How To Make the Best Swears for Your Book

So I know that the blog has been quite review heavy recently, so I thought it was time to mix it up and write an article that wasn’t about a specific book. But what does that leave me with? Well, quite a lot. So I sat and thought about what to write, and I settled on something to help make your world more thorough and real. Now this may not apply to everyone, so I apologise in advance if this isn’t for you. But, hopefully we can all learn something along the way!

World building. Love it or hate it, it’s definitely an important step for most science fiction and fantasy writers. You need to make sure you know how your world fits together, how all the elements work and what its limitations are. Maybe you don’t like worldbuilding and you’re a writer that just dives in and discovers things along the way, and that’s cool too. (Some people may even be very envious of you!) But I think most people like to at least have some sort of plan before we go ploughing off into the relative unknown of our stories.

 Now, there’s load of aspects on world building, and the scope of it can range between genres and stories. Of course on how much you is dependent on you as the author, but if you’re writing a fantasy novel set in your version of a paleolithic Japan then there won’t be much point in mapping out the whole solar system!

 Anyway, that’s not the aspect of worldbuilding I want to talk about today. Although there will be a blog post on it in the future. Today I want to talk about mythology, folklore and how that might affect phrases and colloquialism.

I think that this aspect of worldbuilding is something that can really add an extra dimension to your world and really bring your work together. They say it’s the little things, and I think they’re right (I don’t know who they are though), it’s the small things like unique swears or phrases that can really make a difference. This also means that if you’re just using phrases from the real world but you’ve taken a lot of time to build the rest of your world it can be jarring for the reader and bring them out of the experience.

 Let’s take an example of how a badly inserted phrase could do this, we’ll use ‘By Jove’. And we’ll be assuming for this example that the world the characters inhabit is a completely separate world to our own. It has different continents, different gods, and magic; a fairly standard, but separate, fantasy world.

Now maybe you have a gentlemanly character and you want to keep him regal in the eyes of your readers but he’s just been surprised for whatever reason. “By Jove” would be a good way to maintain the appearance of a gentleman, if the story took place in the normal world.

 But because it’s a fully fledged fantasy universe in its own right, the phrase doesn’t make sense. The phrase ‘by Jove’ essentially means ‘by God’ but is derived from the Roman god Jupiter. So if we’ve got a world where none of these gods existed then what our gentlemanly character has done is just said a random nonsense word. Hardly conduct that will keep him gentlemanly in the eyes of his peers.

 So that’s one example of how a simple phrase can be jarringly out of place if you’re creating your own world. Similarly if you had a science fiction universe and someone used that phrase, if you’re using the real world as a base, how far into the future are you? Would that phrase still be used? It’s barely been a few hundred years and it’s already practically disappeared from modern use, so will it still be here in a few hundred more?

 Right so that’s an example of something to look out for, there might a phrase you think nothing of putting in but it has its basis in something that you just don’t have in your universe. That said, don’t go too crazy with this, I like to think that if you’re reading a sci-fi or fantasy novel you can think of it being translated into something we can understand so I wouldn’t worry overly much.

But let’s look at an example of something you can create and hopefully give greater depth to your world.

We’re going to take the paleolithic Japan that I mentioned earlier as a random example, going through some aspects of the world we can create phrases and oaths that reflect the world the characters grew up in.

 This story is going to be set at the end of the last ice age, so after a quick bit of research into the period and the area we know that Japan was connected to the mainland at this point and the general habitat would be forests and woodland for what is now Japan and tundra-like steppes for the bridge.

Paleolithic Japan, the black lines show the modern day countries

So, we have a few facts about the world our characters inhabit: There’s been a permafrost for longer than living memory; there’s deep forests in mainland; there’s wide open, almost barren, plains reaching far to the north, and they used mainly stone tools. By taking just these three facts about the world we can create a few phrases for our characters to use that will reflect the world they come from.

 The permafrost can be used with regards to tenacity, stubbornness or for something that’s never going to happen, for example something like: “I’ll let you go when the ice melts!” in a similar vein to “when pigs fly.” You could use the ice and/or stone aspects for exclamations, perhaps: “Melted ice, boy! Get back here!” or “Broken stone that hurts!

 These are just a couple of quick examples, but you can see how taking the aspects of the world that you have created and your characters inhabit can really add an extra dimension to your writing. It will really help to take the reader out of their world and firmly plant them into yours.

 You could also use a similar technique to subtly suggest to readers that a particular character is from a different cultural background than those around him. If this strange character is using phrases and words that are strange to the people around him and alien to the setting then you can hint that the character is far travelled.

Anyway! I’m rambling now really. But hopefully from this you can see how these little touches can bring depth to your work and really hold the readers close.

