sure the reader was aware those people were indeed her parents. Is that too cumbersome/ awkward?

[Note: this is only hinted at in my story, but I don't think of there being standard reproductive methods in this society. The technology is hugely advanced, to the point of eliminating many of the messy aspects of human existence, so it seems logical to eliminate pregnancy. I'm picturing something Brave-New-World style... artificial wombs and so on. Basically people decide to partner up and then "order" babies.
But this is just background info, it doesn't really factor into the story.]
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
So it's likely that the nature of conception, birth, and child-rearing have changed...but there still exist two parents in a relationship of this nature with one child. I suppose calling them by their names would be out, wouldn't it?
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Sixteen-year-olds develop a sarcasm aptitude and attitude toward most every aspect of their existence. The Y, or Millennial, generation takes sarcasm toward a new extreme, a set of the generation is purported to anyway. Some of the generation are more capable of apt sarcasm than others, who flounder when they attempt sarcasm. The generational in-group label of the sarcastic mien, though, is "ironically cool."

Ironic, yes, of a toxic degree, explicitly cynical sarcasm; cool, yes, or "hip," "right on," gospel "word" to an in-group's sensibilities. Such teenagers and older people of the generation ridicule and mock (sarcasm) their parents; behind their backs, to their faces, certainly to their friendship and acquaintanceship groups, as well as mock and ridicule much of their existence parameters. Prior generations were and still are sarcastic toned, only differently expressed and targeted.

Scholars attribute this sarcasm type to fear, doubt, confusion, and anger toward how complex and frustrating adulthood life has become, especially in this Digital Age. After all, sixteen is young adulthood, and many of adulthood's young or otherwise identity crises cause great consternation among -- well, everyone. Sarcasm is a mode for coping with anxieties according to scholars. That and dismissiveness of what is difficult and with which persons are underequipped to cope or maturely transcend. So yeah, due to parental ineptness, parents are subject to children's external blame assignments and sarcasms.

See the Urban Dictionary for alternative labels children apply to parents, several are dysphemisms, deprecated if not outright negative terms for otherwise emotionally neutral labels, opposite of euphemisms, which neutralize, at least, negative-context words: Parents, "rents," "rentals," for examples, dysphemisms. "The folks" is a slang euphemism, for parents, shorthand for "the old folks," for example. Not to suggest current urban slang words, rather, for some guidance how language arranges these mischiefs.

Note, too, that irony, satire, and sarcasm, though often combined in expression, are distinct, and that satire is creative prose's domain and true social function, that is, social commentary of a mores target: satire, revelations of human vice and folly, and often subjected to scorn and ridicule, though not exclusively. Or the opposite, ironically, revealed human virtue and prudence, often, anymore, subjected to ridicule and mockery. "Ironically" to mean congruent contradiction between intent and actual outcome that paradoxically exposes a greater moral truth underlay.

If parents' unwittingly inept parenting is a satire and sarcasm victim target, for example, of this sixteen-year-old's expressions, that's vice and folly subjected to sarcasm, on its surface. On the other hand, say she mocks and ridicules their rare parenting competences, that's a congruent contradiction, true irony, and apropos of the more artful and, hence, appealing satire mien of a greater truth underlay.

She mocks and ridicules their occasional competence, though the true underlay is she wishes or herself unwittingly wants them to be more competent parents. Then labels like her highness or himself imply her true desire though nonetheless mock and ridicule parental incompetence. Timely and relevant in this or any day or age. Huzzah!

[ October 26, 2017, 08:27 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Jack Albany (Member # 10698) on :
If the society is 'child-like' perhaps some satirical use of the term 'The Olds' could be created. An example might be the 'Gerries', implying a feeble, geriatric state.

Surprisingly, in all human languages the terms Mum and Dad are almost universally understandable; euphemisms and disparaging slights aside.
Posted by Reziac (Member # 9345) on :
First words that came to mind are "seeder" (for father) and "spawner" (for mother). Snarky like a teen and fit the artificial womb thing.

I like Jack's idea of "Gerries" as a teen's generic disparagement of the parents' generation.

