Why Are Bad Words Bad?

Why Are Bad Words Bad

I’ve been running a series of post called Raunch Reviews where I examine the effectiveness of fictional swearing. While doing some research for a few upcoming posts, I came across this Vsauce video from 2013 does an outstanding job of breaking down the evolution of language and how it influenced modern profanity. If you’re interested in etymology it’s very much worth spending the ten minutes to give it a watch.

The Steven Pinker lecture mentioned in the video, ‘The Stuff of Thought: Language as a window into human nature,’ is an even more in-depth breakdown of the history and evolution of cursing. It’s long but worth watching if you have the time. Probably not at work though, I would flag it NSFW even though it’s an academic lecture on swearing. So consider yourself warned if that’s a problem.

Raunch Reviews: The Stormlight Archive

Raunch Review: The Stormlight Archive

If you think about it, profanity is a strange invention. Much of its context depends entirely on the listener. What is considered vulgar or offensive in one culture may not be offensive in another. When the complexities from a person’s country, region, language, or religion are added, things can get even more perplexing. As long as there has been language, there has been profanity. There has also been stories. One of fiction’s responsibilities is to be a reflection of our reality—so, when worldbuilding, us speculative-fiction writers are often tasked with inventing creative curse words for our narratives. It adds a level of authenticity and—if done well—can help ground a world. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not.

The evolution of language—slang, in particular—has long been an interest of mine. From its history, to its usage, and to the subtle shifts resulting from generations building upon (or outright ignoring) the language of the previous generations. Language continually changes, and so does slang and profanity.

I thought it would be fun to explore some of the faux-profanity writers have created for their stories—to examine them and issue judgments on how effective they are within the context of the work. For this, I want to welcome you to Raunch Reviews, a series wherein I will review and rate the faux-profanity from science fiction and fantasy properties.

Raunch Review: The Stormlight ArchiveThe Author: Brandon Sanderson
Work in Question: The Stormlight Archive
The “Profanity”: “Storm it”/”Storms”/”Storming”

In large part, I don’t think “storm” works as an expletive. On the surface, it certainly makes thematic sense within the source material: Roshar, the world of the series, is plagued by destructive “highstorms” that are part of everyday life. However, in usage, its weight as profanity starts to give. It feels derivative, almost modern, and the replacement of “storms” as a stand-in for something more offensive feels silly.

I classify foul language into three major categories—race/identity-based, vulgarities, and oaths. Race/identity-based terms are obvious, they’re slang focusing on a person’s race or identity, with the intention to dehumanize and belittle. Vulgarities reference reproductive organs, body parts, and sexual acts. Oaths are rooted in blasphemous speech, exclamations, or curses. Those are generally drawn from religious beliefs.

“Storms” and its variations don’t fall into any of these categories. “Storm” is a common enough word in the book, so it cannot be a vulgarity, nor is it a personal or racial insult. Likewise, it’s not a direct reference to a particular deity, so it fails as an impactful oath. It attempts to sit somewhere between vulgarity and oath and ends up doing neither successfully. Were Sanderson seeking a vulgarity, he could have easily drawn from his “safehand” lore (the covered left-hand of Alethi women, considered inappropriate to expose.) If he was attempting an oath, “by the Storms” or something similar would have made more logical sense. To his credit, he does occasionally use “Stormfather” (an oath referencing a former deity) and it fits the more traditional form of an oath.

But “storms” isn’t “Stormfather.” As a result, “storms” gets the distinction of being internally consistent, but is ultimately nowhere near as faux-offensive as it aspires.

Score:  (2.0)

There will be more to come. In the meantime, do you 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.

Friday Link Pack 07/02/2015

It’s an extra-large holiday weekend here in the States. Why not celebrate it with an extra-large Friday Link Pack! Some of these links I mention on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Click here to email me and let me know! (Include a website so I can link to you as well.) Let’s get to it…


Amazon Sues To Block Fake Reviews On Its Site
This article is a few months old, but it somehow flew below my radar. It’s nice to see Amazon taking some steps towards removing this practice. Never, ever, ever, EVER, pay for reviews. They are as unfair to your readers as they are to you.

