Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Using Modern Day Slang In Non-Modern Day Stories

No Way!

Photo provided by Visual hunt 

Lately, I’ve noticed a trend in the books I read, a habit of using modern day language or euphemisms in stories set in other time periods or other worlds. The example that pushed me into writing this post was in a story set in late medieval times. The language used by the characters wasn’t particularly old sounding, but it was good enough—that is, until one of the teen-aged characters complained of being put “on lockdown” by his parents. Man, did my suspension of disbelief take a kick to the gut.

Now I don’t mind an occasional deviation from period language for the sake of readability. “Thee”s and “Thou”s can get hard to read after a while, but the use of slang that’s only been around for about a decade or so (at least in the connotation of “being grounded”) is just too much.

And it’s not just stories set in the past. I’ve read science fiction set in the far future that used current day slang, pop phrases I’m pretty sure will be dead and buried long before that future arrives. For example, I’m reading one book populated with spaceships and space stations, and was jarred when one of the characters used the phrase “you go, girl.” Now I’ll admit this phrase has been around for a while, and may hang around for a while yet, but it’s already in decline, used these days mostly as a punch line in TV comedies or to make the person saying it appear unhip.

Maybe this doesn’t bother anyone else, but contemporary slang in non-contemporary settings just irks me.

What about you?

ChemistKen


 P.S. If the writer is deliberately doing this to have fun, for example, A Knight’s Tale, then that’s different.


Source: Tumblr

12 comments:

  1. I remember getting pulled out of a story when the character used the phrase "talk to the hand." Um, yeah, that died decades ago.

    My main character uses modern-day slang, but the other characters around him don't get his references to getting thrown under the bus or used as a piñata. Coming up with creative not-our-world profanity has been a tough part with this book.

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    1. Yes, but your main character came from our modern day world, so it makes sense that he'd use modern day slang.

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  2. I agree! And was just thinking along the same lines this past week. I tried really hard not to use slang in my own novels for that very reason.
    It did work in A Knight's Tale. Also worked in King Arthur, Legend of the Sword.

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    1. I was almost going to mention King Arthur, but wasn't sure how many people had seen the movie.

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  3. The flip side of this, at least for science fiction writers, is that invented slang can sound really, really unnatural.

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    1. Yeah, I wouldn't want to try that. I have enough trouble coming up with names for my characters.

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  4. Yes it does. It is a bit like being butt kicked out of the story world.

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  5. It's not just slang. A book that mentions My Space would be very dated. Both of those would kick anyone out of a story.

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  6. I get really bothered by anachronisms in historical fiction. Especially if it is language. Even when reading about a sci-fi future, you don't want to read modern slang that just ends up being dated after a decade. Sometimes I take many years to get around to reading a book and it being littered with dated slang just ruins it for me.

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  7. I agree! I think it's also tough to use modern day slang in modern fiction because who knows, I may be behind by a decade or three. I think it works in Knight's Tale, because it's so intentional, but when it slips in oddly, it's just jarring. I read sci-fi with some modern swear words in it, and I just thought, really, they won't come up with something new? I think there will be different words ... or variations on what we have now. Just hopping "across the pond" proves that not all English speakers use the same slang.
    However, I currently have a modern-day character who really likes to use the word: dude. I don't know if I should take that all out and say, "bro, or bruh" as my daughters would say it, or if I should just take it out all together. Sure, he's 12, but ... do 12-year-olds even say Dude anymore?

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  8. We used to watch "The Orville" (and then I just stopped having time for television), and it bothered me that every reference they made--movies, music, etc.--came from our current time period. Justin Bieber, "Seinfeld"... It felt lazy to me, like they didn't want to work to create a future history OR go further back to older stuff. Was low-hanging fruit in a way, like the writers just went with what they knew? Meh.

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  9. Slang and technology are major traps for writers. If you use them, they're out of date by the time you publish.

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