Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

Creating Slang:
Ashamandoo's Armpits, 
Balluviel's Belly Button

By 
Eric West
2003, Eric West

here's nothing quite like a unique curse or bit of slang to make your world seem utterly alien or fantastic.  When you're building with words, inventing your own creates a powerful effect.  Original slang grabs the reader consciously, and tells him quite bluntly, "You aren't at home.  You're on the Martian Colony and it's hundreds of years in the future."  (Or "You're in fantasy land, and time as you know it has no meaning here.")

At least, that's the effect that good slang has on a reader.  Poorly chosen slang will probably just leave the person laughing.  So what makes for a good High Elven curse-word?  It should be recognizable from context, progress naturally from the culture, and fit the tone of your story.

We've probably been using slang and profanity for as long as we've been speaking.  There are generally patterns, and by recognizing and using them to guide your choices you'll make it easier on your reader.  You do not want a reader to have to stop and decode your writing.

Generally, slang words show up in culture when someone uses a word in a way that is outside the scope of the word's general meaning.  Over time, the new usage will continue to evolve until it is often far-removed from its original definition.  Take the word "cool" for example.  Cool gets tossed around as a synonym for good these days, and what does that have to do with temperature?  Well, it probably began with phrases like "cool under pressure."  Cool people didn't get all "hot and bothered" by problematic situations; they didn't "sweat it."  Cool people resembled ice's state of low energy, relaxed and comfortable, no matter what was happening. 

When you think of cool personalities, in that metaphorical sense, what names come to mind?  James Bond?  The Fonz?  Over time the word came to mean people we idolized, and then, naturally, objects and events became "cool" as well.

So where do you begin when you want to find slang words and curses for your society?  Look to the culture.  Slang and curses both will be used as: nicknames for the act of sex, adjectives meaning "good" and "bad,", blasphemy or irreverent names for religions or gods, defecation, mean people, unattractive people, body parts (especially the genitalia), events to be wished on people (both good and bad), and words for very common items.

Clever writers will mix and match, and use their slang and curses creatively.  If Crushney is the Sun God, and Ole Crusty is a nickname people use when blaspheming, then "crusty" easily becomes an adjective meaning "bad" that can be applied to anything.

Making your slang fit your characters, and the tone of the story, is the most difficult part.  In some ways, it has to be instinctive.  If you're writing fairly light-hearted fantasy, "Felicia's Furry Feet" will fit right in as a good swear.  For a dark cyber-punk story, "mega-crash" would be more appropriate.  The slang should fit into the story seamlessly, so evidently a part of the world and culture that the reader barely notices.

A good invented curse can do many things for your story.  It can remove the need to use a lot of "real" profanity (thus not offending readers), make the world feel more complete, and, as you grow comfortable with its usage, allow you to connect more closely with your characters as you write.  It is said that learning a second language is like gaining another soul.  By learning your character's slang and curses, you should at least get a glimpse into the workings of their mind.