How do aliens swear?
Not just aliens but all speakers of imaginary languages. Think about it. A polytheist who says “My god!” means something quite different than does a monotheist—and wouldn’t capitalize.
In Listening at the Gate I needed an epithet for use by Nondany, the itinerant master folklore collector. I settled on “By life!” I like it so much I want to get a slang wave going.
Recently a librarian nailed me with a steel eye and asked whether there was any “bad language” in the novel. I explained that it took place in an imaginary culture, but since all cultures have profanity, I’d had to invent some. She looked baffled. And bought the book.
You’ve evoked an imaginary world. You want the speech of its denizens to sound human and true…but if you use contemporary slang the Norns sound like Valley Girls. What now?
Here’s a solution:
…..“It hums so loud, Kat. I can’t not hear it.”
…..“Is—is it death?”
…..“It’s greater than death.”
…..I tried to think of something greater than death, and could not.
……………………………—Listening at the Gate
In dialogue, the speakers use contractions: can’t, it’s. But the in the text of the book proper, the matrix, words are spelled out in full: could not.
Subtle. Simple. And it works.
“If you ask: Why spend time on a writer of escape literature? please consider for a moment the position that the literature of fantasy and science fiction provides more direct functional access to reality than any other modern work of the intellect. When experience is rendered ineffable by a rate of change that undermines the meanings of language, a literature that has evolved to speak out from the middle of the waterfall of ideas can continue to engage and to convey the most important meanings. And this is not a new discovery. The oldest roots and origins of literature, the epics of Gilgamesh and Innana, the Odyssey, the Iliad, all are either fantasy, if you do not believe in the Gods, or science fiction, if you do.”
Margot Adler, Heretic’s Heart: A Journey Through Spirit and Revolution
For more on Speculative Fiction, click here.