Slang & Obscenities

Slang and swear words are both important aspects of a living language and they evolve over time. Some writers take this seriously and some just have fun with it. I’ll let you guess which category I fall into…

With a couple of my crime/mystery novels readers took issue with the fact that I used certain words. This seemed to be much more of a problem for American readers than British ones. I didn’t feel too strongly one way or the other so I decided to ‘fix’ these problems in those books. I don’t want readers to be put off by my choice of words – unless that is a deliberate effect I’m going for. If ‘naughty’ words are essential to my story situation or the character using them, then I am right and the naysayers can scrack off.

When Harry Harrison read my first SF novel Robot Wrecker, one of the notes he gave me was to take out the ‘curse words’. He told me this would improve its chances of reaching a broader audience including a young adult one. I was happy to take his advice on that one.

With these experiences in mind, I decided that I would use made-up swear words in the Outlaws series. My go-to book when I’m researching slang terms and obscenities is Jonathan Green’s Slang Down the Ages.

Here’s a list of the words I have used (so far!) in the Outlaws books.

Scrack – This is my stand-in for f**k and so is related to Judge Dredd’s ‘drokk’ and Battlestar Galactica’s ‘frack’. As well as having the obvious sexual meaning, scrack is also related to the existing slang term ‘scragged’, meaning to be hanged by the neck, and ‘scrag-end’ – a cheap cut of meat. I don’t just make this squit up you know…

Scronies – These are testicles. It’s a mash-up of ‘sack’ or ‘stones’ and ‘cojones’.

Squit – This, obviously, is sh*t. I didn’t make this one up, I adapted an existing term. To have the ‘squitters’, shortened to ‘squits’, is to suffer from diarrhoea. Aren’t you sorry you asked?

Swazz – This stands in for p*ss. It is basically a mash-up of the twentieth century slang terms ‘wazz’ and ‘slash’. To ‘swazz someone off’ means the same thing as to p*ss them off – that is, to annoy them. Quin is often accused of doing this to people.

These are the only ones I remember using so far. If you spot any others, send me a note or post a comment and I’ll update the list.

In my notebook I also wrote down a couple of made-up slang terms for female genitalia, but I don’t think there are any circumstances where I would feel comfortable using them in stories. So now you know: I’m a potty-mouthed prude.

In A Fistful of Trouble I use the American slang term ‘Johnson’ to refer to a penis. This may have been because I was annoyed at a certain person having just been elected Prime Minister in the UK. Interestingly, ‘Dr. Johnson’ – after the writer and dictionary compiler – was used as a slang term for the same thing in eighteenth-century England. If you have any suggestions for what a ‘Tomlinson’ might refer to, please feel free to keep them to yourself.

Go to the Outlaws of the Galaxy main page.


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