I am a person who swears quite a bit. I tried to quit as my New Year’s resolution this year, and lasted about twenty minutes (to the amusement of everyone who knows me in RL).
Not all of my characters swear, but I like them to have the option if it fits their personalities. I realized from the first Department of Homeworld Security novella that I was going to need to develop a system of swearing for the Sadirian soldiers. Earth swears just wouldn’t cut it.
I had never given much thought to our Earth-human swearing until I wrote this series. The moment I realized that they primarily center around bodily functions, I knew I had a problem.
Sadirians are conditioned to ignore their physical bodies. Nudity isn’t a taboo on spaceships, stations, and dome worlds where privacy is almost unheard of. And Coalition science minimizes bodily functions. I needed an entirely different frame of reference for their swears.
When I swear, it’s usually because of a strong emotion (I have a lot of those). I decided to develop Sadirian swear words based on the few things that they might have strong emotions around.
What would an advanced space-faring race fear? What would they love/need/respect?
The answer, of course, was celestial. Stars guide their way. So, when a Sadirian says, “stars” as a swear, they’re experiencing a strong, positive emotion, and subconsciously thinking of a source of guidance. If they’re upset, but still calling on a guiding force, they use “the Solar Cross”.
Sadirians are from the Gamma Cygni system, and from Earth, the most prominent constellation that could guide them home is the Solar Cross. When their brains are programmed during “cultural indoctrination” sessions, the technology directly translates their experience and perception into the closest Earth equivalent (which can sometimes lead to huge and hilarious gaps—you have to check out the books for that, though 😉 ).
If Stars are used to denote a sense of awe or desire for guidance, I decided swears for negative situations should be related to something that can make it harder to navigate—sources of gravitational pulls. That gave me, “moons”, which is a lesser epithet.
I still needed a “greater swear”, something akin to the “F”-word. While researching Gamma Cygni, I came across Cygnus X-1, which is a nearby X-ray source widely believed to be a black hole. If I were a space traveler, there’s not much I can think of that I’d want to avoid more than a black hole. I reduced it to “Cygnus X” (it’s a swear, after all), and the Sadirian swears were complete (enough).
There were a few other occasions where I needed to throw in a swear specific to a character’s species. Zemanni uses “vapor pits”, which I envision as a place on his home world that corrodes their bodies and would cause them to dissolve if they stayed there long enough (which is a very different process for a shape-shifting kinda…gelatinous species, but still highly undesirable).
Then there’s Rin.
All of the Coalition soldiers serving with him went through the same cultural indoctrination sessions, where they sit in a chair with their brain hooked up to a computer and receive a download of relevant data plus a language overlay that translates their knowledge and experience into Earth vernacular. Most of his peers use Sadirian swears, which were directly translated into their Earth terms, instead of receiving Earth swear words that would be equivalent.
Rin is the only Sadirian to have mastered Earth swears. And he swears quite a bit. As I wrote Export Duty, I realized that it was because he feels things profoundly and is much more in touch with his emotions than most Sadirians. He understands passion and conflict and love and joy to a greater extent than his peers.
Realizing this gave me key insights into both his character and the dominant culture in the Coalition. It helped me to understand who he was, what he wanted, and what he was willing to do or sacrifice for others.
The world feeds into the characters. The characters feed into the world.
This is one of the greatest joys of writing Scifi.
What are some of your favorite Scifi swear words and where did they come from? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!