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Choosing Words

For days, I've been hung up on choosing a single word--an utterly ridiculous-sounding admission.  My only defense is that I haven't yet given myself permission to begin revisions, so I'm not really losing writing time by spinning my wheels.  Um, right?

This word choice thing is something I've run into before, and it comes back to worldbuilding. I tend to like my cultures to default into "consensual sex doesn't need to be restricted."  There are no social/legal problems with enjoying sex.  Partnerships are certainly important, but no formal partnership is needed or expected.  Thus there aren't any illegitimate children.  Inherited stuff goes to whatever man or woman the person designates (Big Deal leadership positions do need approval from the group to be led), though it's customary to give heavy weight to kinship and birth order.

Problem is, I've this character born of inter-tribal relations--which wouldn't be a HUGE problem, other than the fact the man's father is the military leader who conquered his mother's people.  When the man shows up at dad's house--er, palace--and wants to help run the place, people are of course suspicious.

I used "bastard" as a descriptor, but even though that word's secondary meanings are precisely what I want, its primary and assumed meaning implies stuff I don't want in my world.  I started using "mongrel," but that implies it's the inter-tribal relationship that was the problem.

The real problem is the man is "half-enemy."  I didn't have a word for that.  I didn't want to make one up.

So I decided I really, really like the way mongrel sounds--the way it demonstrates the dehumanization of the (my favorite!) character by his detractors--and did this:

He was the mongrel--Maradek's son, yes, but always the enemy's child.

That's it.

When ya can't find the word you want, redefine one that already exists.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 24th, 2012 05:07 pm (UTC)
Isn't it wonderful being a writer and designing your own world with its own particular definitions and connotations?
May. 24th, 2012 07:56 pm (UTC)
Wonderful, yes! Sometimes frustrating, also yes. But it's a fun kind of frustration.
May. 24th, 2012 05:08 pm (UTC)
That sounds good to me -- define your specialized meaning and it becomes your own word.

Perfect =)
May. 24th, 2012 07:57 pm (UTC)
May. 25th, 2012 12:48 am (UTC)
Who gets stuck with the expense of raising the children?
May. 25th, 2012 02:33 am (UTC)
Good question. :-)

If neither parent is capable or willing, the tribe itself. Leaving a tribesman of any age to fend for her/himself is even worse than being cast out of one's tribe. A child of mixed tribes may be taken in by either her mother's or her father's tribe; leaving her to fend for herself would bring shame to both.

In a perfect world, it would work perfectly, but the emotional baggage carried by some adults messes things up. Fortunately, there are enough good-hearted folk that a child rarely grows up tribeless.
May. 26th, 2012 01:47 pm (UTC)
scratches head

But the parents are leaving a tribesman of any age to fend for himself. Aren't they shamed worse than being cast out of one's tribe? And how do they get around the collective action problem? His tribe blames hers; her tribe blames his; within the tribe there's a lot of finger pointing about it's not being my fault because he could have done it, except he points out that she could have done it. . .
May. 26th, 2012 05:16 pm (UTC)
"But the parents are leaving a tribesman of any age to fend for himself. Aren't they shamed worse than being cast out of one's tribe?"

Yep. Parents, and the parents' close kin, would _rarely_ sidestep parenting responsibilities by choice. Resources aren't limited by extremes of climate or legal restrictions, so children aren't considered terrible burdens.

As always, there are folks who really don't give a damn about the kids. That's when the tribe steps in. Inter- and intra-tribal conflicts of any sort are resolved through the leadership, with the chieftains having final say. The leaders count a great deal more on social pressure than legalities and enforcement; cultures that internalize social shaming generally have high compliance with core principles.

It can be messy, and it can go wrong. But children are considered important in this world. Rather than an attitude of, "There are more where that one came from!" it's a given that each child matters.

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


Blair MacGregor

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