(C) 2017 by Larry Michael Garmon Swain
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Building the World of Popinjay, Part Two: The Imagery of Language of the 23rd Century
by LMG Swain
All words used in a story must point to any discoverable object within that story. All too often writers produce a string of words perfectly aligned, each word in its proper place, and each word seeming to serve a proper function, but which, in reality, only results in meaningless and indecipherable gibberish.
Take for example this exchange that would sometimes occur when a student would ask me, “How hard is it to pass your class, Mr. Swain?”
To which I would sometimes respond, “The exigency of the material here forthwith presented, expounded upon, and redundantly repeated throughout the duration of this discipline is exponentially proportional to the volume of chronological energy the catechumen employs, not only by implementation of and completion of pedagogue ascribed lessons but correspondingly in self-actuation of all quantifiable prescribed consignments in the course syllabus.”
Me: “If you don’t listen, take notes, complete assignments on time, you’ll fail the class.”
Student: “Why didn’t you just say that to begin with?”
Me: “I did. And that is the first lesson: We will speak and write in simple plain English, without fanfare, without bunting, without frills, without all the psychobabble, New Age mind-numbing, ego-driven didactic, and politically correct doublespeak humbug that passes as communication.”
And, so, I repeat:
All words used in a story must point to any discoverable object within that story. All too often writers produce a string of words perfectly aligned, each word in its proper place, and seeming to serve a proper function, but, in reality, only result in meaningless and indecipherable gibberish.
The battle between clear and ambiguous language has raged since the first words were spoken.
So, what will English be like at the beginning of the 23rd Century, the time setting of Popinjay? What will teenagers sound like, how will they express themselves, what slang words, what metaphors, what secret codes will they use to communicate with each other and hide their intents from their parents and the authorities in the year 2217?
I have no friggin’ idea.
However, I have a good mind, have taught English in public school for 34 years, and have been alive for over half a century. I’ve witnessed changes in English during my short time on Earth. I do not speak as I did when I was a child, then a teen, and then a growing adult. The students I taught this past school year did not speak as students did when I was a student, nor as my children spoken when they were students, nor as students spoke my first year as a teacher.
All I can do is guess.
For Popinjay, I want to create a word string for my characters and the world in which they live that sounds both unique and also futuristic. However, I don’t want my readers to have to learn a second language to understand my story.
A Clockwork Orange is one of my favorite novels. Although I was quickly drawn into the tale of teenage violence in some dystopian future, Alex and his droogs used words, idioms, and metaphors that required me to flip to the lexicon at the back of the book to look up their meaning, which slowed down my reading, interrupted the flow of action, and created a slough of suspense. Once I “learned” the pseudo-Russian English of the novel’s world, the reading was easy, and I breezed through the dark tale of a psychopathic future England.
The imagery of A Clockwork Orange was lost on me until I learned its language. When I read the novel several years later, I remembered its language and read the tale with pleasure. However, in today’s nano-second-impatient-I-want-it-now world, I don’t see a young adult reader having the patience to learn the language of a novel such as A Clockwork Orange, and that’s sad.
George Orwell is my mentor in the use of language. You’ll find his six rules for clear and precise writing at the end of this essay. The first rule states, “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” In other words, create, invent, forge new metaphors for today’s readers.
Years ago, a character in one of my stories said this about his slow-witted friend, “He has a 14.4 mind in 56k world.” Which is the techno equivalent of, “He rides the short bus to school.”
A fantastic image—for 2001! However, this dialup internet metaphor is lost in today’s world of ultra-fast digital internet speed just as the “short bus” image is lost on young adult readers today.
I’ve read many short stories and novels of late using metaphors that have little meaning to today’s readers or give much depth to a story because they are over used, dead cliches, and I’m stunned when I find them. It appears the writers are lazy, creatively stymied, and rushing to get their works published (I blame the agents and the editors as well). Here are a few I still see in print:
–cake and eat it to
–up the creek without a paddle
–pretty as a picture
–cost a pretty penny
–older than dirt
–nick of time
–faded off to sleep
If you’ve listened to young adults lately or read their postings on social sites, you know they speak a language all their own—teens and young adults always have.
So, I repeat once more, but briefly this time, All words used in a story must point to any discoverable object within that story.
To be clear, all the words strung together in a story must implant an image upon the reader, provide the reader with a sense of the here and the now through imagery by which the reader relates to and empathizes with the characters.
What metaphors, similes, and images will be in Popinjay?
Here are twelve words/expressions used in my novel, a sneak peek of some of the word strings I’m using, which also gives insight to the type of world Jaden Davjak, my protagonist, lives in.
1. Personal Pronouns—I’ve covered this in a previous essay; however, I’ll give you a little refresher.
Because everyone is born without gender, gender related pronouns are not used for pregens or nongens. Once a pregen chooses a gender and becomes a Citigen, that person is then legally referred to as he or she, him or her et cetera. Pregens and nongens use the indefinite pronoun “one”, as in “Jaden thought one’s parents were old fashioned.”
Often, the indefinite plural pronouns “they”, “their”, “them” et cetera are used as singular nongender pronounds, much as people do today: Everyone brought their book to class.
“Jaden threw their book on the bed and then gave themself a cake treat.”
