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The History of a Foul Mouth

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parthianbow
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Post by parthianbow » Fri January 14th, 2011, 8:05 am

I have to say that I disagree with most sentiments here. As someone who writes about Rome (which most of you know), I've done a lot of research into ancient swear words. I'm fully aware that Romans wouldn't have used the F word. I'm also fully aware that they would have had uncounted swear words that we don't know. Soldiers down the millennia haven't been exactly known for their clean mouths. So, while I use terms like 'whoresons', 'b*stards', 'mangy dogs' etc. a lot, I also occasionally use the term 'f*ck off' or 'f*cking'. 'Piss off' isn't harsh enough, and I haven't found a suitable swearword to fill that space.

There are so many enormous gaps in our knowledge about Rome that large amounts of what is described in a novel is contrived. How then can it be 'incorrect' to use just one term like 'f*ck'? Unless everything else that has been assumed is also taken out, I don't think it can.

*I already know that most of you disagree with me, but I wanted to put my point across.*
Ben Kane
Bestselling author of Roman military fiction.
Spartacus - UK release 19 Jan. 2012. US release June 2012.

http://www.benkane.net
Twitter: @benkaneauthor

Lel
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Post by Lel » Fri January 14th, 2011, 9:53 am

[quote=""Rowan""]

I wish I had access to the OED. [/quote]

Well, you're in luck for the next couple of weeks! The OED is offering free access till Feb 5 with username and password trynewoed.
http://www.openculture.com/2011/01/oxfo ... _time.html

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sweetpotatoboy
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Post by sweetpotatoboy » Fri January 14th, 2011, 10:47 am

[quote=""parthianbow""]I have to say that I disagree with most sentiments here. As someone who writes about Rome (which most of you know), I've done a lot of research into ancient swear words. I'm fully aware that Romans wouldn't have used the F word. I'm also fully aware that they would have had uncounted swear words that we don't know. Soldiers down the millennia haven't been exactly known for their clean mouths. So, while I use terms like 'whoresons', 'b*stards', 'mangy dogs' etc. a lot, I also occasionally use the term 'f*ck off' or 'f*cking'. 'Piss off' isn't harsh enough, and I haven't found a suitable swearword to fill that space.

There are so many enormous gaps in our knowledge about Rome that large amounts of what is described in a novel is contrived. How then can it be 'incorrect' to use just one term like 'f*ck'? Unless everything else that has been assumed is also taken out, I don't think it can.

*I already know that most of you disagree with me, but I wanted to put my point across.*[/quote]

I agree with you Ben actually.

Firstly, in your case, where you're using a different language to that which would originally have been spoken, you have to make your own rules up largely and just try and use modern-day vernacular equivalents for what you guess your characters would originally have said. Granted, you don't want to use anything too faddish or associated only with current times as it would lurch the reader out of the historical setting. But the f-word, for example, has certainly been around hundreds of years in English and, to me as a reader at least, doesn't sound necessarily only modern-day when used in informal settings.

Secondly, I feel one has to take datings in dictionaries with a little pinch of salt, at least when one is talking about colloquial language. The further back we go, it's really anyone's guess when a word first started to be used, by whom and in what setting. All a modern-day dictionary has to go on is written texts that have survived and to attempt to deduce from those when the word first started appearing in print and with what meaning. And the further back we go, the less likely it is that the texts we have are of much use on colloquial language.

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LoveHistory
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Post by LoveHistory » Fri January 14th, 2011, 2:18 pm

In my case it depends on the time setting. Ancient time periods are more flexible for me because of the knowledge gap. More recent ones though (like early 20th century iceberg incidents) get less leeway.

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Elizabeth
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Post by Elizabeth » Fri January 14th, 2011, 2:35 pm

[quote=""Rowan""]So either way, usage of the word during the 1400s is wrong.

I wish I had access to the OED. Thanks for that Ariadne. :) [/quote]

It's not the OED, but the Online Etymology Dictionary is an excellent resource, uses good sources including the OED, and has the advantage of being free. :)

Online Etymology Dictionary
THE RED LILY CROWN: A Novel of Medici Florence.
THE FLOWER READER.
THE SECOND DUCHESS.

www.elizabethloupas.com

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EC2
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Post by EC2 » Fri January 14th, 2011, 10:50 pm

I think language that pulls readers out of a story should be avoided. I used the 'f' word once in The Greatest Knight, but not since then, and in hindsight I would take it out. I recently read a Roman novel that was so full of modern language that it lost all sense of being a historical - for me anyway. (when the writer started out, the novels contained it, but in a more restrained way). I won't read any more in that series by that author because enough is enough. DH has given up on that author too, but since the modern language has increased down the series, I guess there are a lot of readers who like it, and perhaps it's a response to their taste. It just ain't mine. I don't expect archaic language, but I do expect that illusion to be created of being in period. Too many modernisms and hale and farewell I'm afraid.

