Thursday, October 02, 2008

Words, Invented & Real

A great little post I found over at Whatever by John Scalzi (and its original source @ xkcd - thank you Tom) regarding word length of a book as being conversely proportional to is unreadability. The comments are illuminating too, MBT even gets a mention from a Seattle-based bookseller friend of mine in comment #51. Have a read if you will and come on back...

In reading the aforementioned blog and its associated comments, I too had the guilts for insisting on such circumlocutions as pediteer instead of "infantry" or leonguile instead of "cheetah" etc etc etc... though I tell myself I have good reason to alter these: sometimes the existing word/s are too our-world specific in their etymology or too modern-sounding to be appropriate in the H-c. I do not know the origin of every word but those I do I change - language is key when making otherworldliness, the dilemma is knowing when to reinvent, how much to reinvent and when to just go with the real stuff... I certainly won't be re-doing the parts for a flintlock, for example, they are perfectly acceptable as they are, cheers.

I recall someone railing at me once for daring to have a type of fly called a wurtembottle - "why can't he just call it a fly!" she said - to which I reply:
a/ know just how many species and therefore different names for flies there are in the real world; without even reaching for a textbook let us just try to name a few: house fly, blow fly, bluebottle, vinegar fly, horse fly, bot fly...
b/ why the heck not!

I tell you, the thoughtlessly contrary fun-crushers get a tad tiring; like Ayn Rand says, those who can't create, destroy.


RottenPocket said...

On the note of Contrary Fun-Crushers, I have recently become quite fond of Diane Arbus' quote:

"The more Specific you are, the more Generic it will be."

... It shut my old Art Teacher up... Hasn't spoken to me since.

Anonymous said...

Just thought you should know that John Scalzi just stole that comic from xkcd, he didn't create it himself.

portals said...

I like your long words. They give more character to the stories.
Back to another topic, the Inheritance cycle. I have been reading e latest one because it is not may 2010. Paoplini just gets the longest words he knows and puts them all into one sentence. It's quite funny, actually.

smudgeon said...

Ah, xkcd - where would slightly nerdy people with a sense of humour be without it?

Keep making up them words, Mr Cornish. Another few book's worth should do it. Perfectly cromulent...

R.J. Anderson said...

Well, so far you've had two comments on that thread in your favor and none against, so I'd say you're doing pretty well!

When I saw that comic the first thing I thought of was your books and the second thing I thought of was that there really are exceptions to every rule. Carry on!

Sam Hranac said...

Stick to your guns! Or firearms, flintlock, or whatever it was you called them.... I may have to go back and read the first two before 2010.

noelle said...

it does take a while to get the hang of the language in MBT, but once you have it down it makes everything seem much more interesting and other-worldly. i also like when a word from our modern language is reinvented into something entirely different, like a "basket" or a "calender."

portals: i read a review once that referred to paolini as "a nauseated seagull" that "ingested and vomited the entire thesaurus." brilliant.

R Montallnutt said...

My Wife has just finished, and loved, Foundling. She is now onto Lamp Lighter. She came to Australia as a refugee and her family spoke no English when they arrived. Alot of the time it is the "feel" of a word that gives it meaning and Good Sir - your words feel splendiferous.

D.M. Cornish said...

*does a little jig of cromulence*

Zakk said...

I found out recently that half of the books I read are actually by Australians... DM, have you by any chance met Michael Pryor (author of the Laws of Magic series) And you still haven't answered my question... Are you related to the australian actress Abbey/Annie Cornish (i don't quite know the first name). One Question also...
Do you follow AFL or NFL? Personally I follow neither.
Bring back Fouracres!!!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, where does one draw the line for using words, names, and concepts in alternate universes?
The obvious parallels in the Chronicles of Narnia between European cultures and the cultures of Calomen, Archenland, and Narnia is acceptable. You see, Narnia operates on the theory that all the resident humans were descended from earthlings (usually European or Middle Eastern) magically transported to another universe.
One may also argue that we can excuse how Tolkien styled his languages, a names, and themes off legends and myths. For those who have read much beyond the Lord of the Rings, you'll know that Middle Earth is actually modern Europe centuries into the future and that all European (and essentially, world) bodies and legends had common roots in the tales of that forgotten age. There was, theoretically, a Viking warrior who by chance found the path to Valinor and received the tales of the Valar and Middle Earth from the historians of Tol Eressea. (Read Morgoth’s Ring if you don’t believe me) Thus, one could explain why names like Gandalf, Durin, and Dain appear both in Tolkien and in Nordic myth. (Read the dwarf-related section of the Volupsa poem in the Poetic Edda. It’s chuck-full of names used in the Hobbit)
Both Narnia and Tolkien have in-universe links to reality and their plain parallels are thus understandable.
I have found links, at times very blatant, in Paolini and in our host Mr. Cornish, that are not so easy to explain away. First off, Paolini’s use of the word ‘brisngr’ to mean ‘fire’ calls to mind a particular aspect of Norse myth. The Germanic analogue to Venus, the ‘goddess’ Freya, possessed a necklace of dwarven make called ‘brisinga-men’ if memory serves. Note the fact that ‘brisingr’ or a word very like it was used for ‘fire’ in the name of this necklace. I’ve sworn off the Inheritance Cycle, so I won’t be able to tell you if Paolini links Alegasia to reality in some way or another (with a multiverse theory who can tell?).
I feel I must wonder if Mr. Cornish has an explanation, perhaps merely a stylistic one, for the similarities we all observe. I’m not trying to be critical or make anybody uncomfortable; I just like things, yes even fantastical things, to make a semblance of sense. Feedback people, please.
PS. Personally, I love the semi-made up languages. Reminds me of how ridiculously complex, inconsistent, and enormous English is.

