Powerful Words

In defence of swearing

By
12
July 22, 2010

fuck In defence of swearingI swear a lot. I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m the worst person to have around your kids because I swear so casually that I don’t notice I’m doing it. I do try to remember when kids are around, but even that bothers me to some degree. They’re just words. Though I do understand that little Sally turning up in a schoolyard and telling her teacher to go fuck herself is a potential parent/teacher-relation nightmare.

But they are just words. Of course, they’re words with a certain power. All words have power. Love is not a swear word but it carries enormous power. As does hate. The taboo nature of swearing gives these words added power. We can deliberately drop them like bombs. You want some attention in a loud conversation? Don’t talk any louder than everyone else, just swear more. People will sort of grind to a halt and look at you, their expressions all cautious and surprised. But you got their attention.

That’s why it really bothers me when people say, “Swearing just shows a lack of vocabulary and an inability to express yourself properly.” Fuck off, you pompous cunt. Not swearing shows an inability to use the words that would express your position most clearly.

For example, if someone is all up in your face, as the kids say these days, what expresses your real emotion more:

Go away!

or

Fuck off!

It’s not a case of lacking vocabulary. It’s a case of picking the most powerful word for the occasion – the right word. We recently visited the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh. The place was a bit underwhelming, to be honest. But while there we got a set of fridge magnets with all of Shakespeare’s best insults on them. A few choice ones include:

Cream faced loon! MacBeth

and

Thou crusty batch of nature. Troilus & Cressida

Or my personal favourite:

Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog. Richard III

But, clever and entertaining as they are, they don’t really work in today’s world for really expressing what you want to say. As I mentioned above, I can understand tempering your language around kids. Give them as much time being all sweet and innocent as possible. But don’t fear the usefullness of some quality, well placed swearing. Don’t overdo it or just swear every other word for the sake of it. That does just sound dumb. But equally, if a situation calls for a powerful word, don’t be afraid to use one.

And don’t ever tell me that swearing shows a lack of vocab or an inability to express yourself, because that’s clearly a load of bollocks.

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Obscenity ruling

By
5
May 6, 2010

This is a bit of nonsense, but it’s quality nonsense. The Onion is an awesome site and did a great skit today on a free speech ruling. Read the whole thing here, or check the image below for the nutshell version.

 Obscenity ruling

Dude, that is some quality swearing.

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What’s in a name?

By
2
April 24, 2010

Check this out from Lamebook.com:

shatty Whats in a name?

420, pronounced four-twenty, is an American counter culture holiday. It’s the day you’re supposed to get stoned. According to lore (wikipedia), the term was coined from a group of teenagers at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California in 1971. The teens would meet after school at 4:20 pm to smoke marijuana.

I guess there’s nothing like getting baked before going home to do homework and watch Blue Peter. Anyway, the date 4/20, which is April 20th in American terminology, has evolved into a cannabis culture holiday.

So, to recap the little Facebook discussion above, this girl is planning to celebrate 420 and she’s pregnant and friends are wisely suggesting she reconsider.

But aside from all that, have you seen her name? The girl is called Shatonya. Seriously, shat on ya? Her parents really had it in for her.

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What a great name

By
0
April 19, 2010

The recent volcanic eruption in Iceland is awesome in so many ways, but it seems to me that no one is drawing enough attention to the coolest thing about it. The name of the volcano is Eyjafjallajokul. Seriously, how cool is that? If I wrote a name like that into a fictional fantasy people would roll their eyes and go, “Oh, look at the wanker author trying to be all clever with whacky sounding names.”

The name is in fact that of a glacier – Eyjafjallajokul means “(the) island-fells glacier” – and it’s the icecap of the glacier that covers the volcano. Or it did, anyway.

According to wikipedia (fount of all human knowledge) the volcano has a crater 3–4 kilometres in diameter. Stop and think about that for a minute. That’s pretty fucking massive. It erupted in 920, 1612 and again from 1821 to 1823 when it caused a fatal glacial lake outburst flood. See that? It erupted for two years! Now it’s erupted again, on 20th March and 14th April. The dust cloud has brought European air travel to a standstill. Imagine if it carries on erupting for two years this time. Time to start travelling by boat again.

On the upside, global warming has opened up a lot of shipping channels that would have been impassable due to ice twenty years ago.

Isn’t the world an amazing place? There’s a really good story somewhere in all that volcano stuff above. Near future apocalypse due to huge and sustained volcanic activity kinda thang. And in case you still don’t think Eyjafjallajokul is seriously awesome for its name, size and global impact, check this out:

volcano 420x0 What a great name
(Picture from smh.com.au)

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Procrastilaxing is my new favourite word

By
0
April 6, 2010

Procrastilaxing is my new favourite word. Yes indeed, I love this word so much I want to punch it in the face.

procrastilaxingp1 Procrastilaxing is my new favourite word

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Can you succinctly pitch?

