I'm not a fan of using fancy words when simpler ones could be used. For instance, awkward spelling just to make things sound unique.
That said, do you feel it's appropriate to use such things in a cultural manner -- for the likes of government titles, army ranks, and whatnot?
Example: In my novel there is, simply put, a court of Lords. I could call this the Court of Lords--Simple--Or I could use an alternative one to emphasize the naming conventions/language of the country: The Nobilus
If there is a specific name for it than use that name. Otherwise I would use the simplier term. To me using specific names adds depth to it and helps me as a reader get into it more.
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I have a similar situation coming up: a number of important people will meet and discuss future strategy. I will call it the gathering. Nothing fancy, not even a capital letter (as in The Gathering). Let the reader decide if the event is monumental or not.
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I'm wondering, though, if that might lower the believability of my society. The use of titles, and the hierarchy it brings, is a big part of the culture. I probably should have added that in the first post. Doh.
I try to use fancy words whenever possible, even if the word doesn't quite make sense in its context.
Of course I'm totally kidding... I've got to believe that whatever helps you tell the best story to your reader is what you should do. There are some people that would like an obscure title and others that like things simple and straight forward. I think you just need to be the writer you want to be and write for the reader you think would be reading your work.
Like so many topics, everyone has an opinion on this stuff, and I am probably the least qualified to be offering any opinions
I remember reading one of Anne McCaffrey's Pern books and finally realizing that what she had been having her characters call "runner beasts" were actually horses. That really bugged me, for several reasons.
1--I figured that maybe she wasn't calling them horses so that she could make them sound stranger than horses--which is a stupid reason, because the people who had them should have been calling them horses all along.
2--I was told, long ago, by a pro, that it is not a good idea to try to get away with something in writing that wouldn't work if the readers could actually see what was happening--and if readers could see McCaffrey's critter, they'd know it wasn't a "runner beast" but that it was clearly a horse. Playing these kind of mind games with your readers is cheating and can get your book thrown across the room or at the wall when the reader catches on.
3--I also figured that "runner beasts" is such an awkward name for an animal, especially one that the characters used so much, that over time they would have shortened the term to something like "runby" (for one) and "runbies" (for more than one). But then no one would know what "runby" had come from, and what it originally meant. So it was a stupid term for that reason as well.
[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited April 21, 2011).]
Then there were the "stobor" that the students were warned about in Heinlein's TUNNEL IN THE SKY (if I remember the title correctly).
In the first place, as someone who loves words for their own sake, I tend to try reading any strange word backwards as soon as I see it. So "stobor" is backwards "robots" and therefore a made-up word. I had a little trouble believing that one of the students wouldn't have realized that.
On the other hand, the rationale behind a made-up word, in the story, was that there was bound to be something the students needed to be on guard for, even though no one knew what it might be. By warning the students about a made-up-named critter, they were wary, even if they weren't prepared, so it made sense--I just thought the name was a little obviously made-up, and therefore stupid.
My apologies if I've offended anyone by calling these terms "stupid." The writers are certainly well-published and their works have been enjoyed by plenty of readers. I've enjoyed their books. But even such popular writers can give us examples of "what not to do"--in my opinion, anyway.
There's what's called the "calling a rabbit a smeerp" rule. If you've come up with some fancy new term for something that's familiar, you had better have a good reason.
On the other hand...you can delve deep into the English language (or any language) and dig up dozens of terms for things that are (1) correct and (2) unfamiliar. But, still, you should have a good reason for using them, too.
I have a thing about using the same word in a sentence or paragraph more than a couple times, so if I can find another way to say it with a similar word or phrase I'll do it. It helps that I have Google to help me find the spelling.
So yes, my writing tends to have more than its fair share of big words at times, and of a wonderful variety. So far no one's complained about it .
I think in this particular case, Nobilus is perfectly acceptable. First of all, it is clear, at least to me, what that word means without any explanation. Second, you have a reason for using it. You are not just using a fancy name just for the sake of having a fancy name, at least it doesn't seem that way to me. I've come across weird things like the previous Pern example with the running beasts, and it annoys me to no end. But i think in your case, it is clear what you mean, and from what you describe, it matches the tone of your story. It's not just some crazy made up word like "The Fthernen" or something. It makes sense. But that, of course, is just my opinion.
In my own stuff, I've avoided Terran animal names because it does not take place in Earth's universe; there are some "same niche" critters, but none that's really a straight-across match for its Terran equivalent, so they all have their own names. Toller (big dumb ugly riding beast, looks like someone threw a horse, a camel, and a moose into a blender), drebin (domestic fowl-alike, but commonly feral), grieb (functionally both cow and sheep -- I want to rename this one, but it has to keep the same word-beat), mrek (somewhere between mink and domestic cat), etc.
But plants are harder... with similar overall biology, you still wind up with grass/grains, deciduous and evergreen trees (which you get is a function of climate, freeze damage vs cells), flowers/fruit (nature's seed starter kits), and fungi. At that point I flung up my hands and used more or less normal English terms (sometimes with a modifier, like "dagger pines" or "wind-apples"), because otherwise I was going to have horticultural smeerps.
Same with most food. Steak is steak; stew is stew; bread is bread. I did avoid coffee, tho; it's too Earth-flavoured. Chocolate... well, no civilization can survive without chocolate.
As to titles, what I have are functionally princes and lords and serfs, so I call 'em that. I don't have a social structure that's in need of its own name to distinguish it for reader expectations, so that hasn't happened.
Wow, fantastic advice folks. Some of those websites in particular are really useful (And yes, addicting. >.> )
Smeerps really irritate me. I think, for now, I'll only use the proper term in my mind. When I've got the actual rough draft done I'll see if anything could be added by the use of a culture specific word. Caution first, I suppose.
quote:I'm wondering, though, if that might lower the believability of my society. The use of titles, and the hierarchy it brings, is a big part of the culture. I probably should have added that in the first post. Doh.
Put it this way: the more words you come up with, the more words your reader has to remember and catalogue to know exactly what they mean. Thus I try to contain it to geographical and personal names.
quote:I think the word refrigerator is one of the dumbest words in the English language.
A lot of people still call them "frigidares," from the brand name, whatever brand they happen to be. I take "refrigerator" as a derivative of "refrigerate," from the Latin refrigero, or refrigeratum, to cool or keep cool, to chill or freeze.
Back to my shortening words for convenience (see "runbies" above), most of the people I know refer to those things in the kitchen as "fridges," which is, of course, a shortening of "frigidaire" (a trademark that became somewhat generic)--which comes from the words "frigid" and "air," by the way.
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