The reason some form of "ma" and "da" are relatively universal has to do with babies' physiology -- those are the sounds that are typically easiest for them to make as their first repeatable "words". (I forget the details but this has actually been researched.) So when addressing parents, the teen might use some form of Mom and Dad, despite being in the far future.
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
I think probably you'll have to invent some term and try to invest it with the appropriate emotional significance.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Within "geriatric's" denotative meaning are potential dramatic significances apropos of prose's several relevance layers. Like, say, noir, picaresque, and punk entail tangible and intangible conventions, three layers, one mechanical tangible and two aesthetic intangibles, like many rhetorical figures, too. Noir, for instance, a hard-boiled cynic protagonist's adventures in bleak vice- and folly-ridden social situations -- event, setting, and character existents and implied dramatic complication.

Geriatrics (noun), geriatric (adj), gerontology (noun), Geritol (brand-name nutritional iron supplement): medical sciences that concern chronic diseases and degenerative conditions, usually though not exclusively later age related.

Chronic to mean an ongoing and commonly incurable, progressive ill health condition and medically manageable, as opposed to acute diseases and conditions which are usually epidemiological and infectious in nature and curable anymore. Degenerative conditions associate with age and wear and tear, like repetitive motion and vibratory and impact tool disease conditions; e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome.

Arthritis, a degenerative and chronic osteopathic condition, diabetes type II, heart disease, respiratory disease, cancer, brain and neural injury and disease, hormone imbalance, mental pathologies, to name several geriatric conditions not per se subject to old age. Geriatric condition onset typically starts as early as mid to late middle adulthood -- mid thirties, though may start at younger ages, even infanthood.

That's geriatric's mechanical tangibles; what about intangibles? Within the terms "chronic" and "degenerative" are potentials. Society-wide and parental child mentorship incompetence entail chronic degenerative social conditions closely associated with John Locke's theories of the pure state of Nature and natural law. Shortfalls of social moral aptitude development lead to chronic social degeneration.

"Gerries" are, what, chronic social degenerates? In the obverse, though, presumably, virtue, prudence, and wisdom attend older ages: sage elders. Now, "sage" could be an ironic figure of speech that means anything but wise, for example. A congruent contradiction, that, and apropos of young adult sarcasm and within prose's domain. A narrative only need then portray the contradiction for a healthy dose of appeal.
Posted by rstegman (Member # 3233) on :
I have read stories where this was done. Of course, a Star trek episode had the GRUMPS where a disease intended to extend life shortened it and made them angry.

Would these be actual birth parents, which would likely have its own set of descriptions.

considering how you described their society, likely children would be grown in vats or something like that since the parents would not want to get pregnant for just having fun. they would donate their "seed" to the birthing centers. the birthing centers would observe how people grew, developed, an succeeded or failed, and select the genetic pool from those that did well. When adults reach a given age, they would start wanting to have children to raise and love, so they would apply for and receive a child to raise. It would have nothing to do with their genetics.
Now one must decide whether there is respect to older people or a dislike. considering the nature of hedonistic life styles (depending on how graphic one wanted to go), they may hate the adults that raised them. the terms would be more like insults. The ultimate insult would be to talk about the VAT they were selected from as their parent, cutting out the adults that raised them.
- - -
I have seen stories where when a child went off on their own, they would do sort of a prayer to thank the adults that raised them.

Out of time to add more.
Posted by Metta (Member # 10744) on :
I totally agree with everything extrinsic wrote. He's spot on. I Love Reziac's idea for names. What about nicknames? Even earth kids seldom call their parents or anyone else by their real name unless they are facing the person. They come up with weird and sometimes downright rude names for teachers and parents in particular. I heard some kids calling their headmaster Polly Parrot once. He did look just like a parrot. He strutted like a peacock with his chest thrust out. His mouth was almost like a beak. You could think what your characters look like, how they walk or speak. It's a pity today's generation have turned out the way they have; most have no respect for their fellow humans which makes me wonder how much worse the following generation will be. This might be a thought for the future generation in your story as well as names. I wish you success.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Nicknames entail two particular rhetorical figures (genuine tropes): synecdoche and metonymy; respectively, a part of a whole stands for the whole, an attribute of the whole stands for the whole. Examples, say synecdoche, reptile eyes, a la Hunter Thompson Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; metonymy, meathead; and both, wife beater, the undershirt type.

