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USING FOREIGN NAMES AND TERMS IN YOUR WRITING

July 6, 2021

            Based on one particular forum I participate in, it’s hard enough working in your native language. Since I work primarily with English, I can only speak for that language, but I can imagine that same principle applies to any other language, yet I have no clue if there are perfectionists or language police out there in French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, etc., that culturally or socially allow such a thing as picking apart prose the way we do in English.

            Therefore, I can only apply this to MY native language, English. If your primary language is an “other,” and believe me, the “other” has more deep meanings to me than just language, then present it in your own blog.

            My subject today is using foreign words, or making up words that “coincidentally” happen to coincide with words or terms in other languages.

REAL-WORLD FICTION

            In real-world fiction, the chances are, you, the writer, are more than likely to use real foreign terms for whatever reason. Nothing wrong with that.

            However…

            Are you using that word in the correct context?

            Hmmm…

            For those of you with multi-lingual capability, maybe using such terms is perfectly fine. Maybe since you speak another language, you know the correct context of the word or phrase you are using. That’s fine.

            If you have maybe heard it before, maybe lots before and decide to use it, you have to be careful that the word or phrase you are using is and has been used in the correct context. There’s no law that says others have used it correctly. Certain words and phrases can develop stereotypes of wrong meanings. Therefore, be careful. These words and phrases can develop universally wrong meanings to outsiders, perpetuated by movies and TV and even ahem…books.

            That means, doing a bit of research.

SCIENCE FICTION

            With science fiction, a lot of the words are technical, which tend to not be an issue as much when it comes to foreign words and phrases. There can be coincidence, of course, but it’s all about the context. However, since a lot of science fiction is still rooted in the real world, you should still be careful.

FANTASY

            The world of fantasy is almost a free-for-all when it comes to names, places, and terms. The only caveat to that is that there are so many genres of fantasy, some are rooted in real places. Many of those places have cultures with names, places and terms where real words can be misused, even in a fantasy setting. This is where, despite a made up world, research may be necessary.

            On the other hand, if the world has no basis for reality, then the free-for-all of names, places and terms creates completely coincidental words that may occasionally be real foreign words, less likely phrases.

            Will any of these cause the author grief?

            What if a hero in the story has a name that means something obscene in Chinese? Russian? Laotian?

            How would the author even know if they don’t speak that language?

            The same for any other term.

            There IS no way to know when making stuff up out of thin air. You just have to go with it and not give it a second thought. However, the worst thing to do is try to cover it all up with unpronounceable names with lots of punctuation! Try to keep these made up words simple and don’t even worry about coincidence.

SUMMARY

            Unless using real foreign words and terms, keep in mind that there are millions upon millions of real words out there and you can’t possibly know then all. Therefore, don’t even try. Make up your own words at will and go with it. You can’t be faulted for not knowing every word in existence. You also can’t be expected to get on Google every time you make up a word, especially given that not even Google knows everything! That would make your writing come to a screeching halt. It’s bad enough procrastinating with Facebook, or doing regular research on stuff that really matters!

            Happy writing!

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