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Discussion Lets talk about swear words in fantasy fiction

Discussion in 'Fluff and Stories' started by Scalenex, Nov 2, 2020.

  1. Scalenex
    Slann

    Scalenex Keeper of the Indexes Staff Member

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    Obvious Disclaimer: 1)This is not an excuse to cuss at other forumites.

    2) If you are so easily offended that even the mention of a profanity word offends, don't read further.

    3) Swearing is relative. What is offensive in one society may be inoffensive in another. If I compare and contrast two societies I am not making a value judgement or saying one is better than the other.


    (okay now on to the topic)

    So I saw a video by Shadiversity. Then I found a better video that he kind of plagerized.

    "Swear" words and "Profanity"
    The video links are there if you want to see them, but I can sum up the core of the videos, these come from the root words of "swear words" and "profanity" and "curse words."

    Oaths were a big deal in medieval society so swearing an oath for something petty was highly offensive (though people still did this often). "Profane" means being worldly and not religious. it's not a crime to be profane. Talking about the potato harvest is technically "profane discussion" but offensive profanity is using holy terms in a flippant and disrespectful way (which medieval people still did).
    Medieval people too the afterlife very seriously. "Drop dead!" is an insult to a medieval person but "go to Hell" is far worse. "Go to Hell" is both a curse word and profanity. This was not as universal as profanity and flippant oaths but some medieval people took curse words rather literally.

    There are so holdovers in the modern day. In some circumstances, flippant oaths and profanity is offensive but oaths are a lot less serious in Current Year. Curses are generally taken much less seriously. A growth of secular culture means that religious based profanity is still offensive in many communities but it's not universal.

    Modern "swear words" and "potty mouth."


    Modern "swear words" are usually tied to bodily functions, especially pooping, peeing, sex, and body parts that are associated with these things. Sometimes in Current Year the old and new cultural mores mix with talking about poop and sex being extra offensive in religious settings. In the United, "bloody" is not a swear word. In Great Britain it is. I will point out that like poop, urine, and sexual excretions, blood is a bodily substance that is messy and gross but never the less common.

    In the medieval era, there was less privacy for both sexual acts and defecation acts. Even upper class people were generally not offended by this discussion. Sure, you shouldn't tell the king to "eat a skyte sandwich", but they could joke about a banquet causing them to get the runs in front of the king and he'll probably laugh.

    Related note. I did some research on Wild West swear words for Westhammer and in hinsight it's about half-way between medieval attitudes and modern attitudes. Flippant oaths are far more offensive in the 1800s than the 2000s but way less offensive than in the middle ages. Likewise, in the 1800s Victorian sensibilities were beginning to creep in making it offensive to talk about sex or defecation in polite settings. Religious based profanity was becoming slightly less offensive.

    Applying real-world history to Warhammer Fantasy


    I think Warhammer humans would be very similar to medieval humans. They take their oaths seriously, they take their souls seriously, they take their gods seriously. They are packed together in dirty conditions so they are probably pretty casual about bodily functions. Other than the name of the gods differing I see relatively little differences between the Empire, Brettonians, Araby, Cathay, Albion, Estalia, etc.

    Dwarves would be pretty similar but replace "gods" with "ancestors." My impression is that while the dwarves have gods they are deist in their outlook with filial piety filling the day-to-day aspects of religious life.

    Elves have very different gods but they still take their afterlives, oaths, and gods seriously. Dark Elves are very in-your-face about bodily functions so it's possible, though not necessary that High Elves have adopted Victorian attitudes about blood, sex, and other bodily function as a symbolic distancing from their Naggaroth brethren.

    Apart from the Dark Elves, the Forces of Destruction are so different that they are probably worth a separate topic. I doubt vampires care about how people talk as long as they are obeyed. I don't orcs and goblins have any social niceties. Skaven could have some mores about insulting the Horned Rat but on top of that I don't see them having profanity words really.

    Humans, elves, dwarves, ogres, skaven, everyone probably takes curses pretty seriously because sometimes curse words are literal curse words.

    What Really Matters Here?

    But what really matters, is the Lizardmen of course!
    If a fluff writer wants to write Lizardmen as robots that live only to obey the Slann, they probably don't have any equivalent to swear words because they would not possess the concept of "offensive."

