1. Gareth MH
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    Gareth MH Member

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    Swear words in Fantasy?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Gareth MH, May 15, 2016.

    What are people's opinions on swearing in fantasy?

    I'd like to simply use conventional swear words like shit, fuck, dick, cunt, etc. and maybe just remove some cultural specific ones like, 'Jesus, Christ, or Jesus Christ' etc.

    The story is somewhat dark and a little gritty, and is probably aimed at more mature audiences but there are also sections that are quite light, fun and even comedic.

    Are there any strong opinions out there about this?
     
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  2. Nidhogg
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    Nidhogg Member

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    I think it depends for me on what kind of setting it is, both in terms of if swear words are used and what kind of words would be used.

    For example, if you're going for something conventionally medieval in a westernized setting that is going to be gritty, then swear words should be fine and you'd probably get away with most of the words you've listed. I don't know how many references are available on medieval vulgarity, but if they exist they'd be good sources of words as well.
     
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  3. Gareth MH
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    Gareth MH Member

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    Yeah I'll have to have a look for some references on that. The other thing that could work is creating combinations and phrases that would be common in the culture.
     
  4. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    In addition to removing cultural references that are recognizable in our world, you can insert cultural references that're sensible in the fantasy world. Have characters reference their regional gods or folk heroes more or less in place of Jesus or what have you. Kind of gives the impression of vulgarity without really running the risk of bothering anyone who's annoyed by swearing. Plus you can also work in more humorous, silly-sounding curses for you more light-hearted moments - I've been playing a lot of Skyrim lately and "By Ysmir's beard!" comes to mind and always makes me laugh. Guess Ysmir had a really impressive beard.
     
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  5. Mikmaxs
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    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    Brandon Sanderson's 'Stormlight Archives' dealt with this in an amusing way, replacing almost *every* swear with some variation of the word 'Storm'.

    I personally find a lot of swear words jarring in a fantasy setting. "Fuck" and "Bitch", for one, feels wrong. However, a lot of words feel a lot more natural. "Damn," "Ass," or "Whore," just to name a few.
     
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  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I much prefer this route than when writers create overworked faux swear words. As you already mentioned, just remove the ones that don't make cultural sense in your world, like religious blasphemies. I would also, personally, in my opinion, for me, not including anyone else's take on this, avoid creating culturally specific curse words/terms that are used with too much frequency. That gets corny as all get-out, right quick.
     
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  7. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Swear words seem to be grouped into bodily functions, genitalia and religious, so either you can go with the familiar ones (shit, piss, fuck, cunt, damn) or come up with some of your own that are specific to your world and whatever is considered offensive in it. Made-up swear words can work, although there can always be the danger that the words will just come across silly or forced to your readers. But if Battlestar Galactica could pull off frack, perhaps you can come up with something to that effect as well. ;) I'd also google swear words around the world, not for the purpose that you'd right out lift kurwa or jävla, but to get some idea of the kind of vocabulary used in expletives and curses. I can easily point out differences between the word choices and cursing practices of my mother-tongue and English, for example.
     
  8. Kinzvlle
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    Kinzvlle Active Member

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    I used to write, Dragon Age fanfictoin and I was fond of using broodmother. Holy broodmother, why you broodmother you, and etc. The Percy Jackson series did by the gods or holy gods a lot which was fitting for a book where the greek and roman pantheons were real. It didn`t come off as silly because it was just like say, oh my god, but there wasn`t just one god in this world so gods fit. Like in the Dragonage fanfic, a grey warden would use broodmother as a swear because those things are...well google image it if you wish. They can be fun but make sure it fits or it could come off as forced or corny. I remember Dragonfable always did by the avatars because the elemental avatars where the closest things they showed to gods, it fit because it was by god just in the world's context.

    Party pooper! Seriously however while I'm not aginst replacement swears he does have a point. Overuse or bad timing and placement can make them seem forced and corny. I know a lot of are references are from video games and we have to remember that that`s a different medium. Figuring out how the faux swears would work coming off the page, is up to you try it out be mindful of placement, timing, how it sounds and etc. Don`t just force it in to have it there. If shit or fuck works better use it but if you like the idea of a Viking screaming by Odin's beard as a spaceship comes into the sky above them then go for it. That obviously wasn`t a relevant example to you`r story but I like the phrase. May use that if I ever do Vikings.
     
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  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Though I will never forgive the reboot episode where Cally calls Galen a "motherfrakker". They both crack up at how silly that sounds and I have to believe that the laughter was unscripted. ;)
     
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  10. Gareth MH
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    Gareth MH Member

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    Frack, that made me laugh!

    Thanks for the input guys.
     
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  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, you can use these conventional swear words. See Joe Abercrombie, among others.
     
  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    What's hilarious is that 'frack' now really IS a bad word! Globally.

    Does that mean Battlestar Galactica is already out of date? Mitochondria and all? Kind of like listening to the Scottish traditional folksong "Lizzie Lindsay"—whose lover is Ronald MacDonald—without laughing?
     
