You know how it is with world-building: One damn thing leads to another.
So the swearing question led me back to a world I’d sketched in as different parts of it rose up in the story: Hell is a company town. That is, everybody there works for the Afterlife and the CEO is Satan. They see themselves almost as zookeepers: there’s this huge preserve called Earth full of animals left to their own devices in their natural habitat until they die, and then Hell sorts out what happens next. If things go wrong, they send in agents to clean up the problem and then leave the humans to their lives again. Demons aren’t intrinsically evil, they’re just like humans. Some are terrible, some are great, most are just trying to lead full lives and have a good time after a good day’s work.
So some of them work in Niflheim for Thanatos, where the dead sort out the consequences of their lives, and some work in the Elysian Fields, which is where the dead who decide they’re done with life go, and some of them work in Reassignment which is where the dead who choose reincarnation go, and some work in government, keeping the peace and enforcing the law both in Hell and on Earth and generally making the trains run on time (that would be Nick, Rab, and Jeo), and some run restaurants and groceries and sporting goods stores and all the other things needed for the support of a population that lives hundreds of years. So you have demon doctors, and lawyers, and accountants, and teachers (low birth rate so small classes), and barbers and probably mimes. It’s a parallel Earth with a much smaller population, dedicated to single goal–keep Earth free of its dead so it can keep evolving–and answering only to the Higher Power of the head office, known as Corporate, where God and the angels work, overseeing Nick’s Hell and all the other Hells for all the other inhabited worlds in the universe.
But our Hell would have a real interest in Earth since that’s where their clientele comes from. I could see them having a McDemon’s theme restaurant, making fun of McDonald’s. Maybe looking at Earth fashions the way we look at folk dress, but co-opting the better stuff like jeans. And the agents who go to Earth would need to know the languages–both Rab and Jeo have Earth Science degrees and they and Belia still take classes to stay current since Earth history whizzes by them ten times as fast as their own.
Which made me wonder if demons wouldn;t adopt Earth curses and maybe screw them up, given the passage of time. If it’s been five Hell years since they’ve been to Earth, “groovy” would seem like a reasonable thing to say. And there’s translations screw-ups. I come from Ohio, a state that pronounces Lima “Lye-mah” and Bellefontaine as “Bell FOUNtain” and Tibet as “TIB et” (street in Columbus), so I know how a native population can screw up an original word. The problem is, I don’t want anything cute or labored. It has to be recognized as a swear word. So “damnation” could be sounded out as “Dam Gnat Yon,” I suppose, but that seems a stretch. I kind of like “dam nat,” though. The other problem with that approach is that all the best bad words are one syllable: damn, crap, fuck, hell, etc.
So I experimented:
“Well, fruck,” Nick said, looking at his chair. “Why didn’t we order these assembled?”
Jeo frowned. “What?”
Rab kept working on his chair. “That’s ‘fuck,’ sir, and it’s considered obscene here, so best not to use it.”
“That can’t be right,” Nick set his chair upright and stared at it in disapproval. “You need the ‘r’ or it doesn’t roll off the tongue. Frucking chair.”
“That’s the point.” Rab put his finished chair upright. “It’s supposed to strike the listener, not roll over him. Or her. That’s why it’s short with a hard vowel.”
Nick shook his head at his chair. “From now on, we buy things assembled.”
“You really put that much thought into ‘fuck’?” Max said to Rab.
“Earth linguistics. English obscenities are often short with hard vowels. Fuck. Prick. Skank. Cock. Cocksuck–”
“Got it,” Max said. “That must have been some class.”
“I still say that makes no sense,” Nick said. “You want to get a fluid stream of curses going, and you can’t do that with all hard vowels—“
The door opened and Nita came in. “Let me tell you what a goddamned, sonovabitch clusterfuck of a day I have had,” she said, dropping her bag on the new chair.
“Fine,” Nick said. “Fuck this chair.”
“I don’t know, I kind of like ‘fruck,’” Max said.
“Suck-up,” Rab said.
“That’s frucking suck-up to you, crocksucker,” Max said.
“Fruck?” Nita said.
“It rolls off the tongue,” Max said. “Which also sounds dirty.”
“This is what you guys do all day while I’m fighting crime?” Nita said. “Assemble chairs and make up dirty words?”
See, that’s trying way too hard, verging on cute (stop trying to make “fruck” happen, Jenny) although the possibilities for using “fruck” from then on in the book appeal to me, especially as an indication of team identification:
“I don’t think–” Rab began, and then they heard Jeo yell, followed by a loud thump and then silence.
“That’s not good,” Max said, and followed Rab as he ran for the stairs, waiting for him at the bottom as Rab took the steps two at a time.
Ten seconds later there was another loud thump.
“Rab?” Max called up.
Don’t go up there, he told himself. Whatever that is, it has nothing to do with you. If something horrible has happened to them, that’s points to Team Mammon. It’s us versus them. I said I wouldn’t betray them, I never said I’d rescue them. They’re probably fine.
The silence stretched on.
“Fruck,” Max said, and started up the stairs.
Yeah, I don’t think “Fruck” is gonna happen.
So maybe I just co-opt lesser known Earth curses, with the idea that demons who visited Earth used them and they caught on in small pockets of humans? The father of my best friend in high school,, a genial guy, used to use “Hell’s bells,” as in “Hell’s bells, Hazel, when’s dinner?” I have a great fondness for “Hell’s bells” because I remember Mr. McKenzie so fondly. Plus people make up curses all the time. My butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth mama used “Cheese, pie, and crust” in place of “Jesus Christ.” Yeah, that wouldn’t work, but I bet “Hell’s bells,” might.
And then there’s that “most significant cultural thing” idea, which led me to “smite,” the worst that could happen. As in “Well, smite me, I did not see that coming.” “Smite you, asshat.” “Mothersmiter.” Uh, no. Although come to think of it, I have Max thinking, “Get smote, Ashtaroth” in the first act already, and that’s staying. So there’s that.
As you can see, this still needs work so I’m still cogitating, but I gained much from the discussion on Tuesday, so thank you all very much.