    Assuming Lizardmen are not robots, they are certainly an honor bound theocratic society. They would take their oaths very seriously. They take their gods very seriously. I don't know how much thought Lizardmen give to the afterlife. At least for non-Slann. I created this thread a long time ago but I didn't get any giant brainwaves or Epiphanies from it.

    But most of the stuff about medieval swearing applies to Lizardmen. Unless Slann don't poop at all, Lizardmen probably are not especially offended by poop or talking about poop. I'm sure they recognize it is as a health hazard if not cleaned up, but I don't think they have any unique taboos about it. Certainly not more than Old World humans.

    One thing I see in historical fiction that I don't see in modern fiction is references to God's body parts. "By Christ's blood, this is awful" or even "Gods balls! You are annoying." I have also seen this applied to non-Christian deities. References to "By Neptune's Beard!" "Thor's nuts!"

    I can certainly see Old World humans swearing by "Sigmar's balls" or "Sigmar's beard," but I think this could be especially appropriate for Lizardmen.

    Relatively inoffensive swear words
    "By Chotek's fire!"
    "By Sotek's Fangs!"
    "By Tepok's Crest!"

    Relatively offensive swear words

    "By Tzunki's Bladder!"
    "By Tepok's Teeth!"
    "Sotek's molting!"

    I'm not sure where tails fall on the spectrum but I'm sure it's a very popular body part to invoke.

    Unlike the 5th edition Warhammer fluff writers, I think Lizardmen would be aware of the basics of how sexual reproduction works if only because Skink and Saurus hunters would need to understand mating cycles. I do think Lizardmen would be grossed out by sexual reproduction and milk drinking but I don't think most Lizardmen think about it much, so it probably wouldn't form the basis for any swear words because it's uncommonly talked about. It might make up the banter and jargon of those Lizardmen who spend more time in the jungle than the Temple cities though.

    Is modern swearing really a bad thing?



    In fiction of course. Shadiversity's had more waffling and meandering than the other guy, but he did raise a good point near the end. If you are writing fantasy, you are writing fantasy for a modern day reader. It might be appropriate to give fantasy characters modern sensibilities in terms of swearing.
    If you want to immediately demonstrate a character is being crass and offensive it might be better to have the knight tell the other knight "go f--_ yourself" as oppose to say "Chaos take your eyes!"

    Sometimes visceral impact is more valuable to the reader than historical accuracy or world building. I'm not sure where to draw the line myself but I do believe swear words in fiction can be used in good taste when the stakes are. In fact if I was watching a war movie and the character said "Oh shucky darn, my best friend was just vaporized!" I would be more offended by this cop-out than a real swear word.

    I remember a casual friend I had in high school who had a lot of teen angst but very religiously conservative parents. He would regularly use G-rated swear words with the savage vitriol of a real swear word and every time he did I wanted to laugh out loud. I don't want my fictional characters to be laughing stocks (unless it's a comic relief character of course).

    Mahrlect, my favorite fake word

    Mahrlect was intended to be a modern swear word, not a medieval one.
    I never defined what it means, viewing it better to let the reader use his or her imagination to fill in the blank. @spawning of Bob came up with the fluff that "mahrlect" was the last word Lord Kroak uttered before the Chaos portals opened. The Skinks and Saurus still don't know what it means but it means something bad. When I say mahrlect in real life (usually part of road rage) I use it in place o the "f" word.

    I did not randomly pull mahrlect out of my nether regions. I set out to make a fantasy swear word with great care and deliberation. Both "mahr" and "lect" are four letter words.

    The c-word that ends in and "t" is extremely offensive in the United States. I get the impressive it is less offensive in Great Britain in Australia. "Cuck" is not technically a swear word, but I bet in twenty years it will be. It kind of combines the f-word and the c-word and it involves sex indirectly. Marhlect is (probably) not sexual because it originated from Saurian but I knew my fake swear word had to have have a hard "c" in it. Even G-rated swear words like "crap" and "cooties" have a hard "c."

    "licking" is not in and of itself a swear word but it is tied to many uses of profanity in directly. I think hard "t"s are almost as integral to modern swear words and also prevailent in G-rated swear words. I really like the Orbitz commercial with "Who are you calling a cootie queen you lint licker!"

    I made it lect instead of lict to make it less obvious.

