1. Pharthan

    Pharthan Active Member

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    Tips for creating profanity

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Pharthan, Apr 15, 2017.

    I'm working on a community-world-build for a Sci-Fi universe and one of the things we're struggling with is how to develop profanity. It adds a... flavor to the writing, and in my own work-in-progress I feel not having profanity detracts from the work and might rip away a reader from being involved - I'd fully expect the characters to be swearing up a storm; the event they're going through is extremely emotional.

    The universe is set in our own, but year ~3400 with humanity spread to ~1/3rd of the Milky Way, and is a semi-

    Obviously, just creating a list of profanity will not do; there are too many cultures. We've got a word or two out of funny-misspellings as inside-jokes, but that's no way to create the entire repertoire and it wouldn't be realistic. Profanity comes from somewhere, but.... where?

    Brandon Sanderson, I feel, does a good job about this in his stories (i.e. "Storms" is used as profanity in a storm-wracked world, or "colors" in a culture where magic revolves around color).
    The people of the universe would have had colonization a few hundred years in their past, but "Confined spaces!" doesn't make for a good swear.

    Does anyone have any guidelines for creating profanity?
     
  2. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I don't feel tardy.... Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, if it were me I'd stick with the usual shits, fucks, and cocksuckers--if ain't broke, don't fix it--but if you need to make your own a lot of cultures derive profanity from religious terms, icons, and imagery. So however your cultures' religions work might be the best place to start. I think the French (at least in Quebec) use "tabernac" (from tabernacle) and "chalice" as straight up curse words, so if you have some religious artifacts in your world you could try using those. Or changing their names to sound more profane. And there's no substitute for "fuck you mother." Just about every language has some derivation of that.

    Honestly though, why bother? Do you think it will add something if your characters are speaking English and using English words and symbols for everything except the profanity? I've never found substitute swears effective. I don't think it adds flavor at all. Rather the opposite. I think it comes off as profanity averse. Or too Disney. Whenever someone said "frak" on Battlestar Galactica I rolled my eyes. I'm not saying it can't be done, but what's the benefit? There is no substitute for fuck.
     
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  3. Dr.Meow

    Dr.Meow Contributor Contributor

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    If you are going to use profanity, use the real ones, don't make up stuff, that detracts from the realism. I'm actually reading some Brandon Sanderson right now, and while I love his work, some of the stuff in question is a bit silly. I at least think "merciful Domi" in Elantris is good because it fits and sounds organic, its like us saying "hell", but the rest of it is kinda bad. "Storms" just doesn't do it for me... Also, you really don't need profanity at all. A lot of people think it's a crutch as well, and a lot of readers may, or may not, get tired of "fuck" being every other word. I swear IRL, but not constantly, and certainly not because of a high-stress situation. More depends on how pissed off I am, but even then it's used more realistically.

    This is one of the better articles I've found about profanity in writing, and at the end it actually gives some really good advice and a couple awesome examples of cursing without any profanity: Writer's Digest, how to use profanity. I looked this up some time ago for my own purposes back when I was reading up on using it myself. I've changed a lot of things about my writing lately, and this is one of them.
     
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  4. Pharthan

    Pharthan Active Member

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    I have a little cursing in my book as it is (largely revolving around "fuck") but I'm trying to use cursing as I do in my own life - pure emphasis, not conversationally. I myself virtually don't have it in my vocabulary.

    This isn't a bad notion at all - I just have to figure out the religious tenants of the culture a bit more thoroughly.
    The culture is very works-based as a meritocracy, so "Lazy" would probably be considered profane. That'll be interesting to display in writing - but it doesn't really help me in my current chapter, as there's little purpose to use it and it doesn't help with the "holy crap what just happened, how the hell do I cope with this situation" aspect of what they're dealing with.

    I am worried about going way too Disney and trying too hard. While I love "frak" it is more for the humor of it than considering it a great curse-word.
    Part of the "why" is to exhibit the development of humanity and add a flavor of realism. I do not believe the curse words of today will necessarily be the curse-words of the timeframe I'm writing in. Some will be, perhaps. I'm not outright getting rid of them (I've used a couple), but I don't want to be limited to just them.
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2017
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  5. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I disagree with the advice to use our current swear words willy-nilly... they're based on our culture and our taboos, and the won't always translate to other cultures.

