Swears, Epitaphs, and Insults

Last Wednesday, I got the edited version of Sand and Blood back from my editor. I got a lovely high from that, being that it has been eight months since I first sent it out, but it also crashed when I realized that there were two things I needed to figure out before I published the book. Plus, working on those two items means I can stall with integrating said edits into the novel.

The smaller (and easier) task is figure out swearing in my fantasy world. And this can be a nasty little thing to figure out.

In the beginning

Originally, when I wrote Flight of the Scions, two of the characters swore frequently and loudly. One of them, Mioráshi, has her magic based around swearing and insults. The more she ties together swears, the more powerful she is. And her daughter, Kanéko (and the protagonist of the novel), suffered from having a mother who swore constantly. In that novel, I glossed over the swearing by showing the Miwāfu for the words since the chapter's POV didn't understand it.

The novel also shows Kanéko's gradual movement away from swearing as she got out from her parent's influence and began to stand on her own.

In Sand and Blood, I feel that I don't have this option. There is only one language being spoken in the novel and everyone knows every word. So, from the point of view of the main character, I don't want to gloss over the word if there is an English equivalent.

In Sand and Ash, I have two untranslated words because the English translation is too wordy to use, but overall, I don't like to use foreign words when I write.

Even with that justification, some of the readers of my writers group didn't like the occaisonal use of "fuck" or "shit." Swearing makes a lot of people uncomfortable and they seem to speak in "I would refuse to let my child read this." Of course, that bothers me in different ways, but not important here.

And since, years ago, I was told I was writing young adult, I thought I would not only reduce the swearing, but I would move it over to less offensive topics. However, my attempts at a milder swears appear to have fallen flat and the writing group actually thinks that they are bland and boring given the context.

Now, I realized that I'm really not that much of a young adult writer though my characters are in their late teens to start with. Flight of the Scions starts with Kanéko being seventeen and the series ends with her in her late twenties. Sand and Blood starts with Rutejìmo at eighteen and will end in his early thirties. A lot happens in twelve years, and I don't want to limit myself to purely young adult topics. (Plus, someone gets their throat cut in the first book.)

The aspects of reality

I consider swearing, curses, and insults to be part of creating a vibrant world. As much as some people are uncomfortable with it, the simple fact is that people do swear. And curse. And, in some cases, they do it almost constantly just as there are others who refuse to do more than an occasional profanity once every few years.

What swears and curses are used is based on the character. I try to not only identify how frequently they'll swear, but also their favorite terms. Why? Because it it one more aspect of a character, and I think that the combination of different aspects is what makes interesting characters.

Everyone swears

Actually, not everyone, but a lot of people swear. It is part of our language and our speech patterns. Now, not everyone uses the raw forms of swears (e.g., "fuck," "bitch," "shit") but uses minced oaths (e.g., "fudge", "heck"). I see it as a part of a character's development. Characters like Kanéko swear frequently whereas Mioráshi prefers insults. Rutejìmo, the protagonist, swears infrequently usually right before something nasty happens.

Now, whether you hit the truck or not, you're going to have soiled underwear! Because first you say it, then you do it! --- Bill Cosby

Frequency is an import aspect of a character's swearing. One of the ladies I worked with used to say "fudge" all the time. If you use it as the word it really meant (say "fuck"), she swore a lot more than me, but it was more acceptable despite the frequency. A family member says "god bless it" when he gets upset, but he does it so infrequently that it has a lot of impact when it happens.

I swear semi-frequently, but I have an interesting quirk that I rarely use "fuck" as anything over than a verb of a specific action. I also don't use many blasphemies (e.g., "god damn it", "god bless it") because it doesn't feel right. I've had to control my language around EDM, but the main thing SMWM is afraid of is that I will teach EDM to use "fuck" as a proper verb instead of a curse. I can just imagine that Parent/Teacher meeting.

Did he use "fuck" correctly in a sentence? --- Me, in the future


There is always a danger of overusing swearing. I still remember the second edition ShadowRun where the fiction sections were filled with "drek" and "frag" all over the place.

There are people who swear a lot just as there are people who almost never swear. Also, as people grow in influence and age, they seem to swear less. So, when I write a novel, I want to reflect those aspects and have a variety of characters who use different swears at different rates and intensities.

Types of profanity

As I see it, there are a number of different types of naughty words. Why is this important? Because different characters will use them in different tones.

The culture of profanity

The culture of the character determines a lot about their profanity. I've read that German profanity has a larger percentage of scatological phrases whereas Latin has more blasphemy.

Much of profanity are things that are not acceptable in the public eye of society. I assume, that in a openly sexual world, sexual-based swears lose their impact. Likewise, the creatures from the planet Tersurus probably don't have any flatulence-based swears, mainly because that is their form of communication. (Side note, "The Curse of Fatal Death" is probably the best Dr. Who parody of all time).

Why I want to do this

In Sand and Ash, I had a line of "Don't be a dick," which every single person in the writing group said felt out of place. I had built up a (hopefully) rich world of characters, language, and grammar and that single insult threw them out. There were a couple of things (including a couple references to "cute"). It was too modern-day English and not enough fantasy for what I have written.

Also, I had just a bland blasphemy ("Sands!") that just fell flat. In one scene, Rutejìmo is screaming as everything in his life collapsed on him and I felt like he was just screaming "Fudge! Fudge! Fudge!" at the top of his lungs. For what was in the scene, it lost some of the tension for me. "Sands" is a minced oath and neither Kanéko or Rutejìmo would use it, not as teenagers and their situations.

So, I needed to come up with something that fits better with the context. And, it needs to fit with both the framework of English and Miwāfu. Part of Sand and Blood is to build up a world to show the contrast with Flight of the Scions.