How should you refer to modern words and concepts like DNA and neutrons in a fantasy book? I see people use DNA and neutrons in TV shows where the setting doesn't allow for it for simplicity sake, but if you want to have proper worldbuilding and a realistic world, how should you refer to those concepts? What words should you use? How would you about doing this and can you provide a simple example?

I am wondering what to do in the situations where I need to be very precise and in situation where I don't have to be, because I can't think of a specific case.

  • 2
    What roles do neutrons and DNA have in your fiction? For DNA in particular do you need to mention the exact protein or can you work with something less precise? Even the farmers of old understood that like begets like (usually).
    – Laurel
    Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 22:44
  • It depends 100% on the context. Why are people talking about DNA or neutrons? If they're building nuclear power stations or deliberately manipulating genetic codes, then use the English terminology (unless you have strong artistic reasons otherwise). If you want to talk about something like inherited traits, then there are many ways to refer to them in English, going back long. (I can't conceive why people who don't have subatomic theory would discuss neutrons.) Maybe present some short examples of writing.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 5, 2022 at 16:01
  • You call them midichlorians, and then... wait, never mind. Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 0:44

2 Answers 2


What do they know, and how do they know it?

Bear in mind that there were no terms for either one in any language for most of history because they were not concepts. If your fantasy world has its research go in different directions, it might not discover them.

However, if they are discovered, you should either just use the English term on the grounds it's translated, or else use a distinctly different term based on their having attacked the issue from another angle, and so having a different view of the things.


You need to come up with a story on how it's discovered first, and also how much they know about it (its function, origin, substance, etc), and also how often it occur in their daily life.

For example, when petroleum was first discovered, it's called rock oil (petra= rock, oleum= oil). But with more knowledge, we call it fossil fuel. And with more usage, we call it oil or petro.

So basically, (how it's discovered) + (how it looks), with a cool ancient/foreign language.

For DNA, it could either be something like (blood) + (helix), or (animal name) + (thread)? Depending on the level of understanding.

Honestly, pick whatever sounds cool. Name doesn't convey much in itself. If you provide the correct context, the reader will get the correct meaning regardless of the word.

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