Few, if anyone, consider rhetorical figures when creating nicknames on the fly and casually, which have a curious persistence. They endure. Creative writers best practice note the two congruent opposites for nickname creation, though, the mechanical and casual creation of them. Many given names and surnames derive from nickname origins, even Scriptural names, place names, all for memorableness and comprehension's ease.

Otherwise, prose's dramatic appeal needs best practice be met, like irony, satire, and sarcasm. Concise nicknames express more with less in an economy of words, though best practice rarely, if ever, name exposition, which is too vague to express much, thus, asks for more development and more words. An example, Michigan comes from Indo-Algic language roots and means -- well, Great Lake, michi, great, and gan, lake, which the lake of the name is one of the Great Lakes. A synecdoche nickname whose recognized denotation predominates over its original denotation. The word origins are vague to people familiar with the name and not its origins.

Place name "Bald Knob" evokes vivid visuals, right? Maybe a few chuckles for its prurient connotations? A synecdoche.

Synecdoche nicknames for persons are easier than metonymies; metonymies allude to attributes that might not be observable sensory stimuli, are intangible, that is, abstract. The "wife beater" example above implies more than meets the five senses. "Gerries," given above, is metonymy. "Seeder" and "Spawner" suggested above are metonymies, though somewhat more overt and shyer of the toxic sarcasm degree than might be desired. Omelette, or later Lette for short, after full development beforehand -- you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs -- and Spearfisher, Spear for short (phallic double entendre, or polyseme)? Or Egg and Fish Donors, Donor(s) for short? Donated what, besides a little competent parental time? Only rented the brat(s) as convenient accessories for a short time? Metonymies all.
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
I remember being frustrated while reading one of Anne McCaffrey's later "Dragon" books when I realized that the creature referred to by the characters as a "runner beast" (which I considered a terrible name anyway - surely after all the years that had passed since the original naming of the animal would have caused the name to become something like "runby" at the very least) was actually a horse! Gag!

And then there's Heinlein's "stobor" in one of his young adult stories.

I don't remember who urged new writers to be careful about what they named things and warned them to never call a rabbit a "schmerz" - but it was sound advice. You run the risk of making the reader throw the book across the room when they realize what you've done.
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
By the way, in this case, I'd vote for "donors" based on what you've said about the culture and the setting.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
For general information:

"Stobor" appears in Heinlein's 1955 "juvenile," pre-young adult market label, science fiction novel Tunnel in the Sky and is "robots" spelled backward.

Science fiction and fantasy writer James Blish is attributed as the coiner of the Never call a rabbit a schmerz guidance, or smeerp according to the "Turkey City Lexicon – A Primer for SF Workshops," Edited by Lewis Shiner, Second Edition by Bruce Sterling, not copyright registered, SFWA hosted.

"'Call a Rabbit a Smeerp'

'A cheap technique for false exoticism, in which common elements of the real world are re-named for a fantastic milieu without any real alteration in their basic nature or behavior. "Smeerps" are especially common in fantasy worlds, where people often ride exotic steeds that look and act just like horses. (Attributed to James Blish.)'"
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
Thank you, extrinsic.
Posted by kirsten.j (Member # 10779) on :
You know, after consideration, I really like the donors/ artificial womb idea. It fits much better with the society. I always felt the concept of Mom/Dad seemed awkward in the story, but I kept it because I wanted a family setting, for the dramatic tension. But I can easily achieve a family-esque setting in other ways and get the same drama.

One thing I had in mind while pondering this problem was an essay of OSC's (can't find it now, erg!) about when writing sci-fi, you should use terms and labels to create a feeling of distance and difference from the normal world. i.e. in Ender's Game he says "nets" not "internet", "vids" not "videos", etc. Mom/Dad sounded too dated to our time period, and using the timeless Mother/Father is more appropriate in that sense, BUT, did not fit with my story at all.

But "nets" and "vids" are also clear and intuitive... Not like "stobor" or "running beast" [Smile]
So I wanted something that was both clear/intuitive but also markedly different.

BUT anyway.... not really an issue anymore. Because I will almost certainly go with the artificial womb idea.

Thanks guys and girls!!! [Smile]

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2