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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Speculative Swearing

   
Author Topic: Speculative Swearing
smncameron
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I'm ashamed to admit it, but I was once an avid Magic player. Even now, I occasionally visit their website. I was awarded today by an insightfull treatise on swearing in speculative fiction: http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=mtgcom/daily/db37

Don't worry, the Magic content is kept to a bare minimum.


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Bent Tree
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Perhaps I share a different view than most, but if profanity suits the character, then I feel it should be in dialogue.

I heard one of the best stories that I have heard on Escapepod today, although not the most current, but it had a little more profanity than most stories, but it was done very well and added a great deal of depth and made the character alot more believable.

I suppose my opinion is that, We are compelled to read about characters that we are interested in. Alot of times that means we want to read about those less than civil or uncooth. I can feel comfortable with this opinion because if you don't want to read it you don't have to. Most publications offer a rating.

My grandmother is the person that got me interested in SF. She was a devout christian, and one day I asked her about the language in a book she gave me to read. I suppose I was about 11. She said something along the lines of what I said above and also that it is what it is.


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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
I'm ashamed to admit it, but I was once an avid Magic player.


Why would you be ashamed to admit that?


Also, did you actually get either of the two emails I've sent you? I've never gotten responses.


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Merlion-Emrys
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As far as the topic...I rarely, rarely use profanity in my writing. Mostly because it just doesnt come naturally to me. I tend to write in (any given one of the several) ways that I think, but none of them really include it.

I do some times worry though, mostly when writing my modern-setting pieces, about realism. Since most people do in fact use that language a good deal.

My mother was cursed at by her mother more or less from birth, and is also a devout Christian. Therefore, it was a big no-no in my household growing up. Even now, I only swear under extreme, extreme emotional distress. I (and my characters) are more likely to hurl straighforward insults or call upon the names of obscure beings or forces.

The article was interesting though. I just don't find myself in the situation often.


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annepin
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Wow. Some of my characters swear all the time. That's just how they want to talk. Why should I censor them?
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Robert Nowall
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I try to avoid it myself, though I reserve the right to use it. In real life, I've found that the seven dirty words you can't use on TV use all force if you use them too often...I know several people whose every other word begins in "f" and ends in "ing"...it does lose all force, but I don't know if these people would be themselves if they didn't talk that way...
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Elan
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As a reader or a movie watcher, I find repetitious use of swearing tedious and I believe it shows a lack of imagination on the part of the writer. As a writer, I use the phrase "He swore," and let the reader's mind fill in the gaps as to what the exact words might be.
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Zero
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I use the same tactic as Elan, but I try to keep it to a minimum because saying "he swore" isn't nearly as powerful as "#$%^" he said. And because I think it can come across as soft, cheesy, contrived, etc. So, I'll do it if it's an especially offensive swear "f***," but if it's hell, dammit, or bastard, those may stay.

The one thing I avoid altogether is inventing my own swear words. "You piece of Xarg!" Just doesn't work...


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smncameron
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I think some of you seem to be missing the point (at least as I percieved it) the issue is not swearing, it's how you convey it to the reader.

As the author pointed out, most of our (english) swear-words are acutally derived from religion, which doesn't really make sense on a fictional world. So instead of saying "Yes, I swear", why don't you tell us how you handle swearing on planets which don't share our cultural background.

[This message has been edited by smncameron (edited May 22, 2008).]


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J
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A friend of mine once observed that people who swear all the time have a limited vocabulary . . . but so do people who never swear at all.

It's a principle I've applied to writing, and to life.


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Zero
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I don't actually see most of our swears deriving from religion at all. I suppose "hell" and "damn" are biblical, though those examples are fairly light swearing, and their status as "swears" is even a subject for debate. For instance this forum (most likely) didn't even censor them.

But much stronger expletives (much more offensive) are related to human anatomy, sexual behavior, and feces.

Part of the "power" behind a swear, I think, is simply a matter of sound, and perhaps the culture it derived from. The words sh*t and f*ck, for example, are identical in meaning to excrement and fornicate. But the former two are much more offensive than the latter two. So what's the difference?

I'm not sure.

But I'm betting it has to do with sound. And I wouldn't be surprised if it has to do with culture. I want to say that the first two come from the Engels or Saxons or something, and the second two might be from France. But that's my guess at any rate.

[This message has been edited by Zero (edited May 22, 2008).]


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annepin
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Ah, sorry snmcameron. The link isn't working for me, so I don't know what the author says. Certainly defecation, genitalia, and lewd sexual acts constitute swearing in many different cultures, so I don't know that it's right to say they are religious based. Damning and hexing is not unique to Christianity. Hence, I don't see why a fictitious world wouldn't have some sort of damning or hexing going on, to whatever hell they've imagined.

In my own cultures I try to think of what, culturally, is most important to them, what might be most shameful or embarrassing, and try to think of appropriate swears. However, since I use humans, I think there are some commonalities to our culture, hence the genitalia, defecation, and lewd sexual acts. Calling on the name of a god or goddess to swear is also something cross cultural.

