IMR | I Love It When Characters Swear

Leviathan cover…in their own style of slang.

It’s been five years since I read the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, and I’m really glad I decided to pick it up again. Chimera? War machines? A girl masquerading as a boy? World War I? What more could you want from a book?

Well, maybe one thing: Deryn’s swearing.

Hey all you sods! I can fly and you can’t! A natural airman, in case you haven’t noticed. And in conclusion, I’d like to add that I’m a girl and you can all get stuffed!

Deryn’s personality is one of the best things about this series. She’s so expressive, and part of the way she expresses herself is her swearing:

“You’re a big, bloated bum-rag!” she shouted, swinging her feet to rock the pilot’s rig. “And I’m getting bored of your company! Let! Me! Down!

But swearing reveals a lot about the society that the characters are in—it’s almost essential to world building. In A Brave New World people swear on Henry Ford because of his contributions to capitalism. In Mistborn people swear on the Lord Ruler because he is their god.

It’s also sort of funny if it’s a kind of censoring. For example, Deryn says, “Barking spiders!” a lot, which is essentially just “What the fuck!”

The crazy thing about swearing is that we don’t really think about what the words mean when we say them. Swear words are like laughter or tears—when we’re overcome with emotion, it simply bursts out.

Except for one thing. For some reason, poop is always the subject of swearing. And Deryn’s very liberal with her use of the word, “clart”:

Of course, that clart-rag of a coxswain hadn’t bothered showing her how to unbuckle the rig.

They were all wearing clart-snaffling grins.

“And you’re a bum-rag covered in clart!”

“You are full of clart, Jaspert Sharp!”

That, I don’t think I’ll ever truly understand.


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