Characteristics of Curse Words

Characteristics of Curse WordsCurse words are useful tools for characterization and worldbuilding. Rather than picking or making up curse words at random, however, I find it useful to consider the characteristics of curse words first.

What Curse Words Have in Common

There are two basic types of curse words: the funny ones that are more socially acceptable and the ones that are more taboo. I’m going to focus on the second grouping today.

Phonetic Characteristics of Curse Words

Many curses, including ones I know from other languages, have specific similarities in how they sound:

  • harsh consonants
  • consonant emphasis
  • short vowels
  • short (or have shorter versions)

Since they are generally used to express anger or frustration, the words themselves tend to have a harsh, abrupt sound that flows easily (trippingly off the tongue). Many of them are also directional – they can be followed by a direct object (like “it” or “you”).

Whom characters direct their curses at can be very telling: does the person only direct curses at inanimate objects? Only at adults? At everyone including children and people who’ve done nothing aggravating? Each option makes a big difference in how the character is perceived.

Social and Moral Characteristics of Curse Words

Besides the way they sound, curse words also have similarities in meaning – they’re all related to something that’s taboo, not talked about, or generally considered bad. Things like sex, poop, or being condemned by God. Things we use euphemisms for in polite company.

What curse words a person chooses or is offended by can show a lot about his/her background and beliefs. For example, in the Bible Belt, “God d@#$!” can be more offensive than other words because “taking the Lord’s name in vain” goes against their religion. In other, less religious circles, on the other hand, it’s considered mild compared to the f-word and others.

Interestingly, society also deems it more appropriate for men to curse than women – especially with the most taboo curse words. Women are supposed to use milder oaths if they curse at all.

That’s why the curse words you choose for a specific character and world can be so important. And some situations and characters are going to require cursing to make sense or seem real.

So why pick something random when taking these two aspects of foul language into account can let you use vile oaths to build characterization and setting on purpose?

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Horror or Humor? A Writing Prompt

Tis the season to be scary, so why are so many “horror” movies funny instead? What is the boundary? What makes a story horror or humor? Explore the answer with this hilariously scary writing prompt.

Are You Writing Horror or Humor?

Interestingly, what determines whether a story is funny or scary is less the topic and more how the topic is treated. As an example, let’s discuss a comedic Halloween classic: Hocus Pocus.

Main Concept: 3 witches who suck out the souls of children to stay young

Is it just me, or is that a pretty creepy (see terrifying) idea? So how can it be a funny movie?

The answer is “the emphasis.” More of the movie is spent on the goofiness of witches, their confusion about modern stuff, re-inflatable cats, and rolling heads, and the last two are practically Looney Tune-like with their abilities to be mangled but unharmed.

In other words, although the scary idea provides impetus for the plot, it is overshadowed with hilarious hijinks.

To prove the idea works, here’s a writing prompt to take the same idea and make 2 totally different stories. Here’s what the two parts will have in common:

  • a frightening condition or situation (serial killer, hungry witches, etc.)
  • the basic characters (3 witches, 2 vampires, and a human teenager)
  • the beginning mood (for about the first scene or the exposition)

The rest… well, the rest is going to vary a bit.

Writing Horror

This time, we’ll make it creepy and try to give our readers nightmares (*wicked cackle as lightning flashes*). That means we need to emphasize the darkness of the situation.

Here are some pointers for keeping it headed in a scary direction:

  1. The consequences are experienced repeatedly (people die, are maimed, etc.).
  2. Focus on the losses and the main character’s plans to avoid experiencing it.
  3. Frightened reactions need to be serious and realistic (no flailing in a panic in a way that lightens the mood – if someone flails in a panic [because people do], it had better emphasize the overpowering helplessness caused by the fear rather than how ridiculous the person looks).
  4. No stupid, clich√©d actions (we’re not trying to emphasize character stupidity).
  5. Ends badly or at least not completely happily (a chirpy, perky ending shouldn’t really be possible if you took step 1 seriously).

To summarize, the emphasis is on negative aspects and realism.

