Tips 'n Stuff To Make Better Science Fiction/Fantasy Slang & Swear Words
So you want to create some slang for your fantasy world? Want to make up some swears for your space captain to bark out in a bracing battle? Here are a few things to remember and consider when coming up with it all.
Remember, slang words develop organically from pre-existing elements.
Slang doesn’t just pop out of nowhere, but borrows elements from pre-existing languages, either from the originator’s native language, or from a language the originator is familiar with. Here are some examples of how slang can originate:
- A slang word can be a portmanteau (a combination of two or more words blended into one word, such as “sloots” for fuzzy, slipperlike boots, or “netbook” for “Internet notebook”).
- They can be an abbreviation or truncation of a longer word (such as TV and fridge for television and refrigerator).
- It can simply be a brief, catchy-sounding word that initially carried another meaning (cool, epic, etc).
- Some slang terms are derived more indirectly, through prominent names associated with the concept one is trying to describe - such as Googling for the act of searching for something on Google, or fedora from a hat that was worn in a play by the same name.
- Some slang terms begin as wholly constructed words (but they will borrow from the sounds and sound patterns the originators of the slang are familiar with).
- Other slang terms begin as loanwords from other languages, particularly the languages of cultures perceived as being classier or more intelligent than one’s own culture. (And loan words, if difficult to pronounce by the adopters, will end up modified to something closer to their native phonemes - eg, the French word beaucoup becoming the English slang term bookoo.)
Remember, slang terms don’t only catch on just because they sound neat - they also need to serve a purpose.
Slang terms that catch on not only sound neat and flow easily from the mouth, but they also serve a useful function to the speaker. For example:
- Slang can be used simplify an expression that already exists, such as using “I can’t!” in place of a longer expression such as “I can’t even begin to describe how I am feeling right now!”
- Slang can also be used to clarify a concept that doesn’t really have a well-defined word, such as “cool,” which describes something that is simultaneously awe-inspiring and respectable, or is iconic enough that adopting it is meant to gain respect.
- Other times, slang terms exist not to clarify, but to muddy: a group who finds themselves frustrated by their lack of power in society might assert themselves by developing unique terms that those outside their group (typically those with more power) are unable to understand, as in the case of Cockney rhyming slang.
Slang terms used to simplify will usually sound like the expression they started from. Terms used to clarify otherwise difficult-to-describe concepts may sound similar to another word, or they may be fabricated from whole cloth. Terms designed to confuse will often derive directly from the language, but be taken so far out of context that they are impossible to understand, or they may be invented from scratch.
Epithets and swear words need to be high impact and low effort.
Fictional epithets and swear words are easily the most popular type of slang to show up in a science fiction or fantasy story. They’re also the easiest to make unconvincing, because the traits needed to make a good epithet or swear word are often overlooked. Generally speaking, uttering your swear words should should feel like throwing a good punch, which means they need to be:
- Effortless. For practical reasons, most are meant to be blurted, usually in a moment of heated anger or irritation. Consonant clusters (fl, rs) and multiple syllables should usually be avoided, as they increase the effort required to speak the word and thereby diminish its usefulness.
- Inappropriate. Most epithets are satisfying to say because they’re also a slang word for something that makes people uncomfortable. There’s a special kind of catharsis that comes from uttering a word that you KNOW is going to rustle someone’s jimmies. Your word doesn’t have to have a specific, offensive meaning (at least not in English), but it should either carry some taboo connotation in its originating culture, or be vague enough that it sounds like something you should not say.
- Quick to end. Generally, you should avoid beginning or ending your swear word with either vowels or soft consonants (l, z), both of which pad the length (violating rule #1). Be particularly wary of ending with a soft sound, which can change the word from blunt to flowing and can turn your punch into more of a glide.
You might also be interested in:
Of Character Voices & Slang
Things Your Fantasy Or Science Fiction Story Needs
Things You Need To Do In Your Science Fiction Or Fantasy Story
Tips & Ideas To Create More Believable Sword 'n Sorcery Worlds
Tips To Write & Create Better & More Believable Futures
Names of THE FUTURE!!!