And, yes, when referring in the singular, “themself” is correct in the Popinjay world. When referencing a group, then it’s “themselves”.
2. Gen—Gender is one of the currencies of power in this future dystopia; therefore, a person is referred to in one of several ways:
Pregen—a person between the age of birth and 16-years-old
Nongen—a person who has chosen not to morph into a gender; not full citizens, but they become the educators, advocates, judges, mediators, in charge of keeping society stable and civilized et cetera because they cannot be influence by gender (no sexual harassment or sexual inducements), much like the eunuchs of old; official name is Mosaic (as they are a combination of the best emotional, intellectual, and societal qualities of both the male and female genders); nickname is Popinjay, a name of a parrot (see the metaphor?) as well as 18th Century slang for a flamboyant man
Citigen—a person who has chosen one of the only Two True Gender, Male or Female; full citizens of this society;
Adnogens—Abnormal gender people who are born either male or female rather than nongen. No scientific process is perfect; at times, the Chromosome Z inhibitor fails, and a person is born with gender, which is considered to be a birth defect in this culture. As past societies have done with children born with mental and physically disabilities, adnogens have no rights, can never be a part of society and culture, and are exiled to colonies much like the lepers of old.
Prepube—What a person is called once they enter the Gender Education and Assignment Seminary to began study of and training for their One True Gender.
3. Damifino—A portmanteau string of Damn if I know; an offshoot of text speak: IDK, LOL, BTW et cetera.
Peyton: You pass the exam?
4. Enthusimuzzy—A fun word, and an old word. However, within this archaic adjective is a clue as to its meaning. This is an old adjective that describes an enthusiastic person, someone who is excited about a subject to the point of being a bit crazy about it. Jaden’s teacher/mentor (a nongen popinjay) uses this word to describe their students.
5. Huv—Personal cars and personal transportation do not exist in the world of Popinjay, neither does public transportation. “Huv” is the phonetic spelling of “HOV”. HOV is the acronym for the “High Occupancy Vehicles” lanes used in large cities of the 21st Century. With the growing popularity of Uber and Lyft as well as the advancement of self-driving cars, no one will need a personal vehicle or need to learn to drive in 2217. You summon a huv, you get in, you say “school” or “home” or “Peyton’s house”, and the huv takes you to your destination. It can do this with little verbal information from you because the huv, as does so many over public services in this future society, is receiving your personal information from the BTID (Bluetooth Identity) chip that is inserted into everyone at birth and constantly updated by the computer system of this world.
6. Humblebrag—Again, an old word I found in much study of and search of past slang words and idioms. And, again, the word itself defines its meaning: When someone says something about themselves that sounds humble but is really bragging.
7. Glamping—I love this portmanteau word: Glamor and Camping. In two hundred years, it’ll be fixed in our language much as networking is fixed now.
8. Noshery—This word replaces the words “café”, “cafeteria”, and “diner”. For example, Jaden says to Peyton, “I’ll see in the noshery after math class.”
9. Emoji—This word will replace the word “drama queen” and refers to someone ruled more by their emotions than reason and logic, as when Jaden says to the highly-emotional Morgan, “Stop being such an emoji.”
10. Whiles—This word came to me because I had misunderstood what Lisa, my wife and co-writer, said to me.
Here’s what I heard her say, “She saw him after several whiles.” I thought, Wow, Lisa’s using “whiles” instead of “minutes” or “moments”. I like that. I’m using that in Popinjay! I told her this, and she looked at me as though I were smoking crack.
What she had actually said was, “She used all her wiles on him.”
Still, she liked my idea of using “whiles” instead of “moments” or “minutes”, so Jaden would say to Peyton, “I’ll meet you in the noshery in a few whiles.”
11. Risen—Once a person has selected their True Gender, they enter into a chyrsalis to undergo the transformation to either True Male or True Female. When the newly created gender-person emerges, that person can legally use a gender specific pronoun in reference to oneself for the first time, and the person will announce to the world (all rebirths are telecast): He is risen or She is risen. Which all sounds very religious, but which is not, as you’ll read in the book.
12. Captain Bring-Me-Down—A person who buzz kills what is otherwise a happy and celebratory situation.
I have dozens of other words and expressions used by the people who populate Popinjay. The above are just twelve examples. I’m constantly adding and subtracting the words that will help define and shape the society in which Jaden lives.
Because of my experience with A Clockwork Orange, and some of the more hard core and high tech science fiction novels, I’m striving to make the language of Popinjay not only unique, fun, and creative but one the reader can easily understand using contextual clues without having to flip to the back of the book to look the words up in a lexicon. I don’t want my readers to have to learn a second language either before or while they are reading Popinjay. I don’t want my readers freaking out like Alex!
My next essay concerning building the world of Popinjay will explore “The Currency of Power”. In today’s cultures, economics is the currency of power. However, two hundred years from now, we may be in a world much like Star Trek in which currency doesn’t exist. But, ego-maniacs and control freaks will still exist, and they will use whatever “currency of power” is present in the Popinjay world to have more power over and to control the general population of Jaden’s world.
George Orwell’s Rules for Writing:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
For Wednesday, 19 July 2017: Building the World of Popinjay Part Three—The Currency of Power