Monday, August 1, 2011

Slang




Slang is wonderful. The right piece of slang can do the work of an entire paragraph of backstory. Often a few well-chosen slang words paint a large picture for the reader in just a few strokes. They can show a character's age, socio-economic background, ethnicity, cultural background, and more. Slang can be the shorthand of character exposition. Often, it’s not what we say but how we say it that tells people who we are.

Used sparingly, slang can make your voice unique. The key is sparingly. We’re not all writing A Clockwork Orange. Which brings me to the question: Should you make up your own slang?

On the plus side, invented slang wouldn’t date. And all the groovy chicks and happening cats know that nothing dates faster than real slang. You dig? Far out.

On the down side, is wholly invented slang too contrived? Like I said, we’re not all writing A Clockwork Orange. I’m fairly sure that if I tried to make up an entire slang language, it wouldn’t sound anywhere near as horrorshow. Horrorshow was good, right? It’s been a while.

Of course, there’s always local slang. I love local slang. These examples aren’t popular Aussie slang  -- no she'll be right, bonzer, cobber maaaate here (You know, the stuff from postcards that real people never say...) My examples are particularly North Queensland and I've never heard them used outside the region. Sadly, they just doesn’t work as well without the accent in your head.  

 “Early part” meaning “earlier”.
He was around here early part.

“True god”. 
Did this really happen?
True god!

“Gammin”. Lying, or kidding. Or sucks to be you. 
True god?
Nah, just gammin.

My shout -- just gammin!

I have fallen down a well.
Ouch. That’s gammin.

Do you use real slang in your writing? Do you use well-known slang or obscure slang? Or do you make it up as you go along? What awesome local slang do you use that nobody else has ever heard of? 

24 comments:

  1. I woulda gotten here early part, but I was gammin with the guys. But true god, do I love slang.

    I don't know much of it myself, but I did read that William Gibson often takes the slang of one group and gives it to another: "A lot of the language that people think is futuristic is just 1969 Toronto dope dealer's slang or biker talk."

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  2. Bwahahaha! Crikey, mate, you're a bonza sheila.

    I'm not sure we have special slang down here in SA, but there have been words I've heard lately that have taken me straight back to high school in the mid 90's: Bitchface, and scrag (for the Americans reading, they pretty much mean the same thing). Freaking hilarious! Scrag popped up a couple of weeks ago, and I have not. Stopped. Laughing. Since. XD

    I haven't used much slang in my MS. The one word I have used is 'knob'. I was worried that would be too Aussie/British, but my American beta-reader had a giggle over it, so it's staying. Maybe the word has made it to the U.S. of A., after all. :)

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  3. Hee, Aussie slang is so funny! I loooove it, but there are times when I have to Google stuff, even in England 'cause I ain't down with the kids any more ^^; In my MS, I've used a little slang but nothing that will require Googlefu (unless it's so old it's too 90s for the kids of today).

    The most local slang I can think of is Schoomers, which refers (not nicely) to people from a particular area in my city. I say "innit" a lot ('cause saying "isn't it" is for posh people) and I found out when I was Stateside that saying "Oooh it's so moreish!" is very English of me. And speaking of posh, just being from Southern England means I sound very proper to Americans, when actually I'm not proper and sound kind of common at home :P

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  4. MC, go straight to the top of the class! Well done!

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  5. Jaime, scrag takes me back! As does "slurry-gutted moll" but that might have been a local thing!. My sister is a teacher, and once heard a boy call another boy a knob-gobbler, which I think sounds almost poetic. Crude, but poetic!

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  6. Hi Miss Cole,

    We Aussies use "moreish" as well. It's an extremely useful word!
    I love "innit". Very UK!

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  7. Also MC, I'm totally using that idea of transplanting slang! A bit of slang, a bit of Bislama, and people will mistake me for a creative genius. Or a lunatic. But both options are good!

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  8. Gotta love slang. Making up slang can help make your invented culture seem unique. Though if you've made up a new language for said culture, I'm not sure if slang would be necessary.

    Along with slang, though, are the turns in phrase that differ between cultures. Whenever my cousin from the U.K. would come over here to Canada, he'd stay stuff like "your go" vs. "your turn", "crisps" vs. "chips". And we can't forget the infamous football vs. soccer. Definitely made for very interesting arguments. xD

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  9. I think I'm going to use "knob-gobbler" in my novel. That's just hilarious.

    Broadly speaking, I don't use much slang in my writing. Maybe in dialogue here and there, but not so much. I think it does show its age quickly, but sometimes a slang word just fits perfectly, you know? Case by case basis, I suppose.

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  10. I use slang in my writing. One of my characters is rather old (but looks young--not a vampire but something else) and I think that slang from many years ago appropriately dates him. It shows that he's a being from another time or another place and I think that helps in the details and the feel of the world. As for making up slang or making up words...I think that would be really hard. It would be similar to coming up with your own language (Tolkien did it so it isn't impossible). When I think of how he composed Elvish and Dwarvish and even came up with runes it makes my brain hurt.

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  11. Hi Jen, I found this blog via Mood's. Glad to meet someone else who thinks techie explanations are there to be glossed over (or shouldn't be there in the first place!)

    I love Aussie slang. Somewhere on my bookshelves I've got a whole dictionary dedicated to Australian slang. No! Honestly! And I'm just waiting to see entries from The Meaning of Liff pop up in someone's ms.

    I invent a little myself. For example, in my snobbish Imperial culture, one venomous little madam uses "fishlander" to refer disparagingly to folks from the northern fishing coast.

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  12. I use it a little in my ms but you have to be careful not to date it. Although slang seems to cycle back around in America like bell bottoms and halter tops.

    I say 'wicked' a lot. I'm not sure why. I haven't invented any slang but I do like to invent my own insults. Just ask my husband.

    Also, everyone with an accent other than American sounds proper and therefore cool.

    Almost everyone from the North Eastern upper half of the states sounds like Peter from Family Guy to me. Just an observation.

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  13. HI GK! I love those moments of misunderstanding between two English speakers who suddenly realise they might as well be speaking different languages.

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  14. LG, it's good, isn't it? A tongue twister, though!

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  15. Hi Michael,
    I love the idea of using slang to intentionally make someone appear anachronistic. What a great idea!

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  16. Botanist, I love the word "fishlander". It's like a cross between an islander and a fisherman. It's quite an evocative word. It's the sort of insult I can imagine being turned on its head eventually and used as a source of pride instead, like "queer".

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  17. Hi Marsha! So true that slang goes in cycles, but the problem is when it's out of fashion, it's completely out of fashion. People who use outdated slang to try and connect with the kids always reminds me of those Christian rock groups or, worse, Christian rappers -- fail. Too, too uncool. (As it the word "uncool" probably...)

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  18. Interesting post. I use some slang depending on the character, but since I write science fiction I have to be careful as the slang might not fit the time period. On rare occasions, I can make up my own.

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  19. Hi Cindy, thanks for following!

    I have come up with a grand total of one made-up slang word in my WIP, and I agonised about it for so long that I don't think I'll ever made any more up!

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