Worldbuilding: Creating Slang

January 27, 2021

When I’m reading science fiction or fantasy stories, I’m always paying attention to the details. It’s the little things that help create a sense of immersion for me. Sure, the big things are important, too. It takes effort to build all the pieces of a city, a kingdom, or a planet. It takes even more effort to make them all work together. That’s where the little things come into play. Small details can make or break your reader’s immersion. It’s essential to get them right.

One of the most challenging details for me to master, at least when it comes to worldbuilding, is slang.

Some slang words, especially the expletives, are pretty timeless. People have been saying fuck for hundreds of years, and will likely keep doing so for hundreds more. But what about other expressions? Will people still say that something’s cool in the twenty-fourth century? Maybe not.

In some ways, slang is easy. Any word could be a slang word, right? Remember the eighties? Cool stuff then was also rad and tubular. Or the sixties, when things were far out? Who’s to say whether or not folks will call things blue, or plastic, or tangy in the years to come?

Slang should make sense. Sure, as a writer, you could pick pretty much any word and give it a slang meaning. Or you could make up an entirely new word, like frak. But if it’s too jarring, and doesn’t relate to the story in any meaningful way, it can stop a good passage in its tracks. Making sense doesn’t mean you have to explain it. Just that it should be explainable.

Future Slang

Here’s some of the slang I painstakingly devised for one of my settings, and why I chose it.

Greased up: Good. Ready to go, clear of any difficulty. This is a phrase used primarily by spaceborne folks, who are reliant on machinery to stay alive. It stands to reason that something would need to be greased up to operate correctly, and that this phrase could’ve made its way into general usage as a result.

Orbit: Proximity, path, state of things. Dealing with orbital mechanics would be a fact of life for people who live in space. Space stations general orbit a celestial body, which would then orbit another body, or a star. Being close to someone could mean you’re in their orbit.

Spin up/out, spun up/out: Lose control, lose your cool, get flustered or angry. Planets, moons, stars, and the like, generally spin. Spinning something around a central point can approximate the pull of gravity through centrifugal force, and would be a common practice without the ability to generate gravity waves artificially.

Stellar: Excellent, Awesome, Great. This is an adjective that is already used to mean outstanding, superior, or dominant.

Cosmic: Excellent, Awesome, Great. Like stellar, this is