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  13. Gareth MH
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    Gareth MH Member

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    Funny you mention Joe Abercrombie. I've just bought some of his books to add to my "to read" pile.
     
  14. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I really liked the First Law trilogy. I can't remember if he used any made up curse words. I think he stayed in the fuck/cunt/shit department, and he used them pretty effectively.

    I'm reading (well, listening) Mercedes Lackey's Magic's Pawn right now, and her characters say "hell" both as an exclamation and insult ("go to hell"). It's a teeny bit jarring, but I suppose some kind of concept of damnation exists in her world as well, so I can forgive that. However, I haven't used it myself and probably won't.
     
  15. Gareth MH
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    Gareth MH Member

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    Audio books are great aren't they. You can power through so much while doing dishes, lawns, driving. I've really been able to step up the amount of books I read because of them.
     
  16. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Oh yes, I love audio books. It's just so handy to have that book on your cell phone and just listen while biking to work, jogging, or commuting. :cheerleader:
     
  17. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Question, since this thread is here.... Do you think "hell" would be too culturally related? Or was this a word said before the relationship to Christianity?
     
  18. Kinzvlle
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    Kinzvlle Active Member

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    The word Hell actually came from the Norse god of death, before the Christens gave it a new meaning. They also had a goddess named Eve who was associated with apples...so interesting similarities there. Even then that`s pretty culatrery linked to Norse mythology. Dam, however, is a different story since regardless of what they call it most cultures do have some concept damnationtoin. It would be easy to justify something saying "Dam you all to (insert plain of death and punishment here) as a universal cultural concept.
     
  19. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Check out Best Served Cold. That's an excellent stand-alone by Abercrombie.
     
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  20. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    If I'm remembering correctly 'Hell' isn't actually mentioned in the Bible (or maybe it is like, once or twice?) but thanks mostly to Divine Comedy it is a pretty Christian-linked word now, unfortunately. But lowercase H 'hell' is a bit more vague and I don't think it'd be too immersion-breaking. Like someone else mentioned, 'Hel' is a figure and place in Norse mythology as well, but we don't hear about her so much. You could always use 'hel' instead of 'hell'.
     
  21. ToBeInspired
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    ToBeInspired Contributing Member

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    I see no reason swear words shouldn't be used. Overusing any word, in general, is probably the wrong path to take. Authors are able to get away with more and more as the world becomes more modernized. Things that formerly were considered faux pas are now commonplace. If you're fighting for your life and just manage to get by the skim of your teeth and then a ferocious beast appears... well letting lose a fuck seems pretty appropriate.
     
  22. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    re Hell/hell : It's possible nowadays a lot of people connect it with Christianity, so despite the word's etymology, it may pull your reader out of the story, but like I said earlier, at least for me it's no biggie. In the book I'm reading right now, 'hell' as well as 'damn' are used every now and then, and it's all right.

    I have it on the shelf, waiting to be read. That and The Heroes. Good thing I'm on a fantasy binge right now. :p
     
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  23. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    From the Wikipedia etymology section:

    "The modern English word Hell is derived from Old English hel, helle (about 725 AD to refer to a nether world of the dead) reaching into the Anglo-Saxon pagan period, and ultimately from Proto-Germanic *halja, meaning "one who covers up or hides something"[2] The word has cognates in Latin (see verb cēlō, "to hide") and in related Germanic languages such as Old Frisianhelle, hille, Old Saxon hellja, Middle Dutch helle (modern Dutch hel), Old High German helle (Modern German Hölle), Danish, Norwegian and Swedish helvede/helvete (hel + Old Norse vitti, "punishment" whence the Icelandic víti "hell"), and Gothic halja.[2]Subsequently, the word was used to transfer a pagan concept to Christian theology and its vocabulary[2] (however, for the Judeo-Christian origin of the concept see Gehenna).

    Some have theorized that English word hell is derived from Old Norse hel.[2] However, this is very unlikely as hel appears in Old English before the Viking invasions. Furthermore, the word has cognates in all the other Germanic languages and has a Proto-Germanic origin.[3] Among other sources, the Poetic Edda, compiled from earlier traditional sources in the 13th century, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, provide information regarding the beliefs of the Norse pagans, including a being named Hel, who is described as ruling over an underworld location of the same name."

    As it says, when translating Christian concepts into Old English, they used hell in place of Gehenna, Sheol, or Tartarus from the original scriptures, since it was the closest analogue in the language. So the word did exist prior to Christianity, but it's so linked to it that you'll conjure up specific imagery whether you want to or not.

     
  24. Seraph751
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    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole...

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    Maybe instead of making up all of the curse words try just 1 or 2. There is also a Chinese saying, "May you live in interesting times." Which for me basically means, go feck off and die codsucker from twisted circumstances. You can use sayings just as effectively as curse words. Food for thought! :D
     
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  25. ArQane
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    Not so much in fantasy, swear words should begin from post-modern. Back then, those words virtually didn't even exist. You should settle with some taunts that would be considered light nowadays, but were pretty brutal back then.
     

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