Monday 3 December 2012

Fiddlesticks and Flapdoodle - made up swear words are great! by Julienne Durber

When I decided to write this post, I was convinced that my first experience of made up swear words was in the pages of 2000AD from the grizzled lips of the mighty Judge Dredd.  But then I came up with the title 'Fiddlesticks and Flapdoodle' and realised that things went back a lot further.

Professor Yaffle

The cantankerous Professor Augustus Barclay Yaffle, carved wooden bookend in the shape of a woodpecker, foil to the gentle wisdom of Bagpuss, naysayer of mice, used to fire swearing at me from the television before I was even old enough to go to school!  Now before high horses are mounted, I have to say that in my opinion Bagpuss is the finest children's television program ever made, and I am positive that the legendary Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin hadn't the slightest wish to offend (though I did see Mr Postgate on a documentary recently explaining what Mother Clanger was actually saving behind all of those whistles, and it wasn't entirely wholesome!)

But I'm being flippant for a reason - fiddlesticks is a term of mild disapproval dating back centuries, along the same lines as balderdash and poppycock, but when combined with the explosive flapdoodle it became something that my tiny ears loved and my tiny mouth was too nervous to use in public!
Stephen Fry

But why create swear words when there are so many already available?  Stephen Fry expounds the virtues of swearing as part of a full and rounded vocabulary.  People swear.  Children swear.  Swearing is naughty and bad ... and great fun when you're not supposed to be doing it!  And used sparingly, swearing in teen books can have a huge impact.  The inclusion of the word sh*t (see, I'm self censoring so that I don't offend and yet you all know what I'm saying) on page 4 of the wonderful Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner says a huge amount about the central character in an instant.

Judge Dredd

When creating Judge Dredd, John Wagner wanted a gritty cop for a gritty future, a future with swearing.  But as he was writing for comics in the late 1970s he had to create a vocabulary that Dredd could use without censorship.  Hence 'Stomm', Grud' and my favourite 'Drokk'.  These are great, chewable, spit-outable words, loaded with venom and brilliantly similar-but-different enough to please both publishers and readers in the 70s and 80s.

But that was then.  These days things are more relaxed.  Sam Hawksmoor's excellent The Repossession uses swearing sparingly and effectively, as do many other book too numerous to list.  It enhances tension, defines emotion and character, and isn't a block to getting published, yet I still chose to invent a whole range of frustrations and insults for Springpunk.  People are cog-heads, spring-brains and in extreme cases spring-faced cog-winders.  And if you are hit with a stray winding spark then you would cry 'Cogs!' without thinking.

And what would Red Dwarf be without the insult smeg-head?  Still great, but ever so slightly less so.

Made-up swear words can be as integral a part of a future, dytopian and other-world society as the oppressive government forces, plasma sythesizing killer robots and overarching mystic prophesies.  They let readers into the sociology of the world and show how things have changed, how the trials, threats and drudgeries of life have bled into everyday speech.

So I challenge you, you fracking, smeg-brained, flapdoodling drokkers - have fun with your swearing.  It isn't gratuitous, but it can be vital!

All artwork copyright Julienne Durber 2012