A Guide to Cussing in Alternative Universes

No, this isn’t a blog biography of Gene Hackman.

While our culture’s realistic books and movies are sometimes jam-packed with every cuss word under the sun, it is the fantasy worlds we so love to escape to that often give us words that flit somewhere between dangerously corny and delightfully fun to say. Being someone that doesn’t cuss very often, it is always a treat to get hold of a new word from fantasy and drop it into casual conversations. Sometimes, I’m so ingrained in the fantasy world that it comes out in daily conversation. Sometimes people stare. Sometimes.

My first experience with the alternative cuss word of a far-off galaxy came in the form of Spongebob Squarepants. The genius writers of one of Nickelodeon’s most successful cartoons did a wonderful job removing well-known cuss words without removing the “I’m clearly cursing something right now” element. When Spongebob stubs his toe or forgets to do something or is terrorized by Plankton, it is common to hear him shout, “Oh, barnacles!” What an easy, kid-friendly replacement for cursing.

Sometimes, simple changes are the most natural and hilarious. In The Fantastic Mr. Fox, writers replaced cussing with… well, cussing. In a scene between Badger and Mr. Fox, we get to see the full extent of their verbal weaponry:

Badger: In summation, I think you just got to not do it, man. That’s all.

Mr. Fox: I understand what you’re saying, and your comments are valuable, but I’m gonna ignore your advice.

Badger: The cuss you are.

Mr. Fox: The cuss am I? Are you cussing with me?

Badger: No, you cussing with me?

Mr. Fox: Don’t cussing point at me!

Badger: If you’re gonna cuss with somebody, you’re not gonna cuss with me, you little cuss!

Again, not particularly in your face and a wonderful replacement to make a movie accessible and fitting within the universe of thieving foxes and talking badgers. But what about the truly alternative worlds? That’s where the necessity for newer and differently-originated cuss words comes from. We have our world and our languages and they developed a certain way. But if I’m diving into a different universe with different people and languages and development, well, they’re not going to have some of the same words. We suspend reality for certain things, but we also are forced to get creative when imagining how someone would curse in our sub-created universe. Here are some great examples I’ve encountered in my own reading:

1. Bloodydamn- Not too far from the beaten path, but a slight adjustment to a common word bleeds originality into the cuss words of Pierce Brown’s characters in Red Rising. As he would say, you’ll bloodydamn love his book.

2. ‘Kent-kissing- The inspiration for this post! I’ve been reading Brian Staveley’s new book, The Emperor’s Blades. In it, characters toss this word around in necessary situations (Example: I need a ‘Kent-kissing break from my ‘Kent-kissing job).

3. Belgium – In A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Belgium is “completely banned in all parts of the Galaxy, except in one part, where they don’t know what it means, and in serious screenplays.” To direct this word at someone else is both unthinkable and, if we’re honest, hilarious.

4. Merlin’s beard!- Just one of many clever twists in J.K. Rowling’s world, but the ancient and well-known wizard finds himself inserted into the cursing of modern day wizards in both this and the also-popular, “Merlin’s pants!”

5. Frak-  Perhaps the most popular and well-known cuss word in fictional universes, this sanitized Battlestar Galactica TV swear word may be the nerdiest and most used of them all.

So, what are some of your favorite alternative cuss words? Or how have you seen fantasy language impacted by world and setting? Thanks for reading!

Good Reads from Good Authors

You’ve heard the phrase. “Good readers make good writers.” Using mathematical properties I’ve long forgotten, I decided to inverse that phrase for today’s blog post. I would have to imagine that, “Good, established, published writers are really good readers.” So I tweeted out a question to some of my favorite and most beloved authors to see what they were reading. I asked, “What is the last book you read and adored?” Here were their responses: ________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sara Megibow- While Sara isn’t an author (as far as I know), she is one of the more responsive and charming literary agents on Twitter. Very responsive to my questions over the years and that proved true of this one as well.

Her response: “ARG! too many to choose from! Best AND most recent non-client book that I’ve loved was A TURN OF LIGHT by Julie Czerneda”

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Robin Hobb –  One of the big names in fantasy literature, Robin Hobb is best known for her The Farseer Trilogy and recently released a new and wonderful book.

Her response: “Don’t tell Sam Sykes, but most recent was The City Stained Red.”

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Django Wexler- Author of The Shadow Campaigns series and The Forbidden Library. Last year, I had the pleasure of Skype-hosting Django for my creative writing class and they loved him.

His response: “Hmm. Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone or Tainted Blood by M.L. Brennan.”

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Pierce Brown-  If you haven’t heard of Red Rising, you’re going to. Darrow will be the next name on the lips of every teenager and lover of dystopian worlds. I read it this summer. Twice.

His response: “The Bone Clocks” by David Mitchell

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Jason Hough- Author of the best selling science fiction series, The Dire Earth Cycle. Read this book last year and it reignited my love for all things science fiction.

His response: “easy! THE EMPEROR’S BLADES by Brian Staveley”

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Michael Martinez – Author of The Daedalus Series, a wonderful mix of science fiction and alternative-almost-steampunkish history. I’ve read through the first book and am loving the second one.

His response: “Honestly, I don’t have one that springs to mind. I think as I keep writing books, I’ve become more critical of what I read!”

A big thanks to all the authors that participated. I may be editing and adding a few names as responses come in. But this should give all readers a few new names, books, and series to dip their metaphorical toes into. Happy reading!