Writing Humor

With that same situation and even the same starting mood, you can make the story funny instead of scary. All it takes is a different focus:

  1. Having few consequences or glossing over them (So-in-so isn’t really dead – it was just a sleep spell! Someone died? Sorry, I was too busy laughing at these crazy antics to remember that.).
  2. The villain(s) is goofy in some way – clumsy, has a stamp collection that he waxes poetic about at the slightest opportunity, can only kill someone who’s facing him and ends up chasing people in circles like a dog chasing his tail (you get the idea)…
  3. Characters do stupid stuff and survive (how, we’re not sure).
  4. Survival is as much by unfeasible circumstance as by intelligence/bravery (“Thank God that tree fell when it did!” or “If you hadn’t driven into a garlic store, we’d be goners!”).
  5. Ends happily (all the main characters survive and any previous deaths are already forgotten or somehow ok – “He was a killer, too,” or “Their spirits are free and happy now”).

That’s a formula that has turned a number of terrifying circumstances into a funny movie. Just don’t use it when you actually want something to be scary. It won’t end well.

Ok, actually, it will (that’s one of the rules), but it won’t be scary!

All right. Ready to write 2 totally different versions of the same story? These ones would be especially good to share! ūüėÄ

Up With Which I Will Not Put: Not a Winston Churchill Quote

Nope. “This is just the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put,‚ÄĚ is not a Winston Churchill quote according to quote investigator. We have been mislead yet again by the internet (well, it actually started with newspapers and such).

On the other hand, it’s an excellent example of why I’m not a big fan of trying to make English conform to Latin rules (AKA avoid ending with a preposition). It really shows how horribly awkward sentences can get when you try to use a common phrase (“put up with”) without ending with a preposition.

Sooo awkard…

What I like best about this quote, however, is how it shows the humor long associated with this debate. And, really, read the quote investigator article for quite a few variations on the story, its set up, and how newspaper men apparently didn’t get it (because they ruined the punchline).

All that aside, it might also remind you of some traditional blonde jokes and various other forms of a tongue-in-cheek protest of this Latin rule.

The older form (including the “up with which I will not put” story) goes like this:
  1. A job or work context is given, and within that, someone (usually in management) sends out a message that ends with a preposition.
  2. A reply to that statement mocks its lack of grammatical correctness.
  3. The original speaker replies to the insult with a sentence that deliberately avoids using the preposition at the end and results in an overly elaborate and, therefore, humorous response (Oh, the irony!).

This is the format of the Winston Churchill story (which is apparently false), several versions set in the military, and more.

The new form varies in the aggressiveness of the response:
  1. A person asks a stranger a question that ends in a preposition (usually something along the lines of “Where are you from?”).
  2. Instead of answering the question directly, the stranger scornfully scoffs at the use of a preposition at the end of the sentence.
  3. The original person re-asks the question and uses direct address with an insult (usually a curse word) to keep the preposition from being at the end of the sentence (“Where are you from, b*%$?”).

Did you realize what that means?

There are actually traditional forms of jokes about this preposition rule. Multiple ones!

Now, that’s funny.

Of course, so is “up with which I will not put.” Even if Winston Churchill didn’t say it.

The Difference between the Right Word and the Almost Right Word

Unlike many other quotes falsely attributed to Mark Twain, “The difference between the right word and almost the right word” is truly a Mark Twain quote. It is also (IMHO) an excellent metaphor to illustrate the vital importance of word choice.

Word Choice Makes Writing an Art

Like sense of urgency and frame story, word choice can be defined by its name – it’s the words you choose when writing (*gasp* No!). As obvious and redundant as that seems, this literary device is actually the core of not only what makes writing an art but also what makes one writer different from another.

Think about it. No, seriously, picture a scene from real life. Interesting, banal, recent, historic – it doesn’t matter as long as you can clearly picture what happened. Now, think about how many different ways you could write that scene. You could turn it into horror, science fiction, fantasy, historical realism, romance, etc. You could write it from first person, second person, third person limited, or even narrate it. You could use elaborate descriptions or lean, mean sentences that are cut down to the action alone.

Hundreds of ways to write the same scene.