Mad Max: Fury Road And The Art Of Worldbuilding
I loved Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s easily my favorite movie of 2015. In this article, I go into depth on how director George Miller created such a wonderfully thought out action flick, with deep well-developed characters, and a breakneck pace.

Gay Vampires And Bisexual Cowboys: Why Erotica Gas E-Readers To Thank
The Guardian looks into the growing popularity of the erotica genre and the correlation with the rise of e-readers and the privacy afforded by them. There’s also a bit that goes into the psyche of readers of erotism. Personally, it feels stifling as an author. I’d hate to try something different and have my audience revolt.

Online Is IRL
Chuck Wendig wrote this piece in response to the backlash erotica writer E.L. James received on Twitter during her #AskELJames hashtag campaign. It’s some good thoughts surrounding how we treat one another online and how as critics we should always focus on the work, and not the creator themselves. [Note: Wendig later withdrew this statement. I’m not really sure why? Because he’s a man, I guess? All I see is one author stepping forward in the defense of a fellow author. YMMV, the initial article is still great.]

The Modern History Of Swearing: Where All The Dirtiest Words Come From
If you have been reading my blog for some time you’ll note that I am a fan of etymology and the evolution of words. This article from Salon delves into the histories of some of today’s dirtier words.


The Anamorphic Graffiti Of Odeith
While anamorphic street art is always fun, Odeith takes it to the next level. I particularly like it when paint is used on the ground to help take that 3D effect to new places.

Yes, Androids Do Dream Of Electric Sheep
So, Google set up a feedback loop in its image recognition neural network. The result were these strange hallucinatory images of animals, buildings, people, and landscapes. Beautiful, maybe. Terrifying, absolutely.

The Corey Press
Lovecraftian woodblock prints created by Drew Meger in Salem, MA. Really love all of these (the Nyarlathotep piece, Sage of the Sands, is my favorite.) If you like what you see, make sure you check out his Etsy store. (I featured Entfuhrentanz, Die Herzogin, for the featured image this week.)

Kisung Koh, Recent Work
My own art tastes have veered away from animals over the last few years. However, there was something incredible about these recent pieces from Canadian artist Kisung Koh. They go beyond your typical paintings of animals and into something else entirely.


Go Play Gran Text Auto
Yesterday, a friend of mine launched his new game for iOS. It’s part driving and part texting. It’s fantastic, hilarious, and free! I highly recommend checking it out. iOS only for now. Here’s the link to download.

The 6 Alien Species Currently Fighting for Control Over Earth
Well, this is certainly… er, interesting. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if the blog post is serious or not. [Thanks for Will from Dorkshelf and Art of the Title sharing this.]

Netflix Is About to Be Bigger Than ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox
It’s a banner day… er, decade, really… for new media, and Netflix is the vanguard. You know those execs who never thought Netflix was going to make it are kicking themselves right now. And to thin, Netflix used to be the company that shipped DVDs to people.

9 Creatures So Unfathomable They’re Named After Monsters
We’ve already looked at the six species of aliens fighting over our planet. Let’s look at what they’ll inherit! Atlas Obscura (my favorite blog) lays out this strange menagerie. Creatures named after the hydra, to flying dragons, to the goblin spider.

We’ve all been there. We’re fighting a monster, trying to pick a lock, or rolling to see how successful one of our abilities are… and… epic fail. Well, the gamers over at blastr have put together this slideshow of 27 dice that didn’t behave and the consequences their poor rolls wrought on the outcome of the game.


Raven Paradox
“The raven paradox, also known as Hempel’s paradox or Hempel’s ravens, is a paradox arising from the question of what constitutes evidence for a statement. Observing objects that are neither black nor ravens may formally increase the likelihood that all ravens are black – even though, intuitively, these observations are unrelated.”


A man begrudgingly moves to a new town, and while wandering the streets at night he meets a mysterious stranger who begins to show him visions. Some interesting connections to Lovecraft’s personal life and his racism in this story. I highly recommend checking out the Wikipedia page for He.


Crows gunna crow.