Google Your Words

Real actual writing advice today!

You know how when you’re writing fantasy/science fiction/imaginary whateveritis, and you make up words? Names, little language phrases, stuff like that?

Google them.

Always, always, always Google them I am not even slightly kidding.

For example… remember the Powerpuff Girls? The clearly-made-up city of Townsville? I was born in Townsville. It’s on my birth certificate and everything. Townsville, Queensland. It’s named after the guy who financed the settlement, Robert Towns. I am not making this up, I swear. (Incidentally, it’s a hole. Don’t go there.)

The beautiful and you-should-absolutely-watch-it Studio Ghibli movie Laputa: Castle In The Sky was shortened to Castle In The Sky for US release. La puta, get it? Yeah, not so good, and never mind that it’s a perfectly innocuous name taken from Gulliver’s Travels. Make sure you’re not swearing in a language you don’t know!

Incidentally, even within the same language, dialect differences can make an innocuous statement into a filthy joke. For example, in Australia, ‘root’ is a synonym for ‘fuck’. In Canada, there is a store chain called ‘Roots’ (There’s also a ‘Roots Kids’. You can imagine our reaction). I don’t know if it’s still there, but the Outback Steakhouse used to have a dessert called the Chocolate Thunder From Down Under. I ask you, who names a dessert ‘synonym for poop’? People who don’t speak that dialect, that’s who. The dessert was not half bad, though. (Yes, of course I ordered it, how could I resist?)

Of course you should always be careful when throwing in words from languages you don’t know, we all know that. But be very, very careful about your made-up words, too. They may not be as made-up as you think, and while ‘Koorva’ may sound like a nice fantasy name, Google tells me that it’s ‘whore’ in Ukrainian.

Don’t assume that this is something editorial will pick up, or that you’ll remember to check some other time during rewrites! Getting the words right is your job, so play it safe. Google your words, guys. Every one.

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6 thoughts on “Google Your Words

  1. You remind me of an article in one of the glossy American political weeklies in the 1980s. It was all about how difficult it was for gay youths from Texan redneck families to “come out” to their parents. It included an interview with a very nice, respectable gay Texan whose name, in all sweet transatlantic innocence, was Randy Ponce.

    • Okay, that made me laugh so loud I may have woken the ninja. Bless them, they have no idea, do they? It reminds me of the way that American comic books have British characters going around saying ‘bugger’ and ‘wanker’, under the impression that these aren’t ‘real’ naughty words.

  2. A crucial warning indeed! One day at a party a friend of mine told me why all the Russian speakers were gathered around this red Teletubby doll and laughing. Turns out the sound the Red Teletubby makes is the F word in Russian.

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