    I wrote a book with a non-religious, sex-positive culture, and a lot of our curses just wouldn't make sense for them. They used "fuck", but just as a verb, not a swear word or as the root of swear words. They obviously couldn't use Jesus Christ or anything related to that. They were egalitarian and didn't have marriage, so "bitch" and "bastard" were out.

    I think "shit" still worked, but I made up a few others, too, things that would be insulting to them.

    It wouldn't have made sense to transfer our swear words to their culture, any more than it would have made sense to have them break out in text speak.
     
  6. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    Why do you need swearing when derogatory will work just as well.
     
  7. Pharthan

    Pharthan Active Member

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    It's not quite the same. Purely being derogatory works well for insulting, but swear-words are more multi-functional. Specifically what I need in my situation - though it would be useful for others as well, obviously - is something that people can exclaim and express their rage, disappointment, et cetera.
     
  8. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    IDK, the only Sci-fi related curse word I know is Frell from Farscape.
    It kinda was a substitute for shit and fuck giving the context of what was
    preceding it. Other than that I have not come across any other shows/books
    that tried to substitute a new word for the old. It would feel kinda gimmicky.
    Or it might not be taken in the context you want. It is hard to pull off something
    like that well. There are so many ways to reinvent the wheel. So without knowing
    what people in the 35th century would use instead, given we still use the ones
    from a little over a thousand years ago thanks to the Medieval times. It will
    be a challenge and gamble to do so.
     
  9. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    It sounds like you're going down similar lines Burgess did with A Clockwork Orange, although 'nadsat' wasn't reserved for profanity.

    Maybe have a look at where he went for his language (I seem to remember reading it does have some level of origin, but don't recall any more than that).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nadsat
     
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  10. Miscellaneous Worker

    Miscellaneous Worker Member

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    If it is sci-fi and contains people from different parts of the galaxy, there could probably be another sort of racism that could be used for remarks against each other, if the profanity is to be used for insults, such as calling someone out on their origin- Instead of their race, from a certain planet.
     
  11. Ulquiorra9000

    Ulquiorra9000 Member

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    Why not go for the middle? I can imagine current curse words being used with the sci-fi elements of your story, especially alien animals. Such as "You zraggle fucker!" or "whoa. this place smells like gladzi bat shit" or "uglier than a broopa's ass on a bad day."
     
  12. Pharthan

    Pharthan Active Member

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    Because there is no reason, unless otherwise explained, for "zraggle" or "gladzi" to be a word at all.
    At least in Firefly you can explain away why they curse in Chinese; a similar notion to "Pardon my French," which originated as "Pardon my Greek;" it was popular to say things in French or Greek to impress others with your being learned.
     
  13. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    I don't care much for made up profanity. I did historical fiction, not fantasy, but I also jiggered a few swear-words: "gods-cursed" for goddamn, used only a few times, because they were polytheistic Romans. A Latin word fellator followed immediately by its translation "cocksucker," used for impact because this individual was very well-spoken and had never sworn before, nor did he ever after. If "fuck" is out of style in your society, just don't use it or substitute some other phrase. "Zraggle" just sounds like something out of Dr Seuss. I avoided like the plague things like "Hecate take her," etc. if favor of phrases with recognizably identical meanings: "the hell with her."
     
  14. QualityPen

    QualityPen Member

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    If you create swear words, make sure they sound like real-life counterparts. That is, short and harsh. "Zraggle" really does sound like a Dr. Seuss creature.

    Battlestar Galactica invented "frak" and geeks in the real world still use it to this day.

    I have a sci-fi story I am writing tucked away for the time being, but one of the main characters is a pilot, and he likes to say "flak" (anti-aircraft fire) in place of "fuck," but only uses it in the non-sexual sense (ie, "flak you," but not "I flaked her").

    Some who have read chapters I have shared from my fantasy project suggested that modern swear words are ill advised in a fantasy setting and suggested I use medieval swear words. Some are good, but some definitely sound like Zraggle.

    I think it's one of those choices where you will end up offending somebody no matter which path you choose. Some will want America 2017 swearing, some will want England 1205 swearing, some will want no swearing at all, while others think the more the swearier. Hah, sorry, I couldn't resist that pun. It's bad. I know.

    Anyways, maybe write a chapter with some reasonable but unique swear words and ask the test-readers to let you know what they think about the swearing.
     

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