Monday, July 29, 2019

Swearing and SFR

If you write sci-fi romance, soon or later you'll have to decide: "To swear or not to swear." Swearing is such an ingrained part of our culture now (for better or worse) that's it's hard to make a highly dramatic, tension-filled, or shocking scene work if it doesn't incorporate some form of an oath. But when writing stories set in the future or alternate universes (et al) it's something an author may need to devote some thought to.

I just read this article on several archaic swear words -- 10 Old Swears You'll Want to Bring Back. It was quite entertaining. The author thought some of these phrases might be fun to re-integrate back into modern speech. Here's a sampling:

Arfarfan'arf  (really!) Victorian slang for a drunk. An "arf" is a half pint of alcohol, so if he or she is an arfaran'arf, they've had way too many drinks.

Bed-swerver  - From Shakespearean literature, meaning cuckold or unfaithful. (I dunno. For me, the phrase summons a mental image of someone in a bed careening down a steep road. But maybe it's just me.)

Fustilarian - Also Shakespearean, from Henry IV, an adjective meaning low or common

Swounds - it's medieval and actually stands for "God's wounds"

Thunderation - Evolved from damnation and tarnation, the meaning is equal to "hell!" or "damn!"

Those are just a few, but if you want to read some of the more *ahem* colorful references, follow the link.

Though I'm not sure all of those terms would work in modern day, I used a form of one of the above in a novel -- "Thunderin'" instead of Thunderation. It's actually a Newfie term, or slang spoken by those who hail from the Newfoundland area of Canada. (Also, T'underin', according to my source). 

I had a character who was originally born in Newfoundland and went to space as a resident of Yellowknife, Northwest Territory, Canada, use it as part of his speech. He says the word as an exclamation or combines with other words for a more emphatic statement (such as "What the thunderin' hell?")

Adding swear words in Sci-Fi can be fun or even poignant, especially if the words are given a particular meaning in the story or significance to the character. Much of our iconic Science Fiction used particular phrases as a form of cursing, including frak, a futuristic term for another four-letter word used in Battlestar Galactica

Firefly gave us gorram as well as several colorful Chinese/Cantonese-inspired curses.

Farscape used frell and dren as their futuristic alternatives to some of our brief present-day terms.

I couldn't think of an instance of swearing in Star Wars, but upon doing a little research I discovered that some of the related books included the terms fierfek (supposedly from Jabba the Hutt's world) and sithspawn, which was a Corellian term, with a meaning that's probably clear to Star Wars fans. Spawn of sith. 

Then there are the more amusing phrases like Mork's shazbot!, which probably has no real meaning other than pure entertainment. 

Clearly the use (or non-use) of swear words and the frequency is up to the author, but IMHO it's important to keep the relevancy in line with the tone and flavor of the story. Amusing terms along the lines of shazbot! might work in a humorous sci-fi tale, but in a more dramatic piece they could stand out as silly or out-of-place or the dread 'trying too hard to sound sci-fi.' Still, how a particular word fits the story is ultimately the judgment of each individual writer...and each individual reader.

When it comes to swearing, I try to tread lightly, but there are several phrases throughout my series that are considered oaths. Here's an abridged Inherited Stars Series glossary of swear words and oaths.

blue devil - an exclamation, "What the blue devil are you doing?" is like we would say "What the devil..."

blue hades - a bad hell where the blue devils hail from. See also "sixth hell"

Empora's Hades - is like saying "deep dark hell." The characters often use hades alone, but Empora was a legend and adding her name to the mix makes any "hades!" a particularly bad one.

fug - what a very common modern swear word (more politely shown as f***) evolves into in 1500 years.

gigadam (one that seems pretty popular with and amusing to readers) translates to "damn to the nth degree"

Gods of Gellen - see below

Haley's Crest - a perilous area of space that spacefarers adopted as an oath. Sometimes shortened to just "Crest"

heo - both a curse and an insult, from the Purmian language, meaning 'gutless eunuch.'

peitchau - another Purmian curse, literally meaning 'Yele-damned' which is a very powerful form of damning in the Purmian culture. 

rifted - a reference to treacherous dark nebula known as Bradley's Rift. Means the same as 'blasted' or 'bloody.'

sixth hell - a particularly nasty level of hell

As to the note above, the "Gods of Gellen" is a phrase with an ancient reference that has lost it's context and meaning, like some of those old oaths from the referenced article above. Or at least, it's lost it's meaning for most of those in the 36th century (when the series takes place).

But that particular brand of curse opens a can of worms between two of the characters in my upcoming story, SpyDog, which will be part of the Pets in Space® 4 anthology to be released on October 8th. 

It creates a bit of high drama when one of the characters spits it out it in an offhand way, like we might say, well...swounds!...and is then challenged by his companion for uttering it. 

After learning the true root of the term, his journey takes an unexpected turn. [Can you say 'foreshadowing.'