And all those differences come from the words you choose and how you put them together. The mood you want to create, the tone of the piece, and even your personal style as a writer, it all comes down to this one literary device.

Down to “the difference between the right word and the almost right word…”

Don’t believe me? Well, imagine if Mark Twain said this quote today in today’s language. Would he have said, “lightning and a lightning bug” or “fire and a firefly”? They have the same relationship, right? And “lightning bug” and “firefly” are words for the same insect.

But doesn’t that word choice change the characterization of the speaker? Could it change the setting? If you write the same story with different words, is it the same story?

Or is it as different as “lightning and a lightning bug”?

Ray Bradbury Called You a Sublime Fool

Sorry. I lied. That’s not true. Ray Bradbury actually called you “the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling.” Lol. Burn!

Ok. Ok. Technically, he called himself that, too. And me. And anyone who ever wanted to be a writer. Or an artist. Man, what a jerk!

Or, you know, a realist about the writing profession with a sense of humor. Whatever.

A Ray Bradbury Quote:
An Insult, Curse, & Benediction for Writers

Ray Bradbury Quote Sublime FoolIsn’t that an amazing quote?

It has nuanced humor, the cynical pessimism of someone who’s worked in writing and knows how hard it can be, and a generosity of spirit for others with the same dream.¬†Plus, it can be broken down into 2 smaller quotes that provide the top advice for anyone who ever wanted to write:

  • “You must write every single day of your life.”
  • “You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books…”

You’ve heard that before, right? After all,¬†writing and reading are the number one ways to learn and to improve – at least, when it comes to learning to write.

The blessings are kind of awesome, too. They start out feeling like a curse (Why would you wish that on me?), but then they wrap around to end up as a blessing. Almost another kind of advice, a subtler one that leads you to the right conclusion instead of telling you straight out.

  • “I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime.”
  • “I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you.”
  • “May you live with hysteria, and out of it, make fine stories…”
  • “May you be in love every day… and out of that love remake a world.”

When you take them in context with the previous statements, they could practically be re-written as wishing you a long lifetime full of writing and transforming your own experiences into new stories and worlds – a wish written from one “sublime fool” to another, almost like an inside joke said with a warm smile.

Actually… if that’s the fate of a “sublime fool,” I’ll take it. How about you?

10 Funny Questions Only English Lovers Will Get

funny questions only english lovers will getOne of the best parts about the English language is all the ridiculous and funny ways you can play with it (thanks to English’s bullying nature). These 10 funny questions are great examples of that – unfortunately, only people who like English will get them. Do you?

10 Bits of Silliness for English Lovers

Are you ready for some silliness? Brace yourself – some of these might hurt!

 1. Who put an s in lisp? Was it the same cruel person who came up with dyslexic?
2. Why are there 5 syllables in the word monosyllabic?
3. Why is bra singular and panties plural?
4. Did independent clauses have a revolution?
5. Do relative clauses ever have reunions?
6. If you write a dependent clause by itself, does it fall over?
7. Why aren’t there postpositions?
8. Why does final come before first in the dictionary? And finish before start?
9. Why isn’t anyone ever plussed or concerted?
10. In English, who is the worst at waltzing? Iamb.

ūüėÄ

Congratulations! You survived the ridiculous wordplays! I hope they made you smile.

Until next time!
-Em

20 Reasons to Read Books

Not that most of us need more reasons to read books. ūüôā But if you ever run into one of those “why do you read?” conversations, these might be fun to throw in.

Why You Should Read:
20 Reasons

Ready for the count-down? Here goes!

20. Easy-to-use (No manual required)

Open. Read. It’s that simple.

19. Great pause, fast-forward, and rewind features.

Flip a page. Flip it back. Insert a book mark. Or remember a page number. You don’t even need batteries or a plug!

18. Decent resale value

Sure, it depends on the book. Some of them keep only 10-30% of their resale value, but there are a lot of types of entertainment that have no resale whatsoever.

Of course, you could also keep them and re-read them. Because why get rid of something you like?

17. Great effects – waaaay better than CGI

It’s called imagination. You can make it as intricate or vague as you like. Some people focus on emotion and feelings. Other people love to picture intricate images and design the worlds in their minds. Or you do both as you feel like it.

