Sunday, June 24, 2007

New Words For New Worlds

Okay, confession time--prior to this point, I cheated. Because I write Earth-based sci-fi, my world building was limited to an Earth that was almost exactly the same as the one we live in...except there are aliens openly living among us. So, I never really worried about the other differences except as they related to my aliens, the Observers, and the world and society they came from.

Now, with my current WIP, which is set on Earth twenty years in the future, I find myself questioning everything about these future humans. Language, for example. We've always had some kind of word to indicate when something was "cool" or "neat."

Remember "rad" from the mid to late 80s? How about "wicked awesome" or "def"?
But what makes a certain word stick around? Would people in 2027 still be saying "cool" or would they have moved on to some other variation, like "icy" or "chill" maybe? Or, perhaps in a society in which many freedoms have been sacrificed supposedly for the greater good and safety for everyone, "free" might take on the role "cool" plays now as something limited and intangible that everyone wants to have. Everyone wants to be cool (in theory), and in their version of our world, everyone wants to be free. But using that word in this new context, "I love your jacket. It's so free," might be weird or confusing to readers who, living in our world in 2007, have an entirely different understanding of the word "free.'

One of my favorite examples of this language thing done well is "shiny" from the Firefly television series and the movie that followed, Serenity. "Shiny" basically replaced "cool" or "good" in just about every context. When the engine is falling apart, Kaylee tells Mal, "Don't worry, Captain. It's all shiny." It can also be used sarcastically as when Mal is confronted with more bad news, "Oh, shiny." But "shiny" also works in this beat-up world where the Alliance, the bad guys, have all the new technology and Mal's ship is constantly on the verge of breaking down. "Shiny" means new and problem-free, which is something greatly desired by Mal and his intrepid crew.

My heroine in this story is tech-savvy (much to my utter dismay) and a rebel. She refers to herself, tongue in cheek, as an "information liberator," which basically means she'll get you the information you want or need, whether it's the unedited version of the Bible or your local politician's "donation" record at the local house of ill-repute, for a fee. In a world where everything, including the internet, has been sanitized for your protection, unbiased and factual information is a hot commodity. These days, she might be referred to as a hacker, but in her world, she's called a cyber terrorist by the fearful and big-brotherly government almost as often as she's referred to as an "undisclosed source" when it benefits their agenda. This girl loves gadgets and the latest tech. What word would she use for "cool"? What do you guys think? All thoughts welcome.

Stacey Klemstein
(My thanks to Linnea, Rowena and everyone here for letting me fill in!)
Stacey Klemstein is the author of the Zara Mitchell series, a science fiction romance trilogy. THE SILVER SPOON, Book One, is available now, and EYE OF THE BEHOLDER, Book Two, will be released in February 2008. Book Three, as yet untitled, is in progress. Visit to read free excerpts!


Stacey Klemstein
Author of THE SILVER SPOON (July 2007) and BITTER PILL (May 2008)

Visit or to read an excerpt and more!

"Don't misunderstand, it's not like I enjoyed having this happen to me. I guess it's just some kind of bizarre twist of fate, or maybe a sixth sense that only kicks in when the grim reaper is afoot. It's not like I'd wanted to find the high school swim coach floating face down in the deep end, any more than I'd wanted to find the assistant librarian hanging from the rafters in the library attic with a stack of true crime books kicked over beneath her.

It's just that whenever bodies started floating, swinging or, in this case, dropping, I happened to be there..." --BITTER PILL


  1. Anonymous10:39 PM EDT

    Hi Stacey! Looking forward to that next book, not to mention the re-release of TSS!

    For the slang, how about something already close in meaning? Or even some made-up words? Here's a few:

    Sly, woo, gin/jinnin', click, singin', biz, top, bitz, snap, orb/orbital, eth, sky.

    And as one of the few guys around here, may I just say that the re-release cover for TSS is totally dish delish!

  2. Maybe you're a fan of J. D. Robb? :) In her future setting (about 2059-2060, when my grandchildren would be in late middle age), the words for "cool" are "icy" and "frosty." It didn't take me long to catch on, except that in some contexts "frosty" sounds like a criticism. (E.g., "that guy is frosty" nowadays could mean he's emotionally cold.) Her characters also use "mag" as a positive superlative for good stuff. And I love the concept of your "information liberator" heroine. We could be getting all too close to needing one of those already.