By
4
April 2, 2010

suc·cinct
–adjective
1. expressed in few words; concise; terse.
2. characterized by conciseness or verbal brevity.
3. compressed into a small area, scope, or compass.

As writers we always try to be as brief and succinct in our writing as possible, while maintaining a clear voice and interesting, beautiful prose. It’s the eternal difficulty of not writing in too flowery a way, or using “purple prose”, yet still making our stories more than just a technical, clinical telling of a yarn. We want to be recognised for our writing style, for our ability as wordsmiths as much as for our ability as storytellers. The ultimate aim is to create a fantastic story, brilliantly told. Brevity in delivery, while waxing lyrical in the right places, is something of an elusive holy grail in writing. It’s something I constantly struggle with and constantly try to improve.

Then today I saw this post at Nathan Bransford’s blog. In the little video clip he talks about how important it is to know how to pitch your book. As an agent, he needs you to be able to explain the essence of your book to him thoroughly and succinctly; he says in 200 words or less. The thing he said that rang out loud for me was, “What are you gonna to tell people at parties that your book is about.”

Whenever I meet new people and we get to the inevitable What Do You Do? part of the conversation, I always end up talking about martial arts and writing – that’s what I do for a living. With the writing it always comes down to the fact that I have a couple of novels out and people always ask, “Really? What are they about?” I want to tell people. I want them to understand and stay interested, who knows, they may even go out and buy a copy later if I talk it up well. But even if it’s not their thing, that doesn’t matter. It’s part of a conversation, part of what I do and what I am and I want people to be interested. Folk’s eyes glaze over really quickly when you start um-ing and ah-ing, trying to nail the story.

Of course, it’s hard. For me to describe a 120,000 word novel in a few lines is quite an ask. But that’s what a pitch is. I’m lucky right now, as I have two novels out and don’t need to pitch them. But I’m working on a third. I’ll have to pitch that eventually. I have to be able to nail a short summary of every book I write. If I can get the one or two sentence “party description” down, then a 200 word pitch summary should be a piece of cake, right?

It’s a bit like the back cover blurb, which is always an arse to write. But that’s different, as it’s directly selling the book to an interested person that’s picked it up for a look. Here’s the back cover blurb for RealmShift, for example:

Isiah is having a tough time. The Devil is making his job very difficult.

Samuel Harrigan is a murdering lowlife. He used ancient blood magic to escape a deal with the Devil and now he’s on the trail of a crystal skull that he believes will complete his efforts to evade Lucifer. But Lucifer wants Samuel’s soul for eternity and refuses to wait a second longer for it. Isiah needs Samuel to keep looking for the crystal skull, so he has to protect Sam and keep the Devil at bay. Not for Samuel’s sake, but for all of humanity.

RealmShift is an engrossing Dark Fantasy thriller; a fascinating exploration of the nature of people’s beliefs and their effect on the world around them. Magic, action and intrigue, from dank city streets to the depths of Hell and beyond.

Here’s the MageSign back cover blurb:

Three years have passed since Isiah’s run in with Samuel Harrigan and the Devil. He has some time on his hands – a perfect opportunity to track down the evil Sorcerer, Harrigan’s mentor. It should have been a simple enough task, but the Sorcerer has more followers than Isiah ever imagined, and a plan bigger than anyone could have dreamed.

With the help of some powerful new friends Isiah desperately tries to track down the Sorcerer and his cult of blood before they manage to change the world forever.

In this long-awaited sequel to the highly acclaimed RealmShift, Baxter once again keeps a breathless pace and blistering intensity with gods, demons and humans entangled in magic and conflict. This is dark fantasy at its best.

Now sure, those paragraphs do a good job of describing the book from a back cover point of view, but can you imagine me suddenly blurting that out when someone says, “Oh, really, you’ve got a couple of novels out? What are they about?” I’d be sectioned.

I could potentially use them as a pitch, with a little tweaking, if I was trying to sell the books to an agent or publisher now. Thankfully that’s not necessary with these ones. But it got me thinking about that party description. I always feel like a dickhead trying to answer those questions, saying things like, “Well, it’s a bit hard to describe, but there’s this immortal dude that has to keep a balance among all the world’s gods… you see, this blood mage… well, the Devil, right, he’s a bit pissed off…” and so on. And that got me thinking, What if I could describe my book on Twitter? The 140 character or less description. So I’m working on fine-tuning my skills in describing both my current novels as an exercise in succinct pitching.

Here’s what I’ve got so far for the short, succinct party description. Or the Oprah’s couch description. Fuck it, aim high, I say.