16. No hidden fees

You pay one charge up front. That’s it – tax included. You don’t get charged extra if you don’t read at a certain speed, if you read it more than once, or if you don’t finish it. One charge – that’s all. There’s not even any interest.

15. No commercial breaks – no upgrade required

That’s right. The only thing that’s going to pause your reading enjoyment is you. Or other people. If you have other people around you – you can always lock them out. Turn off your phone. That sort of thing.

It’s up to you.

14. Single-player and multi-player modes

You can read it by yourself. You can read it and then discuss it in a book club. You can read it to someone. You can have it read to you. You can take turns reading sections. You can even listen to a stranger read it.

So many options.

13. No license renewal

If you’re over 20, you lived through the transition from buying software and getting a cd with the installation information that works forever on as many computers as you want to buying software and having to pay a yearly license fee or new fees for additional users. Well, not for books! Once you buy one, it’s yours!

12. Millions of different models to choose from

And that’s probably an understatement. A major understatement. There are so many different genres of both fiction and nonfiction as well as thousands of different authors with different publications.

Oh, and lest I forget, you don’t have to choose between them. You can read as many or as few as you like.

11. Low budget

What other fun activity can you do repeatedly for under $10? Ok. Don’t answer that. But as far as hobbies go, reading is relatively cheap.

10. Teaches empathy

Reading stories gives you new perspectives into other people’s problems, which in turn leads to empathy. Something that can help you do better in interpersonal relationships whether they’re business relationships or closer than that.

9. Helps with school work

Learn more vocabulary. Improve reading comprehension skills. Increase your understanding of plot and other literary devices. The list goes on and on.

8. Increases IQ

Want to read more about why? Read the lifehack article. For the short version, enlarging vocabulary and improving empathy helps.

7. Available for free

Remember what I said about it being cheap? Well, if you’re willing to take a trip to the library, it’s not only cheap – it’s free! Support your local libraries! And check out neighborhood lending libraries¬†and Project Gutenberg!

6. Broadens experiences

How else can you be an astronaut, a pirate, a court lady, a space-ship captain, and a soldier in the War of 1812? In the same week?

Not to mention black, white, heterosexual, homosexual, male, female, religious, atheistic, shy, outgoing, nerdy, social, racist, broad-minded, and so on. No matter what the demographic or point of view, there are books that can expose you to them and give you a wider understanding of the world and its people.

5. Fun when you’re sober

I know, right? Who knew that was even possible?

Readers. That’s who. Oh, you can read buzzed or drunk if you like, but as you know, cognizance goes down as alcohol intake goes up. So the less alcohol you have, the more likely you are to enjoy the book! Who’d’ve thunk?

4. Great way to meet people

I know I mentioned book clubs (great way to meet new people, especially when you like having a cue for breaking the ice); however, reading books in public? Great icebreaker.

Well, unless you’re trying to read. Then, people asking you what you’re reading can actually be a bit aggravating. In fact, I’d recommend that you only read in public when reading is not the actual goal. Ooh, or unless you do it on your phone or kindle. Then, people don’t know.

3. Portable

I love paper books. On the other hand, having both paper and electronic books have made reading more portable than ever. Want to take a paperback with you to work? Why not? Want to take 10 books with you for your two 14 hour flights (14 there and 14 back) but don’t have room in your carryon? Download them on your phone. Then, you don’t even have to hide the cover.

I’ve even read while getting medical treatments and while donating blood and plasma. You can read just about anywhere, and it is amazing.

2. It’s sexy

Reading is sexy. It’s brainal. Or maybe it’s brainal foreplay. I don’t know – I get confused.

The point is that people who read tend to be interested in other people who read. That hints that you might have something in common. Plus, they’re usually turned-on by brains. Don’t ask me why. Maybe it’s a case of like pulling to like.

Oh, and speaking of like – if you read similar books? That’ll definitely get the other person’s attention.

 1. Teaches you to write

What else would I make number 1?