 I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and we shall of course be posting more in the very near future! In the meantime, be kind, be well and have fun!

How To Insult People Like an Eighteenth Century Ruffian

Hello once again dear readers!

What have I got in store for you today I hear you cry! Why, insults of course! I should probably elaborate on that point. This post is going to show you a couple of ways to make your insults authentic but still have some punch behind them. So as a bit of a warning this post has some language that’s a bit colourful.

One of the things that I think can be difficult for writers of science fiction, fantasy or anyone writing a setting that’s not the real world is the inclusion of the little details that really bring the setting to life. It’s things like cuss words, oaths muttered under your breath, or sayings uttered in confusion. These things are by no means mandatory, but they can really change your setting and characters from good to excellent.

Francis Grose, the man himself.

So I thought it would be a nice idea to take a look at some authentic slang and insults from way back when; specifically from around the 1800s. The book I’m going to be referring to is (the title as it was on the first edition that I found) Captain Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: The Scoundrel’s Dictionary. It is essentially a dictionary of phrases, words and nicknames that were used by ‘thieves, house-breakers, street robbers and pickpockets about town’. You can find varying editions that have dates ranging from the late 1700s to the early 1800s and it’s definitely worth a look to really see how these slang terms have changed and which ones have stuck with us.

So I’ve written down a list of 15 definitions that are amongst my favourites, but this is by no means all that the dictionary has to offer. I always find it interesting, amusing or downright strange (and not always in equal measures) to give the dictionary a quick peruse. For some of the examples I’ve written a quick piece to show how you might like to use it, or at least how I might use them. So take a look at these and see if you would like to use them or even take them as inspiration for grumbles, nicknames or even a way to give one of your characters a quirky turn of phrase:

ARSY YARSEY

To fall arsy varsey, i.e. head over heels.

BABES IN THE WOOD

Criminals in the stocks, or pillory.

Earl chuckled darkly as he played with the rotten fruits in his hands, ready to throw them at the criminals in the stocks. He nudged the man standing next to him and said, “They’re strung up like babes in the wood.”

 

BAG OF NAILS

He squints like a bag of nails; i. e. his eyes are directed as many ways as the points of a bag of nails.

BARKING IRONS 

Pistols, from their explosion resembling the bow-wow or barking of a dog.

FUSTY LUGGS 

A beastly, sluttish woman.

HENPECKED 

A husband governed by his wife, is said to be henpecked.

MOON-EYED HEN 

A squinting wench.

    The plate whistled past Gerald’s ear and he ducked back behind the door frame. He heard his wife scream in frustration and rage. With a laugh that was equal parts relief and mockery he shouted around the corner. “You’ll never hit me, you moon-eyed hen!”

NICK NINNY 

 A simpleton.

PAD

  The highway, or a robber thereon; also a bed. Footpads; foot robbers. To go out upon the pad; to go out  in order to commit a robbery.

PAD BORROWERS 

 Horse stealers.

PANNY

A house. To do a panny: to rob a house.

PISS MAKER

A great drinker, one much given to liquor.

    The constable wrinkled his nose and frowned as the man stumbled passed him. With a shake of his head he made to follow the man and guide him gently away from the canal he was dangerously close to. “Typical,” he muttered to himself. “I always get the piss makers, never anything interesting.”

ROYSTER 

A rude boisterous fellow; also a hound that opens on a false scent.

SHERIFF’S BRACELETS 

 Handcuffs.

THREE-PENNY UPRIGHT

 A retailer of love, who, for the sum mentioned, dispenses her favours standing against a wall.

So there you have it, a few things to mix up your insults and give your writing a bit of authentic spice! There’s a whole host of other terms that you can find in the Classical Dictionary and I’ll probably end up showing you some more of my favourites later! I love to flick through it and get a chuckle on every page, so I’ll want to share that joy.

I should also give a quick warning if you do end up using some of these phrases. Do take a couple of minutes to do a quick bit of research on the your chosen phrase. Some of the phrases have stuck and evolved so just in case it’s a phrase you’re not familiar with it would be best to do a quick internet search. For example, ‘a story about a cock and a bull’ is now better known by ‘a cock and bull story’. It’s usually only a small change, sometimes only a slightly different spelling, but it can be those kinds of small details that make a reader trip up as they’re reading.

For the prospect of further research into the wonderfully colourful topic, Francis Grose also penned another book along the same lines called: A Provincial Glossary; With a Collection of Local Proverbs, and Popular Superstitions. So there’s plenty of words and phrases from the eighteenth century that you won’t be able to find in a dictionary!

 

That about wraps it up for another post! I hope that you’ve enjoyed this post (I know I certainly did) and that it helps you to create a really authentic world.

Until next time: be well, be kind, and have fun!