Tag Archives: language

Bad language

Phil: Listening to a news programme recently where they were discussing something Navy-related, the expert said that the information he had wasn’t “Scuttlebutt”.

Even the landlubbers amongst us would understand that this means his information wasn’t rumour or gossip. According to Wikipedia, it’s the seaborne version of water-cooler gossip.

I’d never heard the phrase before and wish we’d had the chance to use it in Kate vs The Navy.

This got me thinking about other phrases, especially made-up swear words.

I suppose for a sci-fi nerd, the best known is “Smeg” from the TV Series Red Dwarf. It’s never given a meaning in the show, but is a handy non-sweary thing for characters to say. Quite how the advert-free BBC feels about regular mentions of high-end white goods isn’t recorded (I always chuckle when in La Nolan’s kitchen looking at her fridge, but then I’m a bit sad) but whoever came up with the idea is a genius. “Smeg” is perfect, short and slightly aggressive, you really can say it when annoyed.

Sticking with space operas, the other is “Feldergarb” from the original Battlestar Galactica. Swearing in an American kids show was certainly verboten, but you need a phrase for your agitated characters to say and that’s what they came up with. I guess that all the kids picked it up and used the word in the playground (OK, all the nerdy kids) so, like Smeg, it will have entered common usage.

The thing is, does a made-up swear word still count as swearing?

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Are you Doomscrolling?

TwitterPhil: 2020 might have been rubbish for many things, but it’s produced a fertile crop of new words for us to make use of.

Ask me in 2019 what the “R Number” is, and like most people, I wouldn’t have had a clue. It’s the same for “T Cells”. “Furlough” is something to do with horse racing, “bubbles” are what you blow and talking of blowing, that’s what a “circuit-breaker” did in the cupboard under the stairs next to the electricity meter.

Suddenly, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, we have a whole new lexicon, and boy don’t we employ it? I wonder what our 2019 selves would think if they heard pretty much any conversation we have had this year.  Not for us the finer points of I’m a Celebrity, no, we talk about The Pandemic.

All. The. Time.

Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I talked to someone for more than about ten minutes without Covid rearing its ugly molecules in some form or another.

Which brings me on to my favourite new phrase – Doomscrolling.

This is the act of browsing the web looking for ever more apocalyptic news.

Humans are evolved to do this. Caveman Phil would want to be aware of the presence of danger, so he could do something about it. A new painting on the wall that said “Look out for the sabre-tooth tiger” would be useful.I would read this and my brain would give itself a little shot of dopamine to tell me I had learned something useful. Hopefully, not to hang around and be eaten.

Today though, we have mobile phones and Twitter. Endless hours can be spent searching out the latest bad news or getting annoyed at those who fail to see the sense of our position. If you want lockdown, there is always someone who wants a harder lockdown and is competitive about it. Think it’s all made up? Don’t worry, someone has an even better conspiracy for you to wallow in.

But this stuff is addictive. Every bit of terrible news provides the dopamine jolt and so we go hunting for the next gloomy prediction. Sadly, our brains can’t work out that this is bad for us, because they are enjoying the drugs.

What a problem this is going to be for writers in the future. How are you going to set a drama in 2020 and not bore the pants of people with endless virus talk? If you don’t, everyone will know just how unrealistic your words are – so you won’t be able to win either way.

And how will chick-lit survive? Maybe those furtive looks over the top of a mask are a start, but if your characters aren’t allowed within two metres of each other, the romance is going to fade pretty quickly.

She might find the man of her dreams, but can they get into each other’s bubbles?

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Regional accents on the page. A good idea?

Leprechauns of IrelandPhil: Allroit bab?

A couple of weeks ago, I spotted an interesting story on the Birmingham Mail website. The 50 top words and phrases that say you’re from Birmingham or the Black Country. I tweeted this to Candice with the tag #poshbrummie – because she was born and brought up in the Midlands.

“oy I am not a brummie!however I did used to go to the outdoor…but not the back of rackhams” was the repost, followed by sharing the article to her friends on Facebook.

Reading through the list shows just how rich Brummie lingo is. Those in the south might need subtitles but for those living in the middle of the country, there’s a lot of fun in recognising certain words and phrases. Saying someone is going round the “Back of Rackhams” for example tells you that they are probably a “lady of the night” or at least  a customer of same. And no, you don’t get points on your store card. In fact when they say “Love being recognised?” then answer is probably, “No”.

Anyway, I am reading Meet Me in Manhattan by Claudia Carroll at the moment. Holly Johnson (no, not the Frankie goes to Hollywood one) lives in Dublin (bonus points for a non-London setting) and is Irish.

Or should I say Oirish.

The trouble is the Carroll has given her a regional accent on the page, and it’s bugging me. Every “Feck” brings to mind either Father Jack or Mrs Brown as played by Brendon O’Carroll. I’m expecting a “Top O’the mornin’ ” at some point followed by discussion of the little people.

In Kate vs The Dirtboffins (Buy it now!), it never occurred to us to give anyone much of an accent. All the main characters are accent-free because we wrote how we spoke and neither of us has an accent. Not even the one is definitely NOT a Brummie.

Should commercial fiction be like this or are regional dialects on the page a good thing? Would a soft southern shandy drinker Londoner or worsem an American, be put off if we included some Midlands colloquialisms? When was the last time you read a book with an accent?

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