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Frack and Frelk April 5, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in history, science, science fiction, westerns, writing.
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A student asked a few weeks back about using slang in his fiction. As with everything dealing with writing, the answer is yes and no. For westerns, the slang is pretty well detailed in writing of the era. Diaries are a good source for common usage (though uncommon in the sense that not many people then could read or write). But the usage is established, so only embellishments need to be made to lend an air of authenticity.

Noir detective stories set in the ’30s and ’40s fall into this category, too. It’s there in contemporaneous writing. Hunt for it. The idea isn’t to use slang exclusively but rather to give the flavor of the era. We are, after all, writing for a modern audience.

The harder question to answer deals with slang in sf. Science fiction futures ought to sound different–but should they? Tossing in tech stuff can be deadly. Who would believe a story where transistor radios were cutting edge tech? Slang changes rapidly and can make edgy, hip stuff sound outdated before it sees print. I never knew anyone who used the words groovy or grok in dialog, but grok especially is worth examining.

SF can create slang–a little bit like a spice–and it ought to be used consistently. Using current slang is likely to be a nonstarter, but a few good words tossed in can seem ordinary if your characters just use them and don’t make a big point out of it, as if saying “see? This is what we’ll all be saying in the future.” I’m fond of a couple words I coined. Foptic=fiber optic and gengineering=genetic engineering (and in a similar use genhanced=genetically enhanced).

Grok is a similar term. It defines the culture internally in Stranger in a Strange Land, is catchy and used often enough to be well understood and accepted by the reader. Curse words tend to be a little more slippery. Samuel R. Delaney invented frelk in Dahlgren for a specific sexual perversion, but it came out nicely as a swear word. Frack showed up in Battlestar Galactica, but has been superceded by reality. Ask the man in the street about fracking and you’re more likely to get a jeremiad about natural gas than Cylons.

Keep it natural, keep it simple and never forget your audience lives in the frelking 21st Century.

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