1. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Is it bad to have different names for diverse products that have no real-world equivalents?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Inks, Sep 17, 2015.

    There are a lot of strange and wondrous natural items in my fantasy story that have no real-world equivalents, but deciding on how to present their names is becoming a problem as more and more items are being introduced. I do not want to make a reader learn a new language, but different products have different names and the connections are not always immediately clear.

    This exists to an extent in English. For example, "pigs" whose meat we call "pork", a type of "pork" product is "bacon". Or "cows" whose meat is called "beef" (as all bovines) unless it is from a young cow, whereby it is called "veal". Though my case is closer to "Sheep" - whose prepared meat is called either "mutton" or "veal", the textile product "wool", the wool grease is "lanolin", at least the hide is sheepskin until it is processed to sheep leather... et cetera...

    In my case the fruit "Seipai" in the fantasy language, comes from the "Namadi" tree. By going by the rough translation the fruit is "Catspaw", derived from the fruit's color and appearance. However, the wood was originally useless resulting it in being derided as "Badwood". Special artisans work the greenwood of the Namadi tree and allow it to cure resulting it in becoming known under various trade names and objects like the "happy family" cooking pots, various stomach medicines and even a form a sweetners. While originally a joke at its uselessness, the "Badwood" tree ended up being very valuable and cutting them down ends up being an actual waste. Many special ceremonial figurines and festival pots are made of their wood, each of these products does not refer to them as "Seipai wood" or "Namadi bowls", but honorative names based on their "curing" techniques. Understanding the difference is not truly essential, but it would not make sense to have some of these names or occupations as "Namadi Sapper" or "Namadi Barker".

    So as the title says: "Is it bad to have different names for diverse products that have no real-world equivalents?"
     
  2. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    Yep. It is. The readers can't see inside our heads, and you want to avoid confusing them. Most fruit trees are called by their fruit name anyway. Either call it a Seipai tree that produces a Seipai fruit, or call it a Namadi tree that produces a Namadi fruit. And the whole thing with the honorative names seems kind of unneeded. Is this plot relevant?
     
  3. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Very much so. The specific species of tree is very important for the industry and trade because many desirable products are produced by the artisans. "Ibikian" architecture, designs and such stem from one area and much of the settlements produce Namadi-related products. Medicine, teas, sugar extracts, food, ceremonial items, specialty products and inlays for furniture. These do not carry the same name, you will not find "Namadi tea", but instead a strong black tea under the name Dochae that is served in most Tein households. So the presence of such a tea is in foreign settlements announces a connection with the Tein. Many special ceremonial items are made of the wood, one of these is "death figurines", they are used in family altars to honor deceased relatives in place of tombstones.

    Between a meeting between two foreign settlements, serving Dochae tea from a ceremonial Uial pot (made of Namadi wood) during negotiations is an "unspoken" way to announce loyalty without provoking a conflict. It is not the equivalent of placing a gun on the table, it is like pouring tea out of the crown jewels of the British Empire. When a Tein comes by such a "protectorate" this is seen as a sign of respect which keeps necessary medicine and goods flowing in return for the trade agreements even with sworn enemies. Mostly cloths, Tein love fine cloths.

    A reader probably wouldn't pick up on the Uial or the Dochae tea and realize they come not only from the same source, but the tree is a symbol of the Tein's strength. Many of the most special and reserved ceremonial items come from the tree because of its importance, its rarity and its irreplacability. Humans have precious metals, but Namadi is a precious wood that is somewhere between silver and gold in relative value. This is "bringing out the fine china/silverware".

    Also, having a large number of the wooden items not used in special relations indicates that a settlement was wiped out and works as an intimidation tactic against the Tein. In a ghastly affront, typically by the Huden, is to deface the death figurines and use them instead as charms to reflect their kill count of Tein. This would be sort of like defiling gold figurines of Jesus (for Christians) and stringing them around your neck to show the "body count" to a priest. Most would go from zero to murderous rage in three seconds flat.

    So yes it is essential to the cultural and industrial power, but it is also so ingrained into the cultural identity that these everyday objects made from the wood are not defined by any other means. Since no one uses "Namadi" to prefix or describe the objects, I do not see why I would define it either. Though it helps that the object itself has its own name which is equally entirely unique with no analog in real life.
     