    "Mahr" is a little bit more out of left field but it embodies Lizardmen otherworldness. Mahr can be said from the deep throat to give it a gutteral animalistic feeling or it could be pronounced lighter for a more mystical otherworldly take. So in ways, "Mahr" is to "Lizard" as "lect" is to "Man"

    At least for me. Mahrlect conveys exasperation if the "Mahr" is emphasized, "maaahr-lect this is taking a long time" and anger if the if the "l" is emphasized. "Shut your mahrlect face!" If I emphasize the "t" and hiss or sucking of the teeth I actually feel as guilty as if I used a real swear word, and I cannot rationally explain it.

    I also like to use "skyte" in place of the traditional modern "s" word, but that is more for human characters than Lizardmen and there are some limited historical sources suggesting this was once a common word for it.

    What are your thoughts on Lizardmen and naughty words?
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2020
  2. NIGHTBRINGER
    Slann

    NIGHTBRINGER Second Spawning

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    Not even if the cuss word utilized is "Marhlect"? ;)

    I've never imagined my Lizardmen swearing. I don't know why, maybe because it would make them more human in my eyes and less otherworldly. That's just me though. However, I can picture my Chaos, Chaos Dwarves and Tomb Kings (the characters, not the rank and file skeletons) swearing. Strange.
     
  3. Scalenex
    Slann

    Scalenex Keeper of the Indexes Staff Member

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    You hardly ever post in the fluff forum. I am mahrlect shocked to see your mahrlect hatted avatar at the top of the fluff forum!

    Also, you misspelled mahrlect.
     
  4. NIGHTBRINGER
    Slann

    NIGHTBRINGER Second Spawning

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    I am Chaos! :p

    Talk about bad luck on my part. :oops: I was so sure that I was going to spell it wrong, that I copy and pasted it from your original message. Tzeentch be damned that I choose the one instance where you misspelled it yourself....

    upload_2020-11-2_1-16-49.png

    All things considered, I guess you can't hold it against me then! :D
     
  5. Scalenex
    Slann

    Scalenex Keeper of the Indexes Staff Member

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    You fell right into my trap...

    Embarrassing as that is, let's get back on topic.
     
  6. Lizards of Renown
    Slann

    Lizards of Renown Herald of Creation

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    It depends really on how loyal we are being to the Lizardmen lore and rulebook fluff.

    Everyone (myself included) has broadened the concept of the Lizardmen in their stories at least for Kroxigor and Saurus as the fluff in the books describe them as single-minded on war and battle only, with no mention of any kind of emotional range outside of this.

    Even Skinks are not really depicted as having a big emotional range.

    If we are following that, then I believe there would be no curse words. There would be plenty of ritual sayings for rites and practices honoring the Old Ones and they would take offense at any slur or mockery of their gods (but would they understand another race's language to understand when they were being disrespectful? Probably not)

    I, like others, take poetic license with the identities of the Lizardmen in my stories. But funnily enough, I haven't incorporated any real swear words or oaths in there.

    Aside from one character commending his soul to Sotek as he dashes into battle.

    Depends how far your poetic license goes I think.
     
  7. Killer Angel
    Slann

    Killer Angel Prophet of the Stars Staff Member

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    And here i was, thinking i could have cited The Lies of Locke Lamora as example of swearing in fantasy fiction...

    yeah, it makes sense that Lizardmen use swear words based on what the delicate arguments are.

    if we wanna go on religious swearing... well, "Judas Priest" is a mild swear. It's used on the theory that it is better to swear using the name of Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus rather than saying "Jesus Christ," taking the Lord's name in vain.
    So, a swear by lizardmen could be "Friggin' Chaos!" or "Holy Chaos!".
     
  8. Infinity Turtle
    Temple Guard

    Infinity Turtle Well-Known Member

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    I think poetry and how I think of Lizardmen (functionally and socially) are what alter how I write them. I don’t write swearing much in any fiction I write and now that’s I think about it the reasons could apply...

    One of my favourite fantasy series’ is written by a particular. In this series there is minimal swearing (though there could be place for more without it feeling shoehorned in) and the only variant really noticeable between it and generic fantasy stuff is the placement of the word ‘hell’ with ‘wyrd’ and ‘god’ with ‘gods’. I am totally okay with this sort of fantasy cursing.