I don't make up words, though. I've seen it used to good effect, but I'm not comfortable with it.

[This message has been edited by annepin (edited May 22, 2008).]


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Crank
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I'm one of those writers who doesn't include the 'usual' amount of profanity in my stories because I don't normally participate in the use of profanity in my physical world life.

Those who have never seen me drive during rush hour...keep believing what I tell you.

During both the world building a dialog writing phases, I forcefully remind myself that I'm generally writing about a world that's a bit more expansive than the limited-experienced world I inhabit, so it makes no realistic sense for me to impose my personal rules and/or beliefs and/or practices and/or inhabitions about profanity on a world that is, by definition of the genre in which I participate (SF), supposed to have evolved differently...especially culturally.

S!
S!...C!


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annepin
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Hm, in thinking about this a little more, I think there's a great opportunity here in world building by choosing what words are swear words. It's very telling of a culture.
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Pyraxis
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I'm surprised nobody's mentioned historical slang yet. The AD&D Planescape lingo was taken from some archaic thieves' cant, and Google is your friend - there are some great lists of everything from African surfer slang to Shakespearian insults.

The main problem with making up curses is it's so hard not to have them sound ridiculous. But people make up new curse words on Earth all the time, and some of them stick. Slang evolves. I would love to be able to make up curse words that stuck. I can't, but I'm convinced it's possible, if you have enough sense of rhythm, language, and provocativeness.


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TaleSpinner
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Okay, another opportunity to mention Joss Whedon's "Firefly" TV series and movie, "Serenity".

In Whedon's future world, America and China became the dominant nations on Earth and eventually took to the stars. Our heroes (fighting interstellar government corruption in a style described as "cowboys in space") speak in a quaintly old-fashioned yet new-fangled American English, but swear in Chinese. Although we can understand neither what they're saying nor the cultural roots of their cuss words, their meaning is absolutely clear. As Annepin hints, it adds flavour to their world.

(Apparently, the script writers persuaded real Chinese people to translate curses into Chinese, and the actors practised hard to make it sound authentic.)

Cheers,
Pat

[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited May 22, 2008).]


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micmcd
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I was shocked nobody had mentioned Firefly till the end of this message board... was almost happy to post it myself. Anyhow, besides swearing in Chinese, they also have English swear words that are either derived from our own or of obvious physical origin:

"... ain't no ruttin way I'm goin' in there"

"Shut your gorram mouth."

Not sure on the actual spelling of Go-ram.. gorram, but clearly from GD for those who are sensitive to it. He also adopted some other slang, such as "shiny" as an equivalent to what we might call "cool."

I've seen invented curses sound awful as well as brilliant -- just put some thought into it before you do it and don't make it sound too kid-like. Most societies we've had tend to make slang for defecation & sex the bad words, but you might also look at more modern forms of slang where using God's name improperly or using an ethnic slur is even worse than callously talking about sex. They do bleep the n-word on network TV most of the time.

(Off topic) I've always found it particularly humorous when TV bleeps the "God" part of GD rather than the "damn," as if that was the worse of the two parts.


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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
I don't actually see most of our swears deriving from religion at all. I suppose "hell" and "damn" are biblical, though those examples are fairly light swearing, and their status as "swears" is even a subject for debate. For instance this forum (most likely) didn't even censor them.


Depends what you mean by "swears." Swearing refers to oaths or invoking the name or title of something. So as he says in the article, many expletives/exclamations etc are derived from one religion or another. "By Jove", "Jumpin' Jehosiphat" and even things like "jeez", "you scared the bejesus/bejeebers out of me" etc.

What your talking about is profanity or really, slang. The sexual and scatological "swears" or "curses" arent really swears or curses. Their slang, their expletives, and they are considered offensive, but they arent swears, curses, or oathes.


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Merlion-Emrys
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also, smncameron, did you see either of my questions?
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smncameron
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No, I didn't, so outraged was I by Annepin's gross misinterpretation.

Anyway, it got caught in my junk email folder, I should have it back to you in a day or so (I'm pretty busy right now)


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Merlion-Emrys
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I've already revised it quite a bit...would you like to go with that version or shall I send an updated one?
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Wolfe_boy
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quote:
No, I didn't, so outraged was I by Annepin's gross misinterpretation.

Is this hyperbole, or did you intend to be funny? I didn't see anything in this thread to be outraged about.

Jayson Merryfield


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Same here.
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BethBrownell
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I had my character David Hunter cuss up a storm on one line in the story, but my mom who was reading it as I wanted her opinion on the whole story told me that she didn't like how heavy of a cusser he was so I yanked out all of the cuss words that David used and kept it quite swear free with the main characters, even though one character may throw out a bad word.

Beth


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annepin
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Nah, snmcameron's my buddy, right?