  4. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    This reminds me of Lola StVil and her terrible "The Guardians" series. Every couple of pages she has to stop and outline some asinine world building feature. I don't fucking care about the dynamics of heaven's operating capital Lola. It has fuck-nothing to do with the plot.
     
  5. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    If a reader won't pick up on this, is it because you haven't told them?

    If you have told them and they still don't get it, then you've just subjected them to several words/pages of irrelevance.
    If you haven't told them, then what's the point of having different words for different products of this tree?

    It's a tree. It grows, that's what it does. There'll be another one along sometime soon. On the other hand, they're not making silver and gold (or even coal) any more; at least, not within a timescale that matters to anybody alive today.

    An aside on "trees grow"...in the era of the Napoleonic wars (1799-1815), when Britain's fleet of oak-hulled ships was what kept France from invading, one particular British admiral would carry a pocketful of acorns with him wherever he went. He would plant them in any likely spot, to ensure a continuing supply of this vital resource. Before the oaks were fully grown enough for the wood to be used, ironclads had taken over as the ship-of-the-line.
     
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  6. Inks
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    To clarify, the reader is aware, but the connection is not truly needed since the general notion that "these trees are essential for life and industry" since an entire town will spring up around a group of them. They take several hundred years to grow to viable maturity and life revolves around production of goods - the most important being life-saving medicines. The naming of produces, like coal-derived product does not always bear the name, so the importance is probably lost on most people. Most people know coal is a critical resource, but do not know that even its byproducts are used for hundreds of things, including concrete (from fly ash). We do not call it "coalcrete", but an educated person can identify it.

    So you can think of it as a "coal mining town" of sorts. Working life revolves around tending to the tree, barking, drawing out sap, washing the exposed edges, promoting the growth and harvesting of a bacterial mold. Processing the products is another beast, but it is very apparent that the trees are extremely precious and most of the work relates to such products.

    So that is why I am wondering if it is proper to have names and tasks that simply do not prefix the tree name to every product or byproduct of the tree. Since the products often have no real-world equivalent themselves. When the terms "barker" and "sapper" or "molder" come up, it needs not be prefixed for that reason either. Trees do grow, but for hundreds of years the same trees have been worked without felling them. This is not something shown and forgotten, it is critical to daily life.
     
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  7. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Concrete is a composite material composed of aggregate bonded together with a fluid cement which hardens over time. Most use of the term "concrete" refers to Portland cement concrete or to concretes made with other hydraulic cements, such as ciment fondu.

    The Romans used concrete as the main structural component of most of their architecture. I'm not aware that coal-mining was a major Roman activity.

    It's only since pollution controls have become more relevant that the use of fly ash as a pozzolan has become commonplace as a "replacement or partial replacement" for Portland cement.

    It seems to be a staple of fantasy that life-saving medicines are the most important thing in the world. They're not. A life-saving medicine may be important if I'm suffering from a life-threatening disease. Food IS important if I'm suffering from life-threatening starvation - and, at risk of sounding like an apologist for mediaeval-based fantasy, starvation was a very real spectre during the mediaeval period (I'm defining between about 900-1500 AD).
     
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  8. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Correct on the concrete. Correct on food being important, but the trees themselves are not a staple food item. I assure you that there is no medieval 14th century issues to worry about - completely different climate and situation. I should note there is no precious metals or any production of iron or steel goods. No horses in the jungle either.
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The mere use of differing words, as in the OP, isn't a problem if you don't go completely nuts with it. Fantasy readers are smart and used to following such things. I wouldn't belabor the point, though. That would make for a boring story. Just use the terminology you've come up with and resist the urge to explain.
     
  10. Inks
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    I understand now and I asked the question in a poor way. The real issue I had was deciding whether to prefix material descriptors to different types of items or simply letting the item itself stand as its own product. It is a clarity issue on first use, but is mere redundancy afterwards.
     
  11. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    I think everything is fine as-is. I disagree with everyone who said "it is [bad]". I think it's excellent world building that a patient and interested fantasy reader will appreciate. The trick is just to get them interested in learning about the world you've made, and then you can tell then anything you want. That's largely why people read fantasy - to explore new worlds. I don't think it's too much.
     
