104 votes
Accepted

Using real words from a foreign culture feels like 'Calling a rabbit a "smeerp"'

I've found that the main key to unfamiliar words -- and this applies to jargon in technical writing as much as it does to foreign or made-up words in fiction -- is density. The example in the XKCD ...
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75 votes

My story is written in English, but is set in my home country. What language should I use for the dialogue?

You have read books like this, or at least are familiar with books like this: Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls is set in Spain, and it is indicated, repeatedly, that the dialogue is in ...
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52 votes
Accepted

How to write dialogue for someone who is intelligent but barely speaks the language?

Insight. Or, if you're so smart --- Prove It! I think you misunderstand intelligent people, and I wouldn't rely on vocabulary to indicate it in the first place. I am a professor in a university, ...
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  • 92k
47 votes

Using real words from a foreign culture feels like 'Calling a rabbit a "smeerp"'

asvarans, vaspahrs, sardars and ostandars. I struggled with this for a different reason, I didn't want to invoke medieval Europe titles either, because little else in my story was like that, I didn't ...
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  • 92k
46 votes
Accepted

Using fake swear words without them seeming out of place to the reader

First, I would not do the "translation" of your last sentence. Second, you need to understand that swear words are typically one or two syllables, and the audio effect needs to be somewhat similar. ...
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  • 92k
45 votes

How to describe a mythological creature that English has no vocabulary for?

In your example, 白骨精, I'd say the 精 is not so much 'fairy' as it is in 妖精, but rather 'spirit' (like in 精霊), similar to how in English we can use the word 'spirit' to describe a lot of different types ...
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  • 955
44 votes

Is calling a character a "lunatic" or "crazy" ableist when it is in reference to their erratic behavior?

Some may call it so, and they might be right, but it's of no consequence. Creating realistic and believable and sympathetic characters means that sometimes those characters have negative character ...
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  • 7,885
44 votes

How do you explain that the people talking English in a comic books are talking in another language than English?

You can use typesetting or other visual cues to indicate different languages. “Asterix and the Goths” provides a good example of this, with the lines in German rendered in a pseudo-blackletter ...
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  • 541
40 votes
Accepted

How to write cleanly even if my character uses expletive language?

Each usage has its place. #1 is most commonly used in such situations. Even if you're not writing for children, you don't necessarily want every bit of cursing. Sometimes telling that the character ...
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36 votes

Can non-English-speaking characters use wordplay specific to English?

Yes, this is part of the translation convention People tend to think of translation as a word-to-word equivalency, but it isn't. Different languages have different grammars, and each language words ...
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36 votes
Accepted

How should I quote American English speakers in a British English essay?

Usually no. When quoting, it is assumed that you are using the original writer's dialect and spelling, since that is a part of what they wrote. The style guides I consulted agree on that point. APA ...
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34 votes

Using real words from a foreign culture feels like 'Calling a rabbit a "smeerp"'

It's ultimately up to you, but you don't want your ancient Persia overridden by knights. You may as well make them wear full plate armor instead of describing whatever garment was in use in that age ...
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34 votes

A torrent of foreign terms

A story like this is about what the MC experiences, and should be told in the MC's voice, but it's also important to consider your readers' experiences as they read, right? This seems like a case ...
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31 votes

How to write dialogue for someone who is intelligent but barely speaks the language?

Two years ago I took a course with a new professor in our university - a fresh immigrant from the US, who had to teach in Hebrew. Said professor is one of the most brilliant researchers at our faculty,...
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29 votes

How do you explain that the people talking English in a comic books are talking in another language than English?

I like the solution that Minna Sundberg used on her Stand Still. Stay Silent webcomic. She puts small flags in the text bubbles to indicate the language used Of course, you can try variations on this ...
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  • 391
28 votes

Is it ok to use "aluminium" in an otherwise American English text?

Since you have a real-world justification, why not use that same justification in your fictional setting? If you want to make it a thing, have a character say "aluminum" and the other characters can ...
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  • 24.3k
26 votes

Using colloquialisms the reader may not be familiar with

It worth noting that this kind of thing has been done many times before. Stories such as The Red Badge of Courage, The Unvanquished, and Their Eyes Were Watching God all do this. Their Eyes Were ...
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  • 2,222
26 votes

Avoiding Slang whilst Writing

Identifying incomprehensible slang is one of the best functions of an in-person writing group. Having your work read by other writers, who do not share your cultural or linguistic biases, will ...
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  • 10.7k
26 votes
Accepted

How do you explain that the people talking English in a comic books are talking in another language than English?

Put the text in angle brackets and add a footnote at the bottom of the first panel (or page) where you do it, to say which language it's in. <Like this>* * spoken in German The footnote might ...
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  • 1,830
24 votes

Are there any general rules or guidelines for using neologism or newly coined word (Cutease)?

Writers Should Disappear The work of a writer is to disappear. In the best writing the reader does not even notice that there is a "writer at work". When I first read that word, I read it as Cut-...
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  • 6,433
24 votes

The use of footnotes to translate foreign words in a novel

When in doubt, do what the masters did. Some examples: Raoden breathed a sigh of relief. "Whoever you are, I'm glad to see you. I was beginning to think everyone in here was either dying or insane....
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23 votes

Is calling a character a "lunatic" or "crazy" ableist when it is in reference to their erratic behavior?

So character A is an ableist. No problem. Your writing should have characters that are jerks, liars, cheats, criminals, murders, and more or less bad people of all kinds and types. And some of them ...
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  • 4,923
21 votes

How to address family members solely by relationship in dialogue?

You don't try to be accurate, you anglicize it. If you are writing in English about a Korean family, the reader expects you to translate dialogue into understandable English that is not awkward. If ...
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  • 92k
21 votes

My story is written in English, but is set in my home country. What language should I use for the dialogue?

Who is your audience? What languages do they know? If it's an international contest, are there language guidelines? If it says English Only, then be at least 99% English! Are you planning on a few ...
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20 votes
Accepted

How to handle translation of a language in a comic, while preserving a sense that the language is significant?

This has been handled a few ways in comics: Have the text in word balloons be a translation of the original, with a footnote indicating "translated from other-language-name". You can graphically ...
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