As much as reading is a great enjoyable experience, it’s also one of the top ways to learn to write. Like William Faulkner said, learn by example and then go out and make what you learned your own.

Go. Find time to read and then make time to write.

Do You Like Brainal?

No, brainal. Do you like brainal?

Ok. No. Before your mind goes too far into the gutter, let me explain. I’m not sure who coined the term – it seems like Matthew Hussey made up this version of the word since the urban dictionary versions seem a bit different – however, I like the little neologism of puzzle pieces. Its sly inferences make it the perfect word for what it is. Like an¬†innuendo that isn’t as dirty as you expect that becomes a kind of inside joke.

Why Smart Is Sexy
(AKA Do You Like Brainal?)

Anyway.

Long story short: smart is sexy. If you want more details, watch the video – he explains the definition far better than I could ever do. Plus, it’s funny, so watch, learn, and enjoy.

Hilarious, yeah? Plus, it’s true.

Just like grammar is sexy, smart is sexy. People like having intelligent conversation, and opening up to each other (even in little bits) is how we bond.

You know what that means, right? It means that the days of women acting dumb to attract men is over (one can hope – sorry, pet peeve). Today, if you want to attract a man, entice him by discussing intellectual topics that interest him (and you. preferably.).

If brainal is sexy, then going to book clubs and writing circles could be considered a kind of training. In fact, someday, getting an education and practicing conversation could replace reading those “How to Get a Man” magazines.

Ok. I know. But a girl can dream!

Why We Don’t Flip Flop Sounds: The Unwritten Rules of English

A friend sent me this article about why we don’t flip flop sounds. For example, why we say “flip flop” instead of “flop flip.” It all goes back to a couple of unwritten rules of English. Honestly, it’s not something I’d thought about before, but it’s pretty interesting (at least if you’re a logophile like me). I’ll give you a minute to skim through.

The Unwritten Rules of English
Make Sure We Don’t Flip Flop Sounds

why we don't flip flop sounds unwritten rules of english

Interesting right?

I mean, we’ve all been drilled with “I before E except after C,” and many of us have taken great delight in pointing out how many exceptions there are to that rule (as adults, sadly. Few of us were lucky enough to know that many in Elementary School when we really needed it.). I have heard of the adjective rule as an adult (also long after I learned it subconsciously), but who ever heard about a rule for what order the words go in – based off the main vowel sound of the word?

It seems true though. I keep looking for loopholes. All I’m thinking of, though, are examples where it’s either true or true in repetition:

  • flip flop
  • ting tang wolla wolla bing bang (The rule is followed twice.)
  • wibbley wobbley timey wimey (Twice again)
  • flim flam

On the other hand, a lot of these examples (including their examples) are onomatopoeia and what we would call nonsense words (or simply less formal words). So is it true for more distinguished words and phrases?

The answer is “sometimes.” It also made me realized that more formal phrases rarely have that many words together in a string without a preposition, conjunction, or something to break them up.

For example, the original conversation this was posted on stemmed from the question of why we say, “thunder and lightning” instead of “lightning and thunder.” Personally, I would’ve given credit to Queen and moved on (and look at what I would’ve missed out on). At the same time, not all those sounds seem covered by the rule.

What about E? Or U? Where do they need to go? Why were they skipped?

Which leads me to the question – which language did this rule come from? After all, English is a bully, a language that’s really made up of a mish mash of other languages. It stands to reason, then, that this rule came from one of those languages. Possibly more than one.

Latin? German? Greek? French? Whence cometh this rule?

I did a quick search. No luck. Maybe someone less busy (and less lazy… although the other is also true) can give it a shot. Or a passing linguist could pause a moment to elucidate us on the matter (Hello? Anyone?).

Oh, well. At least, you learned something new today, right? Granted, you probably already knew it without knowing, but that counts! Especially since that’s how unwritten rules of English work.

Makes you really admire the subconscious, doesn’t it?

The 5 Worst Excuses for Not Writing

You heard me. The¬†5 worst excuses for not writing. And if¬†you know my opinion of writer’s block, you may be wondering what qualifies as “worst.” (They’re all bad, right?) Well, let’s just say these are the laziest and most self-defeating that I can think of (right now).