As to the 'F' word. Everyone should have on their research shelves the wonderful 'The Lover's Tongue' A merry romp through the language of Love and Sex by Mark Morton. He tells us that the first recorded instance of use of the word as a fornication word is in the early 16thC and William Dunbar's poem 'In Secreit Place This Hyndir Nycht.' The word itself, unrecorded has been around much longer than that and comes from the Scandinavian 'fukka' meaning to copulate. '**** Off' as an insult dates from the 1940's, but '**** You,' has a pedigree going back to 1895. '**** off' to run away goes back to 1929.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

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fljustice
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Post by fljustice » Sat January 15th, 2011, 5:17 pm

As a reader, modern language (and attitudes) throw me out of a story, but I've noticed a tendency lately for some authors to use modern language because at the time, it was modern. As a writer, when I use swearing, I try to translate backwards (does that make sense?) and use words that feel more appropriate at the time. Colleen McCullough uses the Latin words in her Masters of Rome series and provides a glossary. One of my favorites: "mentula caco" or "I shit on your prick."

I picked up a book called The Anatomy of Swearing by Ashley Montagu a few years ago. From the back cover:

"Swearing is one of the most cathartic and common modes of language. Montagu examines the genre in all its aspects--its origins, philosophy and psychology--as well as its evolution and differing manifestations in various ages and cultures...[He] traces this phenomenon from the ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, and Babylonians through Elizabethan Englande to the middle class contemporary American."

Haven't read it, but after this conversation, I think I'll give it a try!
Faith L. Justice, Author Website
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EC2
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Post by EC2 » Sat January 15th, 2011, 6:02 pm

[quote=""fljustice""]As a reader, modern language (and attitudes) throw me out of a story, but I've noticed a tendency lately for some authors to use modern language because at the time, it was modern. As a writer, when I use swearing, I try to translate backwards (does that make sense?) and use words that feel more appropriate at the time. Colleen McCullough uses the Latin words in her Masters of Rome series and provides a glossary. One of my favorites: "mentula caco" or "I shit on your prick."

![/quote]

Yes, it makes perfect sense and I agree. (Will also add the swearing book to my research TBR pile, thanks). I try to follow the mindset of the times. So in the medieval period, swearing by bodily functions just wasn't done as a matter of culture. Taking God's name in vain and insulting a man's ancestry or prowess were their hot buttons. Article here by Dr. Gillian Polack. http://www.triviumpublishing.com/articl ... words.html These days, I follow her rules.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sat January 15th, 2011, 8:54 pm

Swearing is an interesting pilological phenomenon. As a linguistic tool, it encompasses a set of words that a given culture agrees should be offensive. Therefore, when the speaker wants to offend, or to express extreme emphasis in annoyance or outright pain, this vocabulary is used.

What happens to swear words is that, through use, they lose their 'punch' and the meaning changes for the next generation, while for the former one, they tend to still be shocking. Thus somebody in their nineties might not blink at the use of the word 'nigger' but be mortified by the term 'shit'.

Religious swear words were most effective when there was a sense of awe at the sacred; bodily functions were so commonplace they didn't have the same effect. Back when everybody had to deal with shit, their own and their livestock's, on a daily basis, it was probably so much used in a non-swearing context that it wouldn't have much shock value. The same with words for copulation--when you breed animals for daily survival, there isn't much about fucking, tupping, copulation, mating, et al which would raise an eyebrow.

The problem with using cursing in fiction nowadays is that the words will have a different impact on different people. I can't get through a Stephen King novel because the constant foul language of his characters always jars me out of the story. In my daily life, not many people speak like that, and the ones who do cause me to keep my 'filter' on, so that I will understand what they mean instead of my first reaction to what they say. It's has the same effect as reading in Spanish--something I do for research, but not for pleasure.

Speaking of which, I remember a revelation on the personal/cultural nature of swearing. a decade ago, my Spanish teacher used to show familiar movies with Spanish subtitles to see if we could keep up. Some of her movies choices included some extremely foul language, to which her only reaction was to point out how the Spanish version 'cleaned it up'.

But then she showed a film in Spanish with English subtitles, and it included several uses of the Spanish-equivalent f-word. None of us were in the least bothered, but she turned bright red and explained several times why it had to be in there for the sake of story.

The lesson I learned is that as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, obscenity is in the mind of the listener. I suspect that either is only relevant to what is learned very early in life.

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