Anonymous said...

Ouch! I have a big mouth! I read a post from a year or so ago about adherents to this site being able to submit profiles of 'who they would be in Half-Continent' and I'm wondering if it's still possible to submit a character sketch. Please ignore my swollen ego; I really need the writing practice and critique.

D.M. Cornish said...

That's cool, ben, bare your soul; I was just wondering what you meant by "I must wonder if Mr. Cornish has an explanation, perhaps merely a stylistic one, for the similarities we all observe"?

Do you mean explain the corolaries (sp?) between the H-c and the real world?

Anonymous said...

It´s OK to make up/change words as long there is a dictionary I can turn to. As I´ve said before in a post, I´ve read lamplighter in english but I couln´d understand certain words but I got the meaning of the text.

It might be a problem to make up nes words, cónsiddering the world is very small these days. Many young people all over the world read books in english, though it´s not their first language. There is the risk that they think of the book as "difficult" to read.
For example, here in Sweden many children couldn´t wait for Rowlings books to be translated so they bought the english version.

pearl said...

Zakk: Privacy is much loved, my friend.

Speaking of languages, I have found myself using ridiculously large words which I don't even understand in my everyday speech. I think this is MBT influence. I'm not complaining-- I like it very much, in fact, and people find me even more queer. :D


Anonymous said...

Hey All,

I only just caught onto this place so I've got a heap of off-topic answers for you =)

-About the Free Rice thing, if your not great with your spelling there are other topics, you just got into the subjects tab up the top, you most prob already know this, but you now, just putting it out there,

-I'm an Aussie! Tasmanian actually.. Only have 1 head though

-I think the forum may be a good idea, but personally I wouldnt use it..

And a question for Mr Cornish, is it more than likely that your Nadderer will show up in the 3rd book?

Thats all for now,


Anonymous said...

Back again..
After reading my post I just realised I missed out the main bit..

I love how normal words, mean something completly different in your books, such as "basket" and "calendar" like noelle said. I don't know how you come up with some or your words though.. But keep it up its wikd!!!!


Anonymous said...

hey, if you have the time and concentration to reconstruct the entire language to fit yr world better, i say by all means do so! i view that you have taken the linguistic-bit in yr teeth and run just about as far as humanly possible withou throwing English out the window entirely, in fact.
i agree w/ ben bryddia abt the similarities between all the aforementioned books [i think c. paolini is indeed trying to make a 'link' or quatever to our mythology, in the exact same way as everyone else and quite poorly at that {but that's the least of his problems, ahem}]. ever read the old old poem The Wanderer? or the Mabinogion? or jus pick and choose over the centuries of arthurian lore, if yr really hard up for ideas. [norse folklore is popular just now for some reason]
my beef is that, yes, it's kinda cool to resurrect old things and tie them into new things, but could we please, please, please try doing it in a new way? just once? i mean, there is a massive amount of interesting stuff out there that no author has even touched, and now certain magazines have actually put up notices saying that they aren't accepting any more arthurian stories because they get so dang many

'There is nothing new under the sun'

...n e way. yeah. sorry. connections all over; some better than others

R Montallnutt said...

One of the (many) great strengths of MBT is the way different characers use different words to say the same thing - this adds a level of richness to the world as each person's background influences the way they enunciate the world around them. It suggests there is a grander scale in which Rossamund's story is unfolding (in much the same way as your quite enormous map - I am looking forward to Dyan authorising the full colour H-c Encyclopedia (if she hasn't already)). If there were only one word for monster then this would instantly make the world seem smaller and a mere construct on which to hang your story as opposed to the reality that you created this world long before you created a narrative to give us access to its richness (and I apologise for once resorting to selling Foundling into bookshops by calling you the Australian Tolkien! - though I promise I never said you were the next JK).
Let froodiness abound and cromulence embiggen your soul.

Jack Dixon Ryan said...


The richness of the many cultures all over the h-c has led to many different accents and languages, and the book is made richer by making it more complexly earth-like.

But not even close to earth-like at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Have just tried to read Angie SAge´s book 4 about Septimus Heap. I got 3 chapters in and then......boring! Where are all the good books?!

Anonymous said...

There not made yet!


portals said...

Greetings, Ally Mitchell
That is quite an excellent description of Mr. Paolini. He also seems to go out of his way to copy the plots of other stories and he jumps at every chance to put little symbols above letters, even if he has no idea what they mean.
He also has a nameless empire (reffered to as The Empire) and this empire has a king.
Mr. Cornish,
Are brandenbrass' Mercenaries similar to the German Laandsknecht or the Swiss Pikemen?

D.M. Cornish said...

Why, portals, they most certainly are - it was about 8 years ago that I really properly discovered the landsknecht of real history and co-opted them into the H-c; I even called them "landsknecht" for the longest time but, realising that this is too much an 'our-world' word, morphed it into landsaire or lesquin depending on where you come from (and amongst other names...)

The lesquins of the H-c also have gorgeous mottle and harness, not quite so Renaisance in feel but still out there.

You know, one of the big problems I am finding is that after 15 years of this invention thing I am forgetting words, really cool fun words, I have made up some time ago, buried under newer words or just plan lost in the memory banks..! To write MBTs I actually have to 'research' my own notebooks to remind myself of some poorly remembered but most 'crommulent' detail.


portals said...

Thanks, and do th mercenaries have rivalries like the one between Landsknecht and swiss pikemen?

D.M. Cornish said...

Always, what would be the fun if they did not. There are those that consider themselves far superior, the true lesquins rather than foedermen rabble... oh, and most landsaire are not attached to Brandenbrass especially, but are constitued all over the H-c and serve whoever pays them best.