Modern Colloquialisms in the Fantasy Genre

Please don’t do it.

I won’t directly quote, but to paraphrase: the MC banged his armor and then to seal the deal, he shouts. And the crowd rahs.
I pictured a viking…… but then he sealed the deal.

…This is not as cool as taking an arrow to the knee.

I will deliberately ignore grammatical errors in the original.

I can’t stand it when modern colloquialisms enter the langauge of the fantasy genre. Did Conan the Barbarian ever seal the deal? Or call his comrade “buddy?”

People, why, why??

Xanth is probably guilty of using modern lingo (I wasn’t around when it was first published), but Xanth is Xanth. The feel of the stories is ridiculous, so the language is equally ridiculous, which makes the books funny and great.

But it’s like sticking ebonics into 10th Century England. You just can’t.

Originally posted on my Tumblr

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9 responses to “Modern Colloquialisms in the Fantasy Genre

  1. You have no idea how much I agree with you on this, Jessica. *high fives* When I see modern slang or colloquialisms in an epic or historical fantasy, it yanks me right out of the story. Example: Last year I read a Norse mythology fantasy where arrows and spells were “fired” – which isn’t the right terminology for that time period!

    Writers need to be extremely careful of the words and phrases they choose in stories set in the past. And when in doubt, look up the word’s approximate year of origin or an appropriate synonym. It’s a big reason why I’ve avoided words like “hover” or “launch” to describe fairy flight in my WIP.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s definitely jarring when you see incorrect phrasing. For me, it’s like reading about Joan of Arc doing the Macarena as part of her victory dance. It’s really all about tone — if it’s a lighthearted humorous story, then it can be shrugged off, but if the tone of the story is serious, and then there’s a flub like that? Doesn’t look good at all.

      *high five!*

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm, I think slang phrases from modern times can be used in fantasy, poorly or well, depending on the author. It seems like a matter of Immersion vs. Meta/Satire. To completely remove modern phrasing from fantasy seems like an attempt to create a similar Immersion that Historical genre books go for; in using the prose to support the world/time.

    There are other fantasy works though, low fantasy – but also epic – in which modern phrasing is used in satirical ways like in Pratchett’s writing. There are others that use modern phrases simply for the ease of reading instead of getting readers used to a strange fantasy vocabulary, which can seem dense and forced depending on the writer.

    If the fantasy world isn’t also a Historical version of Earth, then using old-world speak or renaissance/medieval terminology could be just as out-of-place as modern terminology. It really depends on what kind of Fantasy world exists and how it resembles, reflects, and interacts with the world we know and live in today.

    It’s a common rule of thumb to avoid modern colloquialisms in writing in order to give the prose a chance to be timeless and cross-cultural, but the reality is that all of writing is informed by the time we live in and the society around us. Our very approach to grammatical structures and narrative tenses gives away the modernity of our prose, whether we include colloquialisms or not. In terms of Immersion for the reader though, that doesn’t matter so much because it’s all about the illusion-of-immersion rather than accurate transference of perception.

    I believe the most important aspect is whether the reader understands what is happening and has a fair chance to figure out the ideas behind the story, whether that involves modern phrases or not. Immersion-wise though, in regards to fantasy, I believe it’s important to balance modern vocabulary with fantasy world-vocabulary, not going too far in one or the other. Personally, right now, I replace direct colloquialisms with similar world-based sayings, but I don’t avoid modern terminology either if it creates an easier read… then again, I don’t write Fantasy based on Historical/Mythical Earth in any regard, so there’s that… heh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Language is always evolving, which gives it beauty and the ability to be dynamic. You’re right though in that it’s really up to the author to set the tone of the story. Some genre writers undergo such scrutiny for being “inaccurate” or scientifically unsound, but I believe that writing shouldn’t be so oppressively judged.

      But in regards to the example in the post, slang is almost always not appreciated — at least not by me. It makes the writing feel thoughtless and hurried. It’s like “he ran really fast” vs. “he sprinted.” I also definitely approve of using simpler language rather than immersion-heavy terminology, but can appreciate story-specific vocabulary… as long as it’s not overwhelming me from chapter one. Science fiction tends to do this a lot. I liken it to being introduced to a cast of 20+ characters within the first two chapters. Information overload!

      I don’t know if you’ve read the Xanth series, but Anthony tends to write in a very satirical and sardonic manner to the point where it becomes a comedy. So it’s really up to the author to determine the tone of their story.

      Thanks for such a great analysis!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I haven’t read the Xanth series, but I’ll have to check it out sometime. :3 I like the “he ran really fast” vs. “he sprinted” comparison, yeah, I’d say that’s a good boundary for when slang might go too far in fiction writing. Thanks for the post, it was an interesting topic to consider beyond my own choices as a writer.

        Liked by 1 person

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  5. One of the reasons my worldbuilding tends to be slow going is because I get stuck in trying to make up colloquialism for my characters to use, while also trying to keep them recognizable enough for readers to understand. (Aka avoid the reason I never tried to read A Clockwork Orange.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Clockwork Orange — what a fantastic book! But it was definitely a struggle initially to try and learn their vocabulary. I always end up inferring what the words mean rather than flipping back and forth. Simpler is better, even a change in one letter can make something its own.

      Worldbuilding is fun, but it definitely has its difficulties.

      Liked by 2 people

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