Always misjudge on the side of humor, I say.


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micmcd
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Hi Beth -- with regards to David Hunter, does it make sense for him to swear a lot? I find unrealistic lack of swearing almost as jarring as an abundance of unnecessary foul language.

In one story I had a character that had been out of steady work for a decade and a hopeless alcoholic during that time. Suffice to say, he let fly with the curses. As did his daughter, who suffered through his abuse for that decade (she was only five when he became this way). She was also an alt/goth person who did everything she could to make herself look both tough and outside of society. If you have a teenager rejecting society with no parental supervision who doesn't drop f-bombs like they're going out of style... well... it makes me feel like the story isn't real.

That being said, in the same story, none of the other characters ever uttered a foul word. I feel like some balance is needed when you have a few of those types of characters. Her language also began to change as she found her way back into the world.

If a reader doesn't like that one character curses a lot, I've always hoped that would make them more dislike the character, rather than the book. Of course, if that is the main character... well... that's more of a dilemma.

Not sure what the right answer is. I always appreciate realism in a character's language, cursing or no, but then again I have a pretty open mind about profanity. I have a much worse knee-jerk reaction to what I consider the modern profanities, language based around bigotry.


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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
I have a much worse knee-jerk reaction to what I consider the modern profanities, language based around bigotry.


Well, most of the racial-bigotry words are by no means new. I personally tend to react very negatively to language having to do with (usually school-centered) social stratafication and sterotyping. "nerd" "geek" "jock" "emo" "prep" etc. Largely because these words are generally used to demean someone and/or to put them in a very narrow box or sterotype. Whereas most "cuss" words have lost a bit of their power, especially when simply used as expletives, because they are so ubiquitious. Its a bit different when they are actually being used directly at someone. But I think "label" words, now, are infused with almost as much inherent negativity as racial epithets.


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TaleSpinner
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My characters swear sometimes, but they understand that if they do it too much the effect will diminish, as others have said. If they do cuss more than I deem necessary for the purposes of dramatic exposition and character development, I tell 'em to shut the f*** up.

Pat

[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited May 23, 2008).]


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DeepDreamer
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In your fantasy culture, what are some terrible things that people fear, abhor, or consider obscene or distasteful to mention in polite company? Those things make great swears. Here's some examples.

I've a few cultures in my world, each with unique swears and oaths. A universal, very mild oath is "Blast it" -- which derives from one of the main weapons of magical warfare: direct, controlled explosions. Sorta the equivalent of "shoot".

The prudish Plainspeople have curses similar to what we have -- things dealing with sex, defecation, condemnation from the gods, and demons are all common swears -- but the gods and demons are from their religious system.
Among the blood-abhorring Magebound, mentions of blood are very profane. The equivalent of our "Damn you" would be "I'll bleed you dry", or just "bleed you" for short. Red or rudy, a euphemism for blood, is also a common aspect of oaths and swears.

Their archenemies, the Bloodbound, are very heirarchal. Addressing someone without the proper title can be very insulting. Equating someone with an animal -- or worse, an inanimate object -- is the worst insult of all.


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TaleSpinner
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Interestingly, "bloody" (a common UK swear word, not exactly polite but not wildly objectionable either; used in a variety of situations such as "Oh cor blimey it ain't life as we bloody know it Jim!") is a corruption of "By your Lady", a religious exclamation from the Middle Ages. And "cor blimey" probably comes from "God blind me".

More on how to be vulgar and offensive here in the UK at
http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A753527

By the way, it's not "a swear" because "swear" is a verb. It's a swear word. Or worse.

Cheers,
Pat


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micmcd
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Since it is relevant to this topic, I thought I'd share a web post from cracked.com that actually does a fair job of showing the origins of insults from around the world.

For an example of the more printable ones, there is a Mandarin insult that translates as "Wear a green hat," which makes no sense without the culture - green hats were part of what male brothel workers wore. Also from Mandarin is "Your mother is a big turtle," which is a roundabout way of calling someone a bastard (because a turtle doesn't know the identity of their father).

Fair warning - many of the insults are rather worse than pg-rated, but all are explained in context. The author of the post (and indeed the nature of the site) was going after the worst insults from around the world, and has no trouble using rather vulgar English to describe them (or be funny while doing so). I know we are supposed to shy away from vulgar material in general on this forum... but this whole topic is specifically about vulgarity, and I did in fact get a few good ideas for curses in my own book from reading this post. I have no reason to believe the research they use to explain the curses is untrue, but even if it is, the explanations are logical and could be helpful in coming up with the profane ways characters from bizarrely different cultures express themselves.

http://www.cracked.com/article_16275_9-most-devastating-insults-from-around-world.html


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JeanneT
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When I finally stopped laughing (and we don't even want to consider WHY I considered the ugly hunchback leper ***** insult so hilarious) I had to bookmark that one. The hunchback curse IS going into my current world slightly amende.

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