As I revise, rewrite and generally tinker with the new draft of Raven’s Blood, one thing I’m paying particular attention to is the language – not my language, but the way my fantasy characters speak.
Okay, mostly the way they swear.
Raven’s Blood is set in a world that’s a bit like Elizabethan England with some more contemporary elements thrown in – plus magic and and superheroes and golem cyborgs and stuff – and so I’m using some sources of period language to add resonance, name items/activities and give the characters terrible things to say to each other. And tonight I wanted to share some of the best offenders with you folks.
I’ve drawn Elizabethan terms from a number of places, in particular Lisa Picard’s fantastic Elizabeth’s London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan England – but for the slang terms and dirty words, I’ve relied on this excellent website from the University of Tulsa. Here are some favourites from that source:
- Apple-squire: Pimp
- Bing a waste!: Bugger off!
- Bousing ken: An ale-house
- Clapperdudgeon: Chief beggar; a term of reproach
- Pillicock: Penis; a vulgar term for a boy
- Doddypol: A foolish person
- Cocklorel: An insult of moral character
- Jackanapes: A bestial insult
- Eater of broken meats: An insult of social position
- Hundred-pound: An insult of social position
- One-trunk-inheriting: An insult of social position
- Worsted-stocking: An insult of social position
The insults of social position are amazing.
My other major source of words is not Elizabethan but it is historical – Francis Grose’s 1811 hit The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, available on Amazon and also as a free text file from Project Gutenberg. This guide to early 19th century British slang is massive, engaging and filled with every word for prostitute you could ever desire, as well as a staggering number of slang terms for the vagina (referred to throughout as ‘the monosyllable’).
As it happens, I don’t have much need in my story of teenage female heroics and face-punching for either of those kinds of terms, but I do have a number of other favourite phrases and activities that I use in this book (and that I’ve dropped into other projects in the past, such as The Pirate’s Guide to Freeport):
- Autem cackletub: A conventicle or meeting-house for dissenters
- Bear-garden jaw: Rude, vulgar language
- Deadly nevergreen: The gallows, the tree that bears fruit all the year round
- Galimaufrey: A hodgepodge made up of the remnants and scraps of the larder
- Grinagog, or the cat’s uncle: A foolish grinning fellow, one who grins without reason
- Paper scull: A thin-scull’d foolish fellow
- Sword racket: To enlist in different regiments, and on receiving the bounty to desert immediately.
- Word grubbers: Verbal critics, and also persons who use hard words in common discourse
- Barking irons: Pistols
- Abel-wackets: Blows given on the palm of the hand with a twisted handkerchief
There’s so much to love in The Vulgar Tongue, assuming you can get past all the casual misogyny and talk about arses.
Mind you, I have to be careful to use this kind of language sparingly; it’s a heavy spice and one that can quickly take you from ‘flavourful’ to ‘incomprehensible’ if applied too generously. Otherwise I’d write passages like this:
‘Ames-ace!’ the scurvy recreant spat as he pawed the bale of bones in the atrium of the bousing ken. ‘I’ll not be taken in by thy inkhorn words, Dibber Dabber. You’ve cogged me, you lily-livered coistril!’
The Upright Man smoothed his commission and toyed with the chive he drew from his farting crackers. ‘So God mend me, no need to cheer so glimfashy, cousin,’ he said. ‘Like you not the dice? Perhaps we could go bat-fowling instead – or I could nap the teize with veney stick, if that’s more to your liking, you spunger.’
If you read that you would think you’d had a stroke. Or that I had.
…although now I really want to know more about those farting crackers.
Anyhoo, that’s what’s amusing me this week – feel free to chime in with your own favourites.
Now back to it.