  12. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Since I created the thread, I have been fairly open and just allowing the culture and daily life to be itself. I have written extensively about certain cultural items of curiosity and certain social norms. Six different types of textiles are used, primary staples of cuisine consist of only 60 different items, there are only several hundred daily items of importance and few are of an unfamiliar nature.

    English readers understand that a single animal can provide multiple uniquely named products that have no prefix marker - pigs and sheep in particular. So I should not be worried with assigning a proper name and not worry about prefixing it. Besides - English is hard. I sometimes struggle just to explain myself and find out that even a language like English has no words for the concepts or items. Despite searching and searching something like a Semainier is probably the closest to everyday storage of clothing - except they have a five-day week instead. So a "Cinqier" would be faithful in concept, haha.

    I have actually gone through specialty magazines to try and find the correct terminology for the items I inspected. Refusing to use simple generic definitions of furnishings, I simply repeat the utterances to prevent from being utterly devoid of their (true) names. Let the words flow like the water down Mt. Hyade!
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't assume that this would always happen, though. I believe that it's a result of the collision of Normans and Saxons. The simplest explanation was that the low-ranked Saxons cared for the animals, while their high-ranked conquerers the Normans ate them. This is apparently not a universally accepted explanation, but nevertheless, it seems to be generally agreed that the different words happened because two different languages were being used.

    I would want there to be a firmer reason for the fruit and the tree to have different names, because that rarely seems to happen--apples come from apple trees, walnuts from walnut trees, grapes from grapevines, and so on. One possible reason for two different names could be a history in which the trees grew elsewhere and the fruit and wood were imported to your story location separately, and thus took on separate names. Then when someone figured out how to grow the trees in your story location, or perhaps the trees always grew there and someone figured out how to pollinate them to make them produce fruit, the separate names stuck.
     
  14. Inks
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    @ChickenFreak - You are fairly close! The trees are extremely rare, but usable ones grow in small groups and have distinct sexes. The fruit are irregular occurrences in healthy specimens of female trees that are in close proximity to male trees. Yes, the colloquial names were mere definitions with no greater meaning for a long time. However, everything changed when the tree was discovered to have medicinal properties - then people's lives started to depend on it. The insulting name was twisted about and the tree came to acquire a sacred status. Farming the tree in a way which did not kill it took practice and patience - but experimentation lead to a sustainable balance that prevents the worked trees from bearing fruit.

    Most never encounter the (sacred) fruit and the first-sight impression of a cat's paw springs to mind immediately. The only way to encounter the fruit is to harvest them from an unworked grouping of the trees (as single trees do not produce fruit) when they are available once every five-to-ten years. While the fruit is sweet and fleshy, it is poisonous to the Huan. Though the Huan are constantly fumbling about with their plants, only the patriarch or master gardeners enjoy the privilege of collecting it. Typically, the seeds are extracted and the fruit bodies are ceremoniously disposed with honor.

    In practicality, the fruit is really no more than a means to grow new shoots to provide grafts for mature trees - the appearance of a fruit in a settlement is typically the result of a special request by a Tein matriarch or other powerful figure for a special ceremony. The most celebrated one is where a Cein male earns his manhood by eating the fruit - symbolically consuming the flesh of the panther. Eating the sacred two seeds (one male and one female seed per fruit) is also believed to promote virility, probably not wise to discuss that aspect here, but you get the point.

    Much like how you never present an orchid to a Tein - almost everything in the world has its place and backstory. The connections are never spelt out in such a boring way - it is conveyed through the eyes of a Tein matriarch sharing a drink with the lucky mother of the male. The Tein is all too eager to explain that her son has consumed the fruit of life and how she looks forward to the new generation. Curious, if only to avoid dwelling on the latter implications, she inquires about the fruit and comes to understand the symbolic nature of the ritual. That's all - the reader is left to piece together the natural conclusion. The relevant conversation revealing the nature and symbolism takes place in under 200 words.

