I know this topic, or something similar, was brought up a while ago. I find myself having trouble coming up with a curse word for one of my characters.
He comes from a people that value magical Talent above everything else. Their usual curse would be Lords of Creation! or merely Lords!, where we might use a four letter word.
This character, although Talented, has taken a different path. He is the captain of the guard in a frontier-type city. A soldier and hunter. So, a little rough around the edges at times.
The curse I need is not a general swear word, but more of an extremely rude name. Where someone in his place in our world might use a two letter phrase starting with mother and ending with another six-letter word. Something he would call a soldier on the opposing side who took a shot at the captain's wife. (The wife is not strictly a non-combatant, in this case btw.)
I need more information. A culture's social mores and taboos drive its curses, profanities, and swears. Legitimacy of progeny, sanitation, social stratification, station, status, and standing? Mother lover is a meaningful innocent epithet I've seen in story and movies that effectively, meaningfully, and even visually in the way a mouth and lips forms the words substitutes for the profane term.
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quote: need more information. A culture's social mores and taboos drive its curses, profanities, and swears. Legitimacy of progeny, sanitation, social stratification, station, status, and standing? Mother lover is a meaningful innocent epithet I've seen in story and movies that effectively, meaningfully, and even visually in the way a mouth and lips forms the words substitutes for the profane term.
Fair enough. Illegitimacy would not be an issue in his culture. Your father could be a baboon; if you have enough Talent, no one will mention it. And your father can be among the rulers of this society, but if you have no Talent, you're going to be at the bottom of the heap.
The society is stratified based on magical Talent. Your social status and ability to improve your station all depend on how Talented you are. Not what you do with your Talent. Just that you have it. Even better, if you pass it on to as many offspring as possible.
While not the most obsessive culture about sanitation, they would be have more than average concern about it.
The great fear of the higher members of this society is a prophesied person who is and simultaneously is not one of them who will bring down their empire. They believe (incorrectly) that this means someone with their magical Talents who is not a part of their society.
Their main problem is that this empire is maintained largely by use of magic. And successive generations are showing less and less Talent. It's getting harder and harder to maintain their pretense of being gods.
The soldiers with whom this character spends much of his time would be less concerned about the prophecy, being among the less talented members of the society.
Interestingly enough, I've used 'sister lover' as the stand in curse while I try to figure out something more suitable.
Rowling's "mudblood" owes its potency to who says it and in what contexts. The sounds of its consonants and vowels are also powerful. Other terms like bonehead, knothead, and numbskull have similar potency for similar reasons.
On the other hand, a sympathetic character fouly cursing a nonsympahetic character might create a discordant effect. An interjectory expletive to portray an emotional response, like geekus crow, a superstitiously driven nautical term replacing Jesus Christ, might characterize the modest but noble nature of a sympthatetic frontline soldier.
Dung foot, is an insult in some cultures. By all that's sacred, an interjection. That magical ability is a basis of all the culture's pecking order, something offensive related to ability to perform magic or spawn magical progeny might be something to the effect of brainblind, empty-handed churl, scion of talentless flacks, father of all that should be drowned at birth. Two syllable words though seem most potent, dung kin, pig kith, dumb numb, waffle head, worker drone, labor drudge. ???
It depends on whether you feel comfortable using standard obscenities. Essentially anything sexual, racist, blasphemous, or scatological would fall under this category. If you don't like that then you can branch out to an object that's held in some superstition on your world.
In Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series a common cussword is "crows", crow-plagued, crowbegotten, etc. Because crows always swarm the battlefields, they're an object of dislike and superstitious fear.
If there's magic in your world, you could use something simple along those lines, especially if the characters in question don't have much regard for magic.
Another common type of insult is one that questions a person's manhood. Generally sexually related, but also could concern their appearance, strength, courage, or intelligence.
If all else fails, you could just make something up. People don't like scavengers, and the eating of various things is considered highly insulting in some cultures, especially as derogatory to foreigners, so something along those lines is good without being offensive. Mangy cur or frog-eater, etc.
You mention that he's a guard in a frontier-like city. Are there people living past "civilized" zones that the curses could relate to? If you're under the constant threat of attack from the <xyz> people, then I would think the soldiers would have 1) nasty nicknames for <xyz> people and 2) all sorts of curses related to <xyz> people.
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You could also combine a simple swear word with "magic-killer" or "Lords-hater" to show the influence of society on the character. He might use such phrases, presumably heard during childhood, even if he doesn't believe magic or the Lords are essential to the world.
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You would have to invest the word (or phrase) with the emotional and maybe also the historical sense that the Certain Word You Describe already has in our culture and language.
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I think you'll have a very hard time coming up with an expletive that conveys to the reader the same "intensity" as what you are alluding too short of just using the common English phrase or something equally as descriptive.
Short of that you could use just about anything in your story that you've built up as disgusting or immoral in its culture.
If it's going to get a single use and isn't part of the character's habitual vocabulary, you might just have him express his outrage without any "swear word", or pull something from everyday usage of the pg-13 variety (or whatever would be suitable for your target audience).
