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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » born on the bayou?

   
Author Topic: born on the bayou?
babooher
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I am in the middle of some fun writing but I'm not sure about using the term "bayou." I'm creating my own little swampland tribe in a fictional world. Does the term "bayou" seem out of place in a fictional world when bayous are generally only located around the Gulf of Mexico?
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axeminister
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I believe you answered your own question when you said, fictional world.

However, if it's a localized term (in the GoM, USA only, etc.), then maybe not.

That was helpful, right?

Axe

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Owasm
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We use all kind of terms that are localized in writing to communicate what the topography represents. I see no problem with calling something a bayou if it will help readers picture the place.
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babooher
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Gee, Axe, that was, uh, insightful.

I guess I should clarify. Does the word "bayou" seem like an American thing or can it be used in a world that is completely made up? Would reading it pull you out of the story or make you think it was set in the US?

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extrinsic
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Bayou is a U.S. English Loiusiana French Creole loan word borrowed from Choctaw "bayuk," meaning sluggish water. I guess that's enough generations of separation to be on the generic identity side, to not be a sacred cultural property. As a culture-specific term, bayou could possess a useful voice quality for identifying a unique character or culture idiosyncracy or idiom that distinguishes dramatic personas from personas. Say, instead of creek or stream or marsh or fen or delta or estuary or alluvial plane.
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rcmann
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When I hear the word bayou I instantly think "Cajun". Maybe that's just me. Kind of like moonshine = hillbilly, or maverick = cowboy.
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axeminister
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[Smile]

I try.

To be honest, I didn't know Bayou was what you said it was till you said it.

So now the question is, will your readers know?

Damn, I'm full of helpful advice today.

Axe

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extrinsic
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The writing challenge from using unfamiliar terms is met by developing their mythologies. If a character uses the term bayou, for example, rather than hope readers know its meaning, rather than summarize or explain or define its meaning, show its meaning from a viewpoint character's perspective. What it means to the character, as if the setting is a character identity to develop. Like how the setting influences the character's identity. How the setting favors the character's want and opposes the opposition's want. How the setting opposes the character's want and favors the opposition's want.

Bayous span a variety of biomes, spanning many distinct environments. How fast does the water move through? Strong mid channel and sluggish through weedy banks and vegetation hummocks? Is the water dark and turbid? Crystal clear? Reddish, yellowish, black, or brown from silt or tannin leaching? Do many small streams cross the bayou? Is it one large lake or system of lakes? Or is it a closed lake? Is it salt water, fresh water, or brackish? Is the waterway clogged with vegetation? Teaming with life? Juvenile life or adult? Do the creatures migrate between open pelagic water--deep ocean--and brackish or fresh water or are they anadromous--infancy exclusively in one biome, adulthood in another, like salmon--or full-time native residents? Invasive creatures or plants? Amphibious or water or land or sky creatures and plants? Develop the bayou's mythology and Barb's your aunt.

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rcmann
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Of course, there is always 'estuary'.
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MattLeo
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Would you prefer "billabong"?

What's odd is that I suspect most people accept the word "bayou" without having any precise idea what it actually means. For that matter the same goes for "swamp", "marsh", "jungle" and "rain forest" which are all distinct land forms.

I think it is fine to use "bayou" because that's the English word that covers a set of geographic features that don't occur in the British Isles. You'll look in vain for a word with Old English, French or German roots that does the trick.

Given that most people have never seen a bayou, what do they picture? Although they would not be able to give you the kind of precise definition a geologist or limnologist would, I don't think the picture is that far off: a curve of open, brackish, slow moving water flooding the understory of giant cypresses shading the entire scene. Whether that body of water is a estuarine creek, an tidally flooded ox-bow lake or a sluggish river side channel they haven't thought about, although it could be any of these and it's hard to tell the difference.

The key thing is that the picture you're going for. "Bayou" evokes hot, humid, and shady; giant trees; bugs in the air and monsters in the water; no dry land to set foot on.

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genevive42
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Bayou does get culturally specific in my mind. Is your society one that would ever have had contact with Earth? If it were, I could accept that bayou had become a generic term for swamp. If not, why not just use swamp or bog?
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Robert Nowall
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bay-ou...n. pl. bay-ous. [Louisana Fr. < Choctau bayuk,, a small stream.] An arm our outlet of a lake, river, etc.; an extent of sluggish water.

---from my old Websters, pronounciation omitted 'cause they're too difficult to type with all the umlauts and such...even then, I had to reedit...

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redux
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My thoughts on the subject is that words like billabong and bayou trace their origins to aboriginal languages. Babooher, since your swampland tribe is fictional I suggest creating an equally fictional term that could certainly be inspired and be reminiscent of our real world terms i.e. billayou or bayubi. Let your imagination run wild.
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Robert Nowall
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I was thinking a bayou had to be navigable or near-navigable, something you could get a pirogue through, but, from the dictionary definition, I'm not so sure...
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MattLeo
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I think Robert has hit the head on the nail. A bayou is a navigable, which makes it possible for a community of people (or aliens) to flourish there relatively undisturbed by outsiders.

Here's an interesting tidbit. Why is Harvard College in Cambridge rather than Boston? Because for a short time the capital of Massachusetts Colony was moved to near the present location of Harvard Square because of fear of pirates. The lower Charles River (now pretty much a big lake) was a saltmarsh with so many side channels you couldn't find your way from Beacon Hill to Harvard Square on it unless you were a local.

I definitely don't like the idea of using made up terms when there's a perfectly good English term. That's something that should be done sparingly, if at all because it gets in the way of the story.

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redux
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quote:
I definitely don't like the idea of using made up terms when there's a perfectly good English term. That's something that should be done sparingly, if at all because it gets in the way of the story.
Usually, I would agree. However, I think it depends on how you plan to approach the story.

For instance, if it's from the perspective of an outsider encountering a native tribe whatever word they use to describe their environment would be a strange and otherwise unknown word. So, I would make up a word. It wouldn't make sense that they would know the English term.

But, if the story is from the perspective of the tribe, since the story is presumably going to be written in English, then whatever perfectly good English term that already exists should suffice.

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