    However, the same author has written two other series, one of which I’ve read but didn’t enjoy nearly as much and noted I haven’t read at all. These latter series’ are both advertised as more “adult”, though the only changes have been more explicit content and swearing (in place of any good world building, plot and characterisation it seems). In these cases the curing isn’t for the sake of drawing you into a fantasy world, but just to put on a mature facade and make young adult fantasy readers feel edgy and more adult.

    Honestly when it comes to Lizardmen, I often write about lone Lizardmen or more isolated groups, so I guess there’s a bit more room for individuality even if they are still narrow minded in my writing. Whenever I think about them discussing religion/lore or cursing and such like my brain goes to the original book and the 70s film adaptation if Watership Down. (Excellent book with excellent worldbuilding, also rabbits murdering each other) and the way this isolated group of individuals that aren’t necessarily intelligent but all have this mutual belief, respect for this higher power and totally logical curses, it just works in a seemless nature. It’s sort of hard to explain and I haven’t seen/read watership down in a while, but the cursing and discussion was always delivered so beautifully.

    With Lizardmen, I’d never thought they would be surprised by anything, moreso confused, and the exasperation that may lead to cursing in our everyday life may not occur to the lizards I write. That being said, I this swearing for comedic purposes (when done right) is great and should be encouraged I never every medium :p

    I hope this has sparked someone’s thinking or given an insight :)
     
  9. Lizards of Renown
    Slann

    Lizards of Renown Herald of Creation

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    I'm with you here. I think the combination of how a lizard acts in real life and the Cold-Blooded rule in the ARB really does give you idea of very focused creatures. To me, this is a result of an unshakeable certainty in the Slann, Old Ones and the Great Plan. Even if something untoward happens, because of their total faith and lizard-like unexcitability, they are not surprised but resolute.

    I'm very curious as to the author and title of your favourite fantasy series... :) What is it?

    I think what you say about the world building is key. If you are building an entire universe for a fantasy novel, then utilizing Earth 21st century curse words is jarring. By this I mean, the author has created a world, society, customs, mores, clothing style and (usually) some kind of magic and/or fantastical creatures or natural forces.

    The chances of this society having come up with the same swear words as Earth is infinitesimal.

    My favourite example of this (and my favourite fantasy series) is Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time wherein the swear-words and oaths that the characters use reference directly parts of his story.

    For example "Light!" is used as an exclamation and refers to "the Creator's light" which is an aspect of the Good supreme being of his story.

    "Blood and bloody ashes" is a funny one. It's considered a TERRIBLE curse word and people freak out in the story when it's used, but it has an obvious cross-over for me (being English and when I was growing up people were still using this word as a light curse word).

    Either way, I think the main thing is it needs to FIT. Your world building needs to encompass this as it perfectly natural for a world to have it's own ways of expressing anger, pain and frustration.

    Anyone who wants a good example of some intense world building should check out Scalenex's Scarterra thread:

    https://www.lustria-online.com/threads/my-fantasy-rpg-world-feedback-and-ideas-appreciated.23101/
     
  10. Scalenex
    Slann

    Scalenex Keeper of the Indexes Staff Member

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    The basic take on this for Lizardmen would be to replace "hell" with "Chaos" and "god" with Old Ones.

    Swear words for the sake of being edgy are not a good idea. Though almost any aspects of world building can be poorly applied if plot and characterization is ignored.

    A lack of swear words can break immersion as much as poorly implemented swear words. Under intense circumstances, most people express their frustrations in some way. Not everyone swears but a lot of people do. It's weird if no one swears when things get really bad unless your audience is small kids then it's okay for characters to say that "we are royally smurfed."

    Agreed, the odds of a fictional society with different technology and external factors is not very likely to have the same colloquialisms and turn of phrase. However, it is equally unlikely that such a society would have 21st century values and morals and that's really common. If you are already borrowing cultural norms from Current Year in the real world, at a certain point it's weird to not have more things in common.

    :D

    :DOf course, everyone should check out Scarterra, or the slowly growing wiki, but as of yet I have not developed swear words and profanity for Scarterra.

    Of course LoR indirectly caught on to why I created this post, but I figured it would apply equally to Warhammer fantasy so I put it here.
     
    Lizards of Renown likes this.

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