Made-up expletives that don't reflect something of significance in the story or characters are often a distraction.
Expletives are referred to as four-letter words largely because they are short (and they often consist of only four letters). Multisyllable words tend to lose the desired affect unless they are short and followed by a very short suffix like -it.
Insults are often two syllables made up of a common word and a common word. As extrinsic pointed out they often have harder sounding consonants at the hyphen and/or alliteratory or rhyming patterns.
"f-face" "numb-scull" "mud-blood"
Because you are describing someone who lacks magic, the comparison to Rowling will follow, no matter what you call them.
So how about "maglack" or "maglag"?
It's not too far from "mud-blood" or "muggle", but I imagine the comparison would still occur even if you called them "cants".
Well, emotional significance of created words can be done. I recall Cordwainer Smith's "Scanners Live in Vain," where the word cranch, a verb, was introduced, and in the course of the story acquired an emotional wallop.
Of course for every success there are dozens of failures...I remember reading (part of) A Clockword Orange, loaded from front to back with new words, none of which had any meaning for me. Or maybe it was just me and my mood.
One in that book that comes to mind---I read this somewhere, and don't remember if I noticed it in the book or not---and I don't remember the exact word used, so I'll use [blank]---where the writer mentions punching someone in the [blank], leaving us to wonder just what part of the body had been hit, then later referring to a glass of beer that had a [blank] on it---so the word was "head." That's just substituting a made-up word for a proper English word---no emotional significance there.
quote:Expletives are referred to as four-letter words largely because they are short (and they often consist of only four letters). Multisyllable words tend to lose the desired affect unless they are short and followed by a very short suffix like -it.
That depends on the amount of emotion and the situation. A person accustomed to swearing is more likely to release a stream of complicated words than a single four-letter word if he's shot himself in the foot, don't you think? There's a level of self-control shown in using short words.
"The curse I need is not a general swear word, but more of an extremely rude name. [..] Something he would call a soldier on the opposing side who took a shot at the captain's wife."
I think you want a slang word more than a curse. I believe that soldiers invent slang words for their enemies, most of them not repeatable here because they usually have racial overtones.
I think that such names evolve from sterotypes, and caricature some undesirable aspect of the opposing forces. One objective is to depersonalise them, to make them appear no more than vermin, thus easier to kill without conscience. So, for example, if the soldiers he fights are characterized by blue skin and large, bulbous heads, he might call them 'blue-bulbs', or 'blubs' for short.
Perhaps they too have Talent, but use it for dark purposes; then, he might call them 'black talents', or 'blatals'.
In the same way as the eskimos have different words for varying kinds of snow, perhaps they have special words for degrees of Talent. Perhaps the lowest is Skill and the highest is Supreme Talent. And perhaps the opposing soldiers are Skilled. Then, perhaps he could call the soldier a 'black skill', or a 'blask'. He could swear by the Supreme Talent, "May Supreme Talent save us", or "Supreme" for short. Instead of a goddam soldier, perhaps he could be a Supreme-damned blask, or a Sudamn blask.
Another point: if you went this way you might not have to explain the etymology. In the Firefly TV series the characters swear in Chinese and we're never told why, nor what it means (we can tell from context). It adds texture to the world. (Joss Whedon explained that the backstory involved a future Earth dominated by US and Chinese cultures, and maybe this would have made it into real stories had Fox not cancelled the series, Sudamn blasks.)
I suspect that English speakers use "four-letter words" as swear words in part because most of them are Anglo-Saxon words of one syllable, so they have more impact when spoken in the correct tone of voice.
Also, Anglo-Saxon was considered the language of the vulgar, common (conquered, as in Norman Conquest) people, by the Latin/French speaking conquerors, who spoke the "educated" language of the Catholic priests.
So there is the "what uneducated, common, vulgar people would say" factor in the swear words in the English language that may or may not be a factor for swear words of other languages.
Not to hijack the thread here but I appreciate KDW's commentary on the etymology of the words used. I find that Anglo-Saxon words are often more powerful that their Latin based equivalents. The word 'car' meaning war chariot is a better source for a powerful word than the Latin/Greek bastardization of 'automobile'. Whatever made up swears you do use should emulate the guttural short hard sound of most Anglo-saxon speech. A great example of the power of the old A/S is Winston Churchill's speech about fighting on the beaches and the fields etc. Every word in the speech is Anglo-Saxon with the notable exception of the last word of the speech- 'surrender'. I don't know if that was done on purpose (probably) but the power of the speech is not softened with Latinized euphemisms.
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Mudblood is not original to Rowling (as usual). Mudblood has been used since the early 1800s in reference to the mixing of races by a group that would later be known as the Ku Klux Klan.
Having pointed that out, I like curses which are along to line of Robert Jordan's Blood and Ashes or the worse version Blood and Bloody Ashes. And, although it based on the British "Bloody", it fits the culture which uses it. I also like the way Serenity/Firefly used a cobination of western slang-like-mutations (Twixt my Nethers; Gorram) and Mandarin for the worst.