10
$\begingroup$

I am writing about two characters that come to our world from their own mirror dimension. There is cultural exchange between the two, but not tourism-level.

The two characters are a royal witch and a vampire. When creating swears and slang, I want the characters each to have their own distinct feel, as they both come from different backgrounds.

However, I do not know how to develop swears without having them sound corny. I am looking for swears that pack a punch (sh*t) without lacking significance or seriousness (leaping lizards!).

Another important thing to note would be that the dimension they come from is very open and fluid when it comes to sexuality, so sexually charged swears (f*ck, Merlin’s balls) wouldn’t carry as much taboo as they would in this dimension.

Any tips? :)

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Related: Exclamations in a nonreligious culture $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jun 7 '18 at 16:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Every language I ever learned swears in, had the translation of "Shit" as a swearword. So that one will probably be one of them. $\endgroup$ – Till Jun 8 '18 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ Swears and insults rely on context. I don't think you can make truly original swears that would be immediately recognisable. Most people swear a lot more and a lot worse in their second (and further) languages, specifically because they lack context they have in first language. Even after you explain the context, swears will still seem much softer because context is known, not internalised. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Jun 8 '18 at 10:53
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ MAndatory XKCD: xkcd.com/483 $\endgroup$ – Renan Jun 8 '18 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ Are they speaking in English (or whatever the reader's language is) or is it they are speaking in their own languages (or one of them) but translated to English for the benefit of the reader? And if English, can they speak fluently? $\endgroup$ – colmde Jul 10 '18 at 16:24
3
$\begingroup$

To begin with, there's a few kinds of curses. Invective like "Merlin's balls" or "Zounds" (which originated from the phrase "God's wounds," referencing the injuries sustained during the crucifixion of Jesus) are not precisely curses - instead, they're swearing BY something. Find something important in your culture, and let them swear by it to express emotion. The other two types of curses are more similar, and they're vulgarity and insults. Vulgarity revolves around what the culture finds taboo or, well, vulgar; in our culture, those are based around sexuality and our own waste, hence the words we use when swearing. Those are relatively tricky to come up with - you need to develop their culture and determine what is deemed too disgusting or taboo to talk about in polite company. Insults, conversely, are easy (especially after vulgarity) - just call the target someone who commits those vulgar actions. Alternately, come up with a person infamous for committing those actions or otherwise screwing up royally, and then derive some vaguely insulting word from their name.

A final note: the root words are important, but there's also the way you get to say them. Most common curses are short words of a single syllable, maybe two, and feature at least one hard consonant. They're something you can spit out in a single breath and feel coming out of your mouth. It's cathartic. When coming up with curses, particularly vulgarities, try to make them satisfying to say.

$\endgroup$
10
$\begingroup$

Religion. There's tons of swears that call The/A god's name in vain, or even just parts of said deity. "Odon's Beard", "God's Body" (which morphed into "Odd's Bodkins"), "Go to Hell/ The Devil", etc. One of my favorites from Spartacus "Great Merciful Bloodstained Gods!"

Many curses and swears are connected to specific unpleasant events. In a sci-fi series I enjoy, one of the foulest swear words around is "whistle", referencing the sound of escaping air that a micrometeorite puncture would cause in a space suit. References to evil or incompetent leaders might serve well, as in Star Trek's "Herbert". King William the Large might be so universally despised that calling someone a "Bill's Boy" is on par with suggesting one of your parents was a farm animal.

While sexual taboos aren't as big a thing in your world, there will absolutely be rude terms for bodily functions. There will be a plethora of words for poo, pee, and the various reproductive fluids and equipment, varying from "patently adorable" ("Are you referring to number one, or cockee-doody?") to the kind of words that'll get you excommunicated.

Sometimes getting the etymology down isn't as big a deal as just getting the sound right. So many sci-fi curses sound sort of like "real" ones, like Smeg, Frak and Sprokk/Drokk (from the Legion of Superheroes comic). We never learn their origins, but we know immediately they're "sour language" (as my kid calls them) Single syllables, with a solid consonant in them, something that makes you feel better after your stub your toe.

