There’s a lot of fun to be had writing historical fantasy.
For instance – in my Aculeo and Amunet stories, Amunet tends to be pretty sharp-tongued.
She’s nasty, arrogant, and swears a lot – especially in the earlier stories.
Now, I’m no fan of gratuitous profanity, and yet as everything else in a story, profanity too can be used to define a character, to underscore a scene or situation.
It’s a tool, just like any other.
And because Amunet is a lady – and as somebody said, I fancy her a lot – I like to use this tool in a somewhat elegant, classy, lady-like fashion.
So, how does one go about making his female character say “F*ck!” a lot, but with class and elegance?
Now, the Aculeo & Amunet stories take place at the tail end of the Classic Era – my characters are probably talking to each other in Greek, sometimes switching to Latin*.
I actually can imagine them starting a discussion in Greek, and then shifting to Latin for emphasis, or in an aside, and spicing their speech with Aramaic, Egyptian, maybe some strange Mediterranean pidgin.
This is where the fun part begins.
But my stories of course are written in English.
So, back when I was writing Bride of the Swamp God I said to myself, what if Amunet curses in Greek or in Latin?
It would not be different from what Joss Whedon did in Firefly – his character cursing and swearing in Chinese.
Classy, and it fits with the background.
Therefore I started collecting ancient Greek and Latin profanities.
And boy is there a terrific catalog!
As usual, the web is our friend.
And it’s actually easier to find Latin swear-words and phrases than Greek ones.
Wikipedia has a nice selection of Latin bad words…
And then there’s Barry Baldwin‘s Classical Swearing: A Vade-Mecum, that certainly provides food for thought – and also provides English equivalents of pretty baroque Latin and Greek insults.
And when everything else fails, there’s always youswear.com.
Spicing up Amunet’s verbal armoury helps me define her character a lot, and shifting from some expressions to others also helps in tracing her evolution – she’ll never become a goody-two-shoes, but some of Aculeo’s Roman gravitas will probably rub on her.
She’ll still say “F*ck!” a lot, but in more complicated, “Classical” ways.
- a side-effect of writing Aculeo & Amunet ha been the decision to brush up my Latin – using a well-thumbed copy of Teach Yourself Latin.
28 June 2014 at 11:06
As someone going through an Elizabethan phase, I can relate very much to the joys of period swearing… Back in Old Bess’ time, they swore with inventive and picturesque gusto – and I agree: it makes for great fun when writing dialogue.
28 June 2014 at 11:22
The Elizabethans invented creative swearing, I think.
And yes, I’m going through an Elizabethan phase too – and have been these past twenty years 😉
20 August 2014 at 22:35
Greek had a lot of swearing words – often related to sex. Some pretty strange ones, too, and funny. I remember when I was 14-15 years old and I looked through our (mine and my fellow classmates) Ancient Greek dictionary and stumbled upon some of these words and expressions – it was hilarious. Lots of giggles 😀
Many, if I recall right, where there thanks to Aristophanes’ comedy.
Anyway, I think yours is a very nice, well played idea.
21 August 2014 at 10:50
Yes, Aristophanes is responsible for a wide catalog of profanities.
And looking up dirty words is one of the first things students of any language always do, I think 🙂
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3 August 2015 at 16:32
I love confusing my friends with Ancient Greek swear words, but sometimes it backfires. I’d say something like “go to the crows!” and they’d think I insulted them and… Well, it’s like explaining a joke – all the fun is deflated when it’s no longer a mystery. Time to find some other dead language I can use to my advantage!
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3 August 2015 at 18:01
I’ve been eyeing a book called Teach Yourself Babylonian… one of these days, I’ll check it out, might be fun to learn some VERY dead language.
I don’t know if it includes a section on swear words, though 🙂