RealmShift is the story of a powerful human called Isiah that has to shepherd an evil blood mage around the world to meet his destiny. If the blood mage doesn’t fulfil his destiny, humanity will suffer. The trouble is, the Devil is after the blood mage, so Isiah has his work cut out. There’s lots of magic, mayhem and fighting. It’s a dark fantasy thriller.

That’s just 65 words. Just like the back cover blurb would make me sound mad if I came out with it at a party, the description above would be weird on a back cover. It’s too conversational, but that makes it perfect for casual company.

For MageSign I have this:

MageSign is the sequel to RealmShift – they make a duology. In MageSign, Isiah decides to track down the teacher of the nasty blood mage from RealmShift and prevent him teaching any more evil prodigies. Only Isiah discovers that this teacher has a powerful cult of blood mages under his command and they’re planning something massive. Again, lots of magic and action, it’s a dark fantasy thriller like RealmShift.

That’s 69 words, again, conversational, relaxed, not too long. If people are still interested and asking questions after that then I can spend time going into as much detail as necessary. If, as is often the case, they’re “not really into all that sci-fi stuff” then fine. I’ve said enough and don’t look like a tool that has trouble describing books he wrote himself.

The Twitter description is much harder. Trying to distill those two paragraphs above into two 140 character bites is tough. The RealmShift one is currently 358 characters, and that was as brief as I could make it. The MageSign one is 425 characters.

So far, I have this for RealmShift:

It’s about a powerful human that has to shepherd an evil blood mage to meet his destiny, or humanity suffers. It’s a dark fantasy thriller.

139 characters. But it doesn’t mention the key aspect of the Devil chasing them around and it cheats by say “it’s” instead of “RealmShift is”, so without a question like, “What’s your first book about?” it falls down.

For MageSign there’s this:

Isiah tracks down the teacher of the blood mage from RealmShift and discovers that he has a cult of blood mages planning something massive.

139 characters.

Again, it presumes a question has been asked, which is kind of cheating. Another option would be working it like this:

RealmShift: A powerful human has to shepherd an evil blood mage to meet his destiny, or humanity suffers. A dark fantasy thriller.

130 characters.

MageSign: Isiah tracks down the teacher of the blood mage from RealmShift and discovers that he leads a cult planning something massive.

136 characters.

These sound more like ads and less conversational, but they do get the very basic essence of the books they’re describing. There’s so much missing, so much else I want to say about these 120,000 word things I sweated and agonised over, but in the first instance I need brevity.

I’ll revisit this subject periodically with these and all future books and try to refine these things. After all, it is fairly important for me to be able to accurately describe books I’ve written without sounding like an idiot. Plus, this exercise is very useful in developing my skills at pitching, which I’ll certainly need throughout my career as a writer.

What do you think? Have I nailed the descriptions well? If you’ve read them, how would you describe RealmShift and MageSign in 140 characters or less? And if you’ve written, are writing or are planning to write a book, do you know the essence of it well enough to describe it to someone at a party? Leave your own examples in the comments if you like and practice your pitching skills.

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Tweet and google word of the year and decade

By
0
January 8, 2010

Further to the interesting discussion following this post, I was interested to read today over at Visual Thesaurus that “tweet” has been named the word of the year and “google” (in its verb form) has been named word of the decade.

Given that Google are actively campaigning against the use of “to google” as it dilutes their brand I find this particularly hilarious. “Tweet” is also a registered trademark, as it happens.

Also voted on by those crazy Americans was Most Useful, which turned out to be “fail” (used as a noun or interjection). As Ben Zimmer says in his article: “Fail for the win!”

My personal favourite by far is the winner of Most Creative: “Dracula sneeze”, defined as “covering one’s mouth with the crook of one’s elbow when sneezing, seen as similar to popular portrayals of the vampire Dracula, in which he hides the lower half of his face with a cape.”

Brilliant! (Even thought it’s actually two words and would have be the most creative phrase rather than the most creative word, but let’s not quibble about that here.)

Ain’t the evolution of language a funny old thing?

There’s more fun in the original article here.

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Did you know Lucas owned the word Droid?

By
6
January 7, 2010

I saw this over at Locus Online today. Apparently Google is launching its new phone with an Android operating system and calling the phone the Nexus One. Philip K Dick’s estate are upset about it claiming that Google is appropriating Dick’s work (his novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep which was used as the basis for the best film ever made, Blade Runner).

Clearly the term Nexus One is a reference that everyone with a basic SF knowledge will associate with the Nexus 6 replicants in Dick’s work. Google apparently (according to the Dick estate) have a habit of acting this way.

From the Locus article:

Isa Dick Hackett, daughter of PKD and president of Electric Shepherd Productions (the company the estate set up to manage PKD’s film rights), says “Google takes first and then deals with the fallout later. In my mind, there is a very obvious connection to my father’s novel. People don’t get it. It’s the principle of it…. It would be nice to have a dialogue. We are open to it. That’s a way to start.”