There was a great episode of the cartoon Recess where the gang decides to create a new curse word, one they can use without getting in trouble. They settle on "whomps", as in "This really whomps". It's so successful, a school administrator hears it an tries to get it banned.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Also, if you want to play up the differences in class of the pair, have the upper-class one's swear words be based more on wit and history, and the lower class be more coarse and body-based. The fancy-dan would scream "Wizard's Orb!" after an error, and the low-born would just mutter "Oh, Pok..." $\endgroup$ – VBartilucci Jun 7 '18 at 17:21
3
$\begingroup$

There's also the Firefly solution where they implemented archaic swear words (Gorram subs for God Damn and Ruttin' subs for the F-bomb). You could also use inappropriate words that your culture wouldn't know. English is great for this in that it is often said that the United States and England are "two cultures separated by a common language)... and it's not just those two English Speakers. For example, saying "I will knock you up tomorrow morning," has a vastly different meaning to an American and a Brit (its the difference between impregnating you at 7 am and knocking on your door to wake you up). An 11 year old Rupert Gint saying "Bloody Hell" had different reactions depending on which side of the Pond you were (Americans would be more offended by an 11 year old saying "Hell" while British were more offended that it was "Bloody Hell".). And make sure you know your Aussie (and Kiwi) friend are well aware of your meaning when you "Root for your team" (Hint, see the above mentioned Ruttin' for what the Lands Down Under will hear.).

Another thing to do is to make up a harsh sounding term that "doesn't translate well". I would look at casual utterances in Klingon languages that Star Trek used that were often insults. The word pet'Q (and that's proper capitlization) means "dishonorable" and is quite an insult. There has been some fan theories that because Star Trek has "perfect translator devices", pet'Q's lack of translation into English could mean that it could carry a definition that is so unique to the language that the concept just does not translate to any English word reliably. While the closest equivalent would be dishonorable, it carries far more (insulting) meaning than dishonorable would in English.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Swear words are cultural.

Figure out what is negative in their culture.

If in the vampire's culture everyone is a vampire then things that hurt or make vampires ineffective may serve as swear words, like sunlight or stake or calling someone toothless or something similar.

In your witch's culture, lacking magic might be a negative thing, or things that prevent people from doing magic.

Maybe there are insults in one's culture that would qualify as compliments in the other's.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Good answers already, but a few extra points

Use words with "k" in them

As described here, words with the letter "k" in them are inherently funnier and "bad-sounding" than other words, which is at least partly why modern comedians use the f-word so often and "frak" worked so well in BSG.

Keep the word length short

When a brick is dropped on your toe, someone will not say "Iogommorrahwoowootweak". Normally it will be a single syllable with a short consonant (although Deadpool breaks this rule by sometimes saying "Canada!").

Keep the list of words short

The original version of Shadowrun had two primary swearwords - "frag" and "drek". Even if you have never had any exposure to Shadowrun or refused to read the glossary, if you read the sentence "Get fragging clear of that drek!" you would be able to work out the equivalence. At the other end of the scale, one of the most unpleasant reading experiences I had recently was a sci-fi novel where most of the pages had made up words with definitions in footnotes. Many of the words were used only once in the entire book and had no effect on the plot. The xkcd strip Renan quotes is humorous but serious advice.

Besides, if you work out the culture then you may not require made up words at all, just different emotional indices on existing words. While it is rather dated now, Ira Levin's book This Perfect Day described an overtly wonderful but actually corrupt future in which the population were required to have regular sexual relations and be cool with nudity, but any violence and/or strong negative emotions were forbidden and grounds for therapy. So the key swearwords were "hate" and "fight" or their noun forms, while the f-word was used casually to describe consensual acts of sex. When a character says something like "Fight! I hope something unpleasant happens to that little hater!" the reader does not require a translation.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Well swear words can be anything you want them to be. Madeup words are fun to make and swear words can be anything you'd want.Think of your society and inner groups what do they find distasteful or rude to just that one society or inner group. Outsiders may not think this gesture is rude or they confuse the swear word for a positive or neutral word to them. This would be regardless of weather or not you intend to make up words.

You could also just combine English words together like metal clinker could mean the insulted is greedy and greed is not a worthy attribute in the society.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.