Saturday, February 03, 2007

Expletives and colorful language

shocked_apple_by_xdow.jpgMy fantasy characters often resort to saying "Gods" instead of "God" when they're frustrated. Yeah, it's lame. ;-) It's just substituting one word for another (and not a particularly clever word!) I always intend to find something better.

Here are a few sources of expletives to give you some ideas on how other writers and cultures handle expletives.
  1. The first is a List of fictional expletives from Wikipedia. (Has some R entries.) Mostly it's a list of words substituted for swears, so professional writers have the same problem!

    (If that one isn't there, try the page at or the Feb 2007 version I stored here at the blog. Apparently that page has a history of being deleted. Surprisingly not because it's full of swears but because it doesn't cite sources and other Wikipedia reasons. If you're curious there's a log of the page's deletes and reasons given.)

    Here's a sample:

    Bastard's Demons - from Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion universe. General expletive referring to the one of five gods who runs hell.

    canner - from the movie I, Robot, a racial epithet used against robots, particularly by the protagonist.

    fahrbot - from Farscape; meaning insane or mentally deficient.

    Hab SoSlI' Quch! - Klingon for "Your Mother has a smooth forehead." The worst curse/insult in the Klingon language... especially in reference about one's mother.

    hippikaloric - from Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum - a word uttered by the Nome King, "which must be a dreadful word because we don't know what it means".

    mudblood - from Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling, used by "pure-blood" people to slander those whose ancestors who are non-magical (e.g. Hermione Granger).

    puckernuts - from Elfquest; similar meaning to "damn" or "damn it"

    rassin-frassin - from Hanna-Barbera's Jetsons & Flintstones a derogatory adjective of some kind. Possible corruption of the German curse "Ratten-Fressen" or "Rat Eating/Eater." Also uttered by Yosemite Sam in Warner Bros cartoons. Also similar/the same as the quiet muttering used by Muttley in Wacky Races. Also spelled/pronounced "ratchafratchin".

    zoinks - from Scooby Doo, a common expletive uttered by Shaggy Rogers.

    There are a couple more shorter lists of fictional expletives at:

    Swearwords of Science Fiction and Fantasy (archive)

    FICTIONAL EXPLETIVES and EXCLAMATIONS (archived at Wayback Machine) (archive)

    (Also check the comments to see if readers have added any.)
  2. With the authority of actual paper there is Curse and Berate in 69+ Languages by R. V. Branham. Where else can you find how to say dumbass in Croatian (glup) or Mongolian (teneg)? The format is a bit odd -- the definitions of words are footnotes at the end of each entry -- but it's an even greater wealth of information than the Alternative Dictionaries (below). The footnotes can often be more interesting since there are several creative ways of expressing something straightforward, such as an uncircumcised penis is referred to as "Farmer's cock", "Cock with a turtleneck", and "Skin flute." The book is unabashedly NC-17.

    A sample (of the non-NC-17 entries):

    balls - Afrikaans: goons, Serb: jaja, Tagalog: yagbols, French: les couilles, and also joyeuses (bringers of joy).

    fat ass -Afrikaans: gwabba, Bosnian: debela kravo, Dutch: dikzak, French: gros lard. Swedish: tjockis. Also expressed as "Fat jerk", "Your fat ass has its own union steward", "fat bag", "unnecessary weight on the Earth".

    A sampling of entries, besides the expected ones: Adulterer, Anarchist, Balls for Brains, Bully, Chauvinist, Conceited, Crazy, Drunkard, Motor Mouth, Stool Pigeon.

    And, finally, under Blasphemy in the phrases section are exclamations that will make you choke if your mouth was ever washed out for saying "God!"
  3. And The Alternative Dictionaries. (The level is mostly NC-17 so it took some digging to find some PG examples ;-) Looking through the entries, there seems to be a universal agreement that body parts, bodily functions, sex and, to a lesser extent, religion all arouse strong feelings. People pretty much say the same things to each other regardless of language which may be why writers have a hard time coming up with much that's original ;-)

    It's 131 pages of how to swear and insult someone in languages from Acadian to Zulu. Lots of stuff you won't learn in any language course because it would get you beaten up ;-)

    The dictionaries are online and can also be downloaded as a PDF file.