  3. Anonymous1:37 PM EDT

    How about 'neat' most tech people like things to be neat as in the tidy sense so anything good would be 'neat' too :)

  4. David, my friend! Good to hear from you. : ) So glad you like the new cover for TSS. I was very pleased with it myself. Covers are always a source of great anxiety for me, but Nathalie Moore and Echelon have been terrific!

    These are great word suggestions. I especially, for some reason, love "sly." Ela, my heroine, strikes me as someone who would use the word "sly" as a compliment. But they're all excellent. I may try a few of them out and see how they work. Thank you for the help!

    P.S. I think TSS, the new version, is now available on Amazon! And I posted an excerpt of EOB, the second book, on my site, if you're interested.

  5. Hi Margaret,
    So funny that you would mention J.D. Robb. After reading her books religiously for many years, I stopped when they went to hardcover (too pricey for my limited book budget!), but I loved them.

    I had totally forgotten about her use of "icy" and "frosty" until I just happened to pick up the latest J.D. Robb from the library over the weekend, after I'd already written the blog. Weird, how some stuff sticks around in your subconscious, I guess!

    Oh, I'm glad you like the idea of an information liberator. I always feel like I need one because there are so many things that I want to know but can't find out or don't know how to find out (the truth about what really happened in Roswell...or you know, how to run an Excel spreadsheet).

    Of course, this means Ela's a techy and I'm as far from it as you can get, so this could get a little interesting. Fortunately, my friend, Ed, a computer genius, is on call and knows to expect some very bizarre questions from me!

  6. Oh, Ilona, I like the double meaning idea with "neat!" I think that could work really well, especially given my heroine's desire to have everything under her control. She may perhaps be a bit of a control freak, I suspect.

    Thanks for your help. : )

  7. Anonymous5:15 PM EDT

    Since your heroine is a techie, maybe she'd use a "cool" word derived from tech. Possibly something to do with "access." Nothing immediately comes to mind, I admit.

    I like your suggestion of "free" but, in use, it does seem a little weird. Maybe because it already has so much meaning, unlike "shiny." ("Shiny" is sheer genius, IMO!) How about contrasts to sanitized - "raw" maybe?

    On the other hand, it's only 20 years from now. Maybe "rad" would make a comeback by then. It came from radical, after all.

  8. Oh, I like the idea of "raw." That would be the equivalent of how "bad" sometimes means "good," or, at least, it used to. : ) I may be showing my age! But I also like the idea of "raw" meaning wild or out of control, which would definitely be a situation she encounters.

    Cool! I'm so excited. : )

  9. "Neat" has been used... in the 1960's, so it might date the work.

    Remember "Tiger Feet"? I think by T-Rex or James Bolam.

    "That's neat, that's neat, that's neat, that's neat...
    I really love your Tiger Feet.
    Your tiger feet" etc etc.


  10. Anonymous9:31 AM EDT

    Rowena, it was Slade =)

    Neat has come back into fashion recently though.

    Personally, i like the slang my friends use "classy, class, and Shiney" (with the e) are among them but they don't help in this case.

  11. Anonymous9:41 AM EDT

    sorry mudd lol, those two sounded the same music wise

  12. Anonymous2:15 PM EDT

    Rowena 'neat' and 'cool' were both hip words in the sixties (and there's another - 'hip' LOL). However I see words as being similar to fashion, if you hang around long enough certain things come back 'in'.

  13. I do think words do come back in fashion, just like clothes. I think it's about a twenty year cycle. I remember I was disgusted when "flare" jeans first came back around because they reminded me of the bell bottoms from the 70s. (I went to high school in the early nineties when we rolled the bottom of our jeans to make them as tight as possible.)

    A couple of summers ago, I started seeing the "young people" wearing polo shirts with the collars flipped up! That totally brought me back to the mid-eighties.

    And words come back around in the same way. I'd make the argument that some, though, are perennial. Cool has been a constant for a number of years, for example. Though, "hot" is now a synonym, which I find amusing.

    I was tempted to go retro with the words in this story but I wasn't sure if people would understand that's what I was doing. I don't want to jolt them out of a story with a word that seems out of place in the future even if it's currently in mode here, you know?

    This has been such a great discussion. So many things to think about now and terrific suggestions. Thanks, everyone!

    : )