Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews. Welcome.

The Authors: Christopher Buehlman

Work in Question: The Blacktongue Thief

The Profanity: “Kark”

Language is a funny thing serving not only as communication but as a window into a culture. The language you speak daily reflects your culture, your values, beliefs, and opinions. Without cultural context, a word or phrase may not hit the same way. This is doubly so in the world of profanity. What is profane here isn’t always profane elsewhere. Connotations require foreknowledge to be effective. I’ve discussed before how there are a few Chinese egg-centric curses that don’t translate into anything remotely offensive in Western culture but are often very offensive in China. That is the context we’re talking about, and that context matters.

Enter the fantasy world of Christopher Buehlman’s The Blacktongue Thief and its phenomenal faux-profanity “kark.” Throughout the book, it’s used in a variety of ways as a verb, adjective, and noun. We also see it used alongside more traditional real-world profanity as well. The word would already work well on its own, but it gets the added benefit of being a worldbuilding tool. Buehlman gives us the cultural context that makes it sing.

Within the kingdoms of Galtia and Norholt the word translates as “a wet fart.” On its own, it isn’t all that offensive. It’s mild grade-school bathroom humor. But, within the story, we get to see the cultural context and how “kark” evolved into a more impolite expletive and how it’s wielded by the native speakers. It’s also just fun to say.

While it might not offend English speakers (or mildly offend, if you’re irascible), it clearly strikes harder in the Holt Empire and serves as an excellent way to expand the world of The Blacktongue Thief through language.

Final Score: 5.0

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Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made-up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.