    The quality is inconsistent -- entries were written by contributors -- and it can be a bit confusing to interpret, but it's certainly a wealth of information that's hard to get anywhere else. Following the word is its type (noun, verb, exclamation, etc.), then in italics *either* its meaning or its English equivalent. So, for instance, a listing might define the word as "My God!" when it doesn't literally mean that but is used as English speakers would "My God!" Following the italics are sometimes the literal translation and often a sentence showing its usage.

    Some examples:

    mafketel weirdo NOTE Also "Mafkees" where "Kees" is a traditional Dutch male name. Mafketel literally means "Weird pot".

    verdammter Schweinhund (neut. noun) idiot, absolute moron; dodo NOTE Pronounced fair-DAHM-tir SHVINE-hoont; means, literally, "Damned pigdog." Can be used as an expletive: "Ach! Verdammter Schweinhund!" or as an insult: "Du bist ein verdammter Schweinhund." Means stupid in a sloppy, revolting, or ridiculous way. Uncommon.

    Porco due (excl.) "By Gosh!" (literally "Pig two!") NOTE Used to avoid saying "Porcoddio!" a blasphemous expression that means "God-pig". It sounds very similar to it. Very popular in Italy between 10-15 years people.

    (Similar to Zio cantante, literally "Uncle singer!" as a euphemism for "Dio Cane!" which literally means "God-dog!")

    rannskita (noun) diarrhea NOTE Literal translation: Running butt.

    Tibetan {noun phrase} eater of father's flesh NOTE A strong insult in Tibetan.

    shlemiel (noun) clumsy oaf. Klutz NOTE The sort of person who, when at a fancy restaurant, invariably spills his soup.

  4. Similar to the Alternative Dictionaries (including the NC-17 rating) are the lists of swears from various languages at As far as I can see, they haven't been cribbed from the Alternative Dictionaries.

    kisama - lord of the donkeys.

    malik maloof - Your king is a pig.

    Morra di svetter lite til å være så feit - Your mom doesn't really sweat much for being so fat.

    khange khodah - screw-up of god.

    zaebal - you have bored me a lot.

    Crko dabogda stoko seljacka! - May you drop dead, you redneck ox.

    inutil - worthless moron.

  5. And certainly the award for most colorful language should go to Cockney rhyming slang which is colorful beyond just expletives. For hundreds (?) of years the people of the East End of London have replaced words with words that rhyme. And then often shortened them to make them even more obscure! ;-) There's a history (and some more slang) at A Dictionary of Slang: Cockney Rhyming Slang. The Best of British has an extensive list of slang including Cockney.

    There's a huge list at Cockney Rhyming Slang. Here's a sampling from Wikipedia:

    Apples = apples and pears = stairs ("Get up them apples!")
    Bread = bread and honey = money
    China = china plate = mate ("Alright, me old china!")
    Frog = frog and toad = road
    Rosie = Rosie Lee = tea ("Fancy a cup of Rosie?")
    Butcher's = butcher's hook = look ("Let's have a butcher's!")
    Dog and Bone =Telephone
    Septic = Septic Tank = Yank (American) ("He's a septic!" This usage has also given rise to a non-rhyming slang term, 'Listerine' meaning one who is not enthralled with Americans -- because Listerine is "anti-septic"!)
    Rub-a-dub-dub = Pub
    Wife = trouble and strife

  6. List of interjections by language Though not necessarily expletives in the list, interjections are often short and might sound foul ;-) Bit of a pain to have to open each link to get to the words, but could be a good resource. Where else will you find words like the nasty looking  and экии?

1 comment:

Joyce Fetteroll said...

Posted for Tobias D Robinson:

I have some additional expletives for you, from my novel: Raven's Gift. This novel is published as an audio book. (It has 29 chapters, and most of them have already appeared at in the fantasy category.) The book's web page is .

In the fantasy genre, if you want your characters to swear, you pretty much have to be anachronistic, or you have to invent a religion. I invented one that has a sacred ceremony involving oil, an axe, and some ale. My characters swear like this:

"By the axe!"
"Axe him!"
"By the oil!"
And in great frustration, they say: "Eat your holy axe".

My characters also refer to the usual sex organs, naming them as follows:
Male genitals: Yoddle or Phallo.
Female genitals: Quirrel.

Thanks for reading, and I hope I qualify for some additions to your expletive page.
- tobias d. robison, princeton, nj usa