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Monday, April 28, 2014

Y is for: Yes (ways to say it) (#AtoZchallenge)

This post is really about dialects and idioms. Although Camac’s empire is long past, the language that it spread across the world either replaced local languages or is kept as a trade language. Still, over centuries, local dialects and idioms have developed. In my Termag stories, the way that people say “yes” is perhaps the most obvious example. In the southern nations, the Stolevan Matriarchy and the Alliance cities, urban and educated rural folk say “indeed” (although “yes” is used to mean “it will be done”); rural folk use “yar.” Northerners say “aye,” and Easterners say “yes” (or “oh, yes” for strong agreement).

Rural folk often use Low Speech (or Old Speech among scholars), a form of the Western tongue that was likely spoken through The Lost Years. The distinguishing feature of Low Speech is that speakers put the verb phrase at the end of their sentences. There are plenty of examples in Water and Chaos, as Mik’s aunt (and to a lesser extent, his father) both use Low Speech. Some folk, including those who speak Low Speech, consider it a mark of ignorance and are embarrassed to use it among more educated folk.


Idioms can be a challenge (and fun as well) for writers. Done right, they convey the meaning without too much explanation, while emphasizing the “you’re not at home” feeling. Common idioms in Termag’s Western tongue include:

  • Peace and harmony: a formal greeting, once a way to offer a temporary truce to an enemy. “All peace unto you” is the expected response (and the old way of accepting the offer of truce).
  • Longest journey: a euphemism for death, taken from a line of an epic poem: “I will soon begin the longest journey, the one from which there is no return.” (The poem in question survives only in fragments.)
  • Lucky man’s supper: fish, leeks, potatoes. Used mostly in the rural parts of the Matriarchy. This may refer to a “lucky man” bringing home both fish and leeks from the river, saving money that otherwise would have been spent at the market. (Most rural folk have a potato patch.)
  • Making the wind: idle chatter, like we might say “shooting the breeze.”
  • The tide comes in, the tide goes out: acknowledging that events are beyond one’s control. Similar to “what will be, will be,” or “roll with the changes.”
Next: Z is for: Zharcon the White


  1. Very cool. I've always thought it'd be fun to create a language, and this is kind of like that.

  2. Creating idioms is fun. It's hard find the perfect phrase.

  3. Patricia, there was no way I could match what Tolkien did, but can anyone? But idioms and dialects are a good way to establish distinct voices for characters, eh? ;-)

    Sonia, that's true. A lot of them just came to me while I was writing, though, and they just felt right.


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