Have you read (or written) any new swear words that are tailored to a particular story or universe? Any that you found especially amusing, or hard hitting? Please tell us more in comments below.

And let me just mention again (because I don't want anyone to miss out on this very fun #FREEBIE) that there's a sampler of Pets in Space® 4 available. It's packed with story snippets, original works and even artwork by the authors. Just click the link below to grab a copy.

Enjoy! And have a great week.


  1. Yes, you do need swear words. The trick is to find something that sounds authentic and not silly. You also need exclamations of surprise and joy. It's challenge do write a novel without the equivalent word for "Oh, God."

    1. Great point, Cara. :) Do you have any swear words specific to your various series? How did you go about creating them?

  2. It's interesting to me how some readers react to swear words. As you say, they're essential to give authenticity. I use the dreaded f word and sh*t unchanged. They have been around for hundreds of years and I don't see them going anywhere soon. Apart from that, religious based oaths invoking hells or gods are in the mix, too. But I use "gods", not "god".

    1. Yeah, I have had the occasional "sh*tstorm" or "sh*thauler" pop up in my stories, too. That's one reference that will most likely be timeless. I have one character who references the "Island Lords" but most don't refer to a "god" or "gods," they use "highest power." One character also frequently uses "Fire Lords" but more as an exclamation than an oath. But the Fire Lords weren't gods.

  3. My Xelixians swear using Gharah (the equivalent of the devil) and will call you Son of Gharah, Gharah takes you, Gharah's blood, Gharah's teeth, etc. My non-religious species, the Braxians will invoque the Ancestors. Each species usually have their little library of swear words or expressions. It does make them feel more authentic. And I don't have God (for non-human species). It's always the Goddess invoked in all the same ways we invoke God.

    1. I love all the colorful uses of Gharah. That does sound authentic, as well as the separate forms of swearing for different species. (My different empires are all human, but there are various subspecies with different cultures, references and physical traits.)

      Regine, you have Braxians, and I have Draxians. :)

  4. Great blog, Laurie! I've gone back and forth in the use of swear words in my series. Started out not wanting to use them, then became more comfortable. My blue-skinned Matirans have an all-purpose swear word (Ska) which means whatever the speaker wants it to mean. lol. I did write a novella for a limited edition group boxed set that was not part of my series. The human heroine swears like a sailor. Oddly, given my initial hesitancy to use swear words, I'm looking forward to getting back to that particular story. Go figure.

    1. LOL That does surprise me. But if it suits the character, then even excessive profanity can work. I like "Ska!" Forgot about that one. :)

  5. Well, as anyone who has read my Interstellar Rescue series novels knows, I'm a big fan of swearing in all its forms. A reader who didn't appreciate it so much once noted in an Amazon review that my characters had used the F word over 70 times in one of my books! LOL! Not sure why s/he felt it necessary to count if the word offended so much! My characters swear in alien tongues, too, most often in Thrane or Ninoctin, both of which languages yield plenty of swear words adopted by other cultures in the IR galaxy. Shalssit, for example, is a Thrane word that is used much like our F word, with variations allowing it to be used as a verb or an adjective. The chief villains of the IR universe, however, the alien Grays, have to borrow all their swear words. They're telepathic and don't speak out loud!

    1. ROFL. Someone actually counted instances of the F-bomb? LOL! Clearly they had an ax to grind. I don't recall excessive use of the word in your stories, but I have to admit that--as a reader--it does get a bit distracting when it's used every other sentence. To me. it reads like the characters don't have the ability or vocabulary to properly express themselves. I'm very sparing with the f-drop, or as I mentioned, chose to have it "evolve" into fug in 15 centuries. Not sure if f*** was around in Roman times (I'll have to research that) but language does change and hybridize over the years, which is why I went that route.

      Shalssit sounds like it could be an especially venomous oath, too. Thy hissy sound adds to the impact, IMHO.

      Telepathic swearing! Only in SFR (or maybe some paranormal). :)

  6. Love this post! The female hero of my series is foul-mouthed in the extreme. My beta readers had to tell me to tone it down. Ha! My alien characters have their own swear words based on their culture. I had great fun using the new oaths and now they pop into my head at times in real life situations. I haven't blurted a made up curse out yet, but it would be hilarious if I did. Thanks for the great article, Laurie. BTW, my parents are both from Newfoundland so I appreciated the reference.

    1. Haha, Libby. I do confess to occasionally thinking (or uttering when I'm alone), "Pietchau!" And even "gigadam!" Glad I'm not alone!

      Very cool about your parents being from Newfoundland. Do they ever say, "Thunderin'!" :) My character is RCMP, so he's a spaaaaaaace! He's not the hero, but he's a major supporting character.

      Thanks for commenting.

  7. No, my parents never used “thundering,” but they did pronounce “th” as “t.” My mother’s favorite oath was, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” My father was partial to the classic “goddammit!” I had an uncle who used to say, “The Lord Dancin’ Jesus!” This was my personal fave.


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