Words, words, words

The only thing I’m sure of, when it comes to the future, is that we will have words. Be it five years from now, or a thousand, I know we’ll still be speaking to each other.

Okay, maybe even this is suspect, but just go with me, here. I’m assuming we don’t all turn into telepaths and no longer need spoken word, or you know, the apocalypse happens.

What got me thinking were two different conversations I was involved with recently. It reminded me of the moment when I had to decide how I’d handle futuristic terms in my own writing. In one twitter conversation this week, we discussed why so many military SF books use US military ranking and terms.

[View the story “SF Military Ranks” on Storify]

(The discussion of ranking systems in military SF is fascinating, but for later, I think.)

An off-shoot of that conversation involved the butterbar, slang for a Second Lieutenant, and whether that would still be a word used in the far future.

Add to that, the discussion with completely separate people (twitter is great!) of something completely unrelated: the different uses of soda/coke/pop to refer to carbonated beverages in different parts of the US. The idea of linguistics, when words are in favor, how that happens, where it comes from, lingered with me–again. I admit to a fascination with linguistics.

So, back to the orginal topic, words. The very first time I sat down to write fiction, it was a science fiction novel set in the far future (that novel currently resides under my bed). I had to decide, and then I discussed with critique partners, would this word or that word be used in the future?

We have no way to know. Words can stick with us for centuries. We can’t say for certain that hundreds of years from now the term Butterbar will still be around. After all, many words are still around from old english: death, apple, house. Clearly, they’re spelled differently now, but you get the idea.

But in the end, there’s also the idea of a story being told for today’s audience. If many of the words in a story are futuristic or made up, could the reader become fatigued while translating to today’s language? Maybe it’s a shortcut to use today’s terms, but it also isn’t wrong to do so.

Then there are artists like Shakespeare, who put together new terms and added to the English language by the bucketloads. And Star Trek. We have concepts like warp speed, transporters and holodecks from that show.

I suppose it’s all a balance.

What do you think, how futuristic should words be in a far-future scifi?

***

Ella Drake is a dark paranormal and science fiction romance author. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, & Goodreads.

Her Science Fiction Romance, Desert Blade is a near-future post-apocalyptic romance from Carina Press. Currently available SFR: Silver Bound, Jaq’s Harp, Braided Silk & Firestorm on E’Terra. MetalMark, coming soon from Lyrical Press.

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6 comments

  1. Excellent post, Ella. I recently read The Demolished Man, a widely-acclaimed classic SF novel by Alfred Bester. He incorporated made-up slang and terminology by the shedload, not to mention mind-bending word puzzles–a feature of advanced pyschic thought patterns of the future. Ingenious stuff.

    Overall it was a little too dense for my taste, but he did try to make his slang familiar to us by using logical association. His famous word for teleportation in The Stars My Destination was “jaunting”, which makes perfect sense in context. I think if you’re going to use replacement words and phrases, it’s best to keep them intuitive like that. I’m a big fan of them when they work–it adds so much flavour to the world-building.

    1. I definitely agree. Using intuitive replacements is the way to go. It’s funny, though. You might find those same words used in other SF because they makes sense, in a way.

  2. Absolutely with going with intuitive replacements.

    My SF example: I had a someone insist that I use the word Xerox in a story, as that would obviously be a word used in the far future. I gently pointed out that it was hardly used at all the in UK now… 😉

    1. Well at least you wouldn’t have to worry about using Xerox ™ the whole time!

  3. I recently wrote a scene, set in the far future, where the characters were discussing Shakespeare. I paused, thinking – will Shakespeare still be a topic of conversation in thousands of years? I decided he absolutely would, then started thinking about how all that archaic language would go down in the future. And the words of today…which ones will stand the test of time and which ones will become the ‘zerox’ in Kim’s example. Fascinating stuff.

    1. It’s also fascinating to think about what words will fall out of use only to re-emerge. Like “phat”. That word was first used in the 1600s and then re-emerged with the slang reference today.
      I now want to run off and get a linguistics degree!

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