    I am sure I am coming off poorly here, but the text is information dense to extreme levels in places. Many conversations reveal the state of the world while developing characters and advancing the plot. There is no "Hero's Journey" and my main characters are in their 40s and 50s - they are not just passing through a foreign land on a quest. They live and die in tight-knit communities in a savage world.
     
  15. Revilo87
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    1. Reduce redundancies in terms and occupations. The most likely situation is that there is a land owner who has an orchard of Namadi trees that employs people to both pick the Sepai fruit and collect sap from the trees. The land owner would then sell the produce to markets and the sap, bark, etc to local apothecaries and use the profits to pay himself and his employees. Because all the jobs just described are jobs that already exist, there's no need for new terminologies. Someone who picks the Sepai fruit, does the same job as someone who picks apples and a person who collects the Namadi Sap, does the same job as those who collect sap from trees like Maple. The job of transforming the Sap into sweetener (just like maple syrup) is something still done in the orchard, and not something that requires a new term either. As far as the transformation of leaves, barks, roots, sap, etc into medicine would be left to the apothecary, medicine-man/woman, doctor, etc, so no new terms there either.

    2. Avoid confusion with real life terms when creating names
    If you still choose to use the the term "Sapper" keep in mind it is used in the US, UK & Commonwealth, and several other nation's militaries, usually to describe someone who does some sort of engineering but also various other duties.

    3. Avoid conflicting sentiments and lingering questions

    You said soon the people learned the tree wasn't useless and that it was a waste to cut it down, yet they apparently are still cutting it down to make cooking pots? (How suitable are wooden pots for cooking anyway?)

    If they're not cutting the tree down then, how do they procure the wood for creating said pots? Since the wood would have to be cured a certain way, they seemingly just can't wait for the tree to die naturally. If they cut the branches off, they're diminishing the amount of fruit the tree can produce. Even if they only take a few branches here and there, they wouldn't be able to gather enough would to make and meaningful amount of pots.

    4. Decide on a single term
    Most fruits and the trees they come from share a name. Orange trees, produce oranges and orange blossom water. Maple trees produce maple sap/syrup, and maple wood for furniture. So unless you really want it, I suggest either settling on Namadi or Sepai and not using both. As far as Sepai goes btw, what exactly about the fruit makes it look like a cats paw? Cats do have a great amount of variation in the way their paws look.


    5. Ditch the "bad wood/ good wood"
    Just b/c people didn't realize the right way to use the Namadi tree's wood at first doesn't mean they would have come up with derogatory remarks for it. There are plenty of trees around in our world today that don't produce wood of quality for building things and we don't deride them with negative remarks or terminology.

    Instead you can just describe how the people didn't realize that the wood was suitable for use until so and so figured out a way to treat it. No need for a made up word meaning bad wood here.
     
  16. Inks
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    Thank you for a detailed response - I have pulled out the prefixed names for occupations. Avoiding confusion with real life names is intended, but Find+Replace holds out for "Sappers" should I learn of a better term.

    I had to research further to try and find an example which exists in the real world... and it was not a normal case. Kigelia - the sausage fruit tree - has some similarities owing to the fruit being poisonous with some medicinal properties. While not a perfect example... it works close enough - "Kegelia wood" instead of "Sausage Tree Wood" is also relatively appropriate here because the language it comes from is not English either.

    At the risk of complicating this even more, the larger [Tein] household items come from the era in which harvesting and grafting experiments resulted in killing the trees. The wood was used to make numerous items by craftsmen - though only Huan became proficient in the end. The derogatory declaration of the wood? You can thank Uowa (the Huan diety) who found it unsuitable when constructing the first permanent structure - an proto-Eise-styled building that is the home of the principal divinities in Ibikian society. In the current time, the primary use of Namadi wood is for small funerary dolls that bear the likeness of the fallen. So much of this extends from Aoi... who carved the first dolls so he would not forget the faces of his children.

    Namadi can be translated in several ways - depending on context - but I suppose "Tree of Life" or "Sacred Tree" is adequate. I've spent far too much time obsessing over this. The male Cien consumes the fruit and becomes an adult - any reader who has followed along will realize how Kae and Fiel reacted upon witnessing its effects. I cannot expect 300,000 words to be crammed into this post.
     

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