5 Lame Excuses for Not Writing
(You heard me.)

¬†1. It’s Sunny.

5 worst excuses for not writing it's sunny

Writing called on account of sunshine. Said no one ever.

Really, people, a pretty day is not a reason to avoid writing. It’s not.¬†You are using the sunshine as an excuse for being lazy and playing outside instead of working.

Oh, and if you doubt me, here are some obvious flaws to this “reason” for not working.

  • The sun will still be there after you spend an hour writing. You’re not going to spend the whole day outside even if you do go out to play. Make goofing off outside a reward.
  • Umm… the sun does set at some point. Work at 8 or 9 pm (whenever the sun sets where you are). Play in the sun and then write. Or get up at 6 and write before the sun comes up to tempt you.
  • Or, my personal favorite, take your writing outside. Enjoy the sunshine and write at the same time. [mic drop]

Uh-huh. That’s what I thought. Lame excuse.

2. I’m tired.

5 worst excuses for not writing I'm tired

Nap time!

You will always be tired. 10 times out of 9, you are going to be tired (Shut up, math people.). If you don’t write when you’re tired, you will never write. End of story.

(Which you’ll never get to because you’ll never start the story. Just saying.)

3. I need to edit first.

5 worst excuses for not writing I need to edit firstNo. No, you don’t.

Write. Finish the book. Then, go back and edit. Or set limits on how much editing you are allowed¬†to do in a span of time – otherwise, you’ll never finish the first draft. You’ll just keep re-writing the first few chapters.

2. I don’t¬†know what to write.

5 worst excuses for not writing I don't know what to write idk

*flat stare* Who does? Write anyway. Sure, the first few paragraphs may be crap, but after a little while, you’ll get fired up and get into a groove. You can always scrap or edit parts of it later.

Besides, if you’re writing a novel, you should have¬†some idea of the storyline already – even if you’re not a meticulous¬†plotter. So… start on a scene and see where it goes? Worse case, you’ll find out where it doesn’t need to go. And you’ll learn something about your characters in the process (assuming you’re paying attention).

¬†1. There’s no point.

5 worst excuses for not writing there's no point impossibleIt’ll never get published. No one will ever read it. I can’t write anything good.
| : Infinite variations of self-deprecating and self-defeating statements : |

*inarticulate scream of rage and frustration*

*cough* Sorry. I’ll try to contain myself, but this one drives me absolutely crazy. Before I get to the rant, however, let me say that it is not directed at anyone struggling with depression or self-esteem issues who seriously believes those statements. To those people, I will say only that I hope you learn to question and challenge those statements and that even when those feelings¬†are overwhelming, I hope you still write.

For those who say this as a whiny prompt for attention and never actually had any real aspirations to write, I would just like to say, *thbbbt*.

First of all, it’s almost always the exact opposite of the truth. You have no chance of getting published? Really? A¬†poorly written fanfic of a poorly written book got published and bought.¬†So… what? Can you not write in sentences? Great! Your work will be the next abstract innovation in stuffy literary circles.

Second of all,¬†don’t say you’ve always want to do something when it’s not true.

Yes, some people have always wanted to write a book. And if you ask those people about that book they’ve always wanted to write, they will tell you all about the plot and the characters – all the ideas they’ve ever had since they first thought of it. If someone shrugs and says, “I don’t know. Something fantasy maybe. Or a thriller,” then, no, they didn’t always want to write a book. They just think wanting to write a book will make them sound more cool or intellectual or whatever.

Cause, yeah, book writing –¬†it’s what all the cool kids are doing.

Sorry, no. People like that get on my nerves because while they’re saying “There’s no point,”¬†because they think it sounds right, by saying it in conversation, they give this excuse more weight. Like thinking that you have no talent or that your story is unpublishable is a legit reason not to write. And hearing it from other people like it’s a real road block makes potential writers more likely not only to use it but also to believe it.

And that would be a shame.

Don’t use any of these “worst” excuses for not writing. In fact, don’t use any excuses for not writing. Write. Make it happen however you can. I believe in you.