Abstracting Bad Words

I’m thinking aloud about profanity in fantasy and science fiction. Writers commonly invent pseudo-swear words like, “Thank the Maker!” or, “Blood and ashes!”

When a character curses, why abstract the language? It might be an attempt to attract a wider audience, namely with younger readers graduating from Young Adult literature to more mature titles. It could be for creating a richer world with its own language and slang. Regardless, I find it jarring.

I assert there is a place for profanity in fantasy and science fiction!

The Venn Diagram of Magic and Technology

I recently finished The Powder Mage Trilogy, an awesome series of colonial fantasy books by Brian McClellan. The setting presents a conflicted world where magic-meets-technology. The characters wrestle with realistic moral challenges. The properties of magic and technology are well defined, as well, adding tension to every encounter because you know the limitations and weaknesses of the key players.

I loved almost everything about this series. I loved everything about this series except for the swearing. As above, the author abstracted profanity. Every time I’d hit a phrase like, “To the pit!” I’d have to stop and do a mental translation.

Modern Profanity in Fantasy Worlds

I may be in the minority but I think fantasy characters using modern language are believable. Brian Staveley’s Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire prove this. Each of these epics boasts a vibrant, immersive world.

The characters in both epics swear like us, as well.


The Etymology of shit and fuck:

Brian Staveley’s post on cursing in fantasy:


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