Bloody fair enough too. I hope something is settled on this to everyone’s satisfaction. I’m a big fan of Google but they are starting to develop a bit of a school yard bully reputation. They’ll probably sue me for saying that.

However, more startling to me was the revelation in that article that George Lucas’s company Lucasfilm Ltd. owns the word “droid” – it’s a registered trademark of the company. Apparently they invented the word. Motorola released an Android OS phone last year and called it the Droid, but they dealt with Lucasfilm and are using the term under licence.

How bizarre.

EDIT: This post caused a bit of conversation on Facebook and a friend of mine there, Andrew McKiernan, pointed out the following:

I know the PKD are serious, but I’m not sure if you are Alan. A Nexus is ‘a means of connection between things linked’, and considering that the Nexus One is Google’s first phone, and a smart-phone designed to act as a hub for phone/internet/email etc, I think the name is perfectly suitable and acceptable without any SF connection. Having said that, I wonder what the life-span of a Nexus One phone is, before it dies?

Also, ‘droid’ wasn’t a cromulent word until Lucas used it in Star Wars. Nexus has always been a word.

To which I replied:

If it has a built-in four year lifespan they’re fucked.

Call me cynical, but a piece of tech using Android software called a Nexus is deliberately courting the nerd vote in my book. Or perhaps I’m just a cynical nerd that thinks about these things too closely. I’ll grant you that Nexus is certainly not the same as Droid, which is an entirely new word.

It’ll be interesting to see how the case goes, but I don’t think the PKD estate are likely to win it.

Incidentally, I’d also like to applaud your use of the word “cromulent” in everyday conversation. Well done, sir.

All worth bearing in mind.

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This week’s top searches

By
9
December 6, 2009

I am so often entertained by the search results that apparently lead people to my website here. I’m a bit of a nerd for stats and searches and things like that, so it’s always a bit of fun for me to check. The top search results leading people here over the last week are:

halloween
grease
robot
robots
dirty dancing

Some of those are no surprise, others a little less obvious at first glance. It’s a bit like the things that might be called out during improv night at a comedy club. Then again, over the last three or four years this website has had many and varied topics and all of those searches will result in hits here.

Other high points for me in recent searches include:

looking for wife
other names for lesbian
halinkas fairies (my wife might have to answer about that one)
muslim black magic
another word for portal
“the embuggerance” (calling Mr Pratchett)

and my favourite of recent weeks:

donkey laugh acronym

Do donkeys laugh? If so, what’s the acronym for it? Someone, please help!

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Unfriend becomes word of the year

By
12
November 17, 2009

My good friend and IT lifeline, James Frost, sent me this. According to The Register, the New Oxford American Dictionary’s 2009 Word of the Year is “unfriend”. As in, “Me and Haley had this huge, like, fight and stuff so I totally unfriended her on Facebook.”

The actual entry is: Unfriend: verb; to remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook.

Christine Lindberg, Senior Lexicographer for Oxford’s US dictionary, said, “It has both currency and potential longevity”. She also said, “But ‘unfriend’ is different from the norm. It assumes a verb sense of ‘friend’ that is really not used.” Which is complete bollocks. Of course the verb use of friend is used. I’ve had people say to me, “Friend me on Facebook and send me the link” or similar. If they accept unfriend as a verb, friend as a verb is a given. That’s what you get with an American dictionary, I suppose. Perhaps they’re less friendly over there and only recognise unfriending people.

According to the article, other finalists in the 2009 Word Of The Year included:

Hashtag: a # sign added to a word or phrase that enables Twitter users to search for tweets that contain similarly tagged items and view thematic sets.

Netbook: a small, very portable laptop computer with limited memory.

Paywall: a way of blocking access to a part of a website which is only available to paying subscribers.

Freemium: a business model in which some basic services are provided for free, with the aim of enticing users to pay for additional, premium features or content.

Funemployed: taking advantage of one’s newly unemployed status to have fun or pursue other interests.

Tramp Stamp: a tattoo on the lower back, usually on a woman.

Seriously, this dictionary is losing credibility all over the place. First they claim there’s no such verb as friend, after making unfriend the word of the year. Then they claim that “tramp stamp” was a contender for word of the year. That’s two words! How does it even qualify?

Still, at least they avoided drawing attention to the rise in use of medal and podium as verbs. That began to annoy me more and more throughout the last Olympics. Language is an organic and ever growing thing, changes are going to occur and there’s no point railing against it. But let’s at least try to keep some kind of order. At the very least, let’s not include phrases in some arbitrary “Word Of The Year” debacle.

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The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Misanthrope. Learn more about me and my work by clicking About Alan just below the header.

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