Some folks were recently talking about bad fantasy/SF tropes, and one in particular was dropping a made-up word in almost every sentence. For example, I awoke at the cry of the narwk, threw on a jrali, and rode out on my brother’s verxacj. The complaint is that we have no idea what these things are, and when we do finally find out, we discover that the narwk is a rooster, the jrali is a poncho, and the verxacj is a horse.
But what’s worse? How the hell are you suppose to pronounce those words? That’s when I first heard the word “disemvoweled”. I suppose those words didn’t qualify since they still have vowels, but I’ve seen other cases like grnxth or q’trnl and even the occasional xghll.
Yes, they stand out as a foreign language, but unless the native speakers have a different speaking apparatus than humans, they’re going to choke on their own vomit trying to force these guttural words out. You can throw in the occasional apostrophe in hopes of slipping in a soft schwa sound, but before long you’re trying to get away with a main character named X’gr’thnl.
I don’t really have much to say other than, please, don’t do this. They always say that you should read your own writing out loud, and if you trip over your tongue trying to sound out your own foreign words, change them.
Otherwise, I’m going to throw you and your words out the door, AND the verxacj you rode in on.
“Adam, my bro, an’ Pa’n’me was trekkin’ back from Honokaa Market on miry roads with a busted cart axle in draggly clothesies. Evenin’ catched us up early, so we tented on the southly bank o’ Sloosha’s Crossin’, ‘ cos Waipio River was furyin’ with days o’ hard an’ swollen by a spring tide. Sloosha’s was friendsome ground tho’ marshy, no un lived in the Waipio Valley ‘cept for a mil’yun birds, that’s why we din’t camo our tent or pull cart or nothin’.”
Cloud Atlas, Page 239
The fun part is that the place names are correct.
The unpronounceable words are pretty bad. If you can’t actually say them, don’t write them. Unless they’re meant to be unpronounceable names in the narrative, such as, “Well, my name is kKk’ithXx!rhh, but you can call me ‘rook’, which is probably as close as your speaking apparatus can get to my friend-name.”
Davo’s example is even more annoying to me though – half JarJar, half Ixitxachitl. Another friend of mine has written a novel full of that sort of slang, and it’s acting as a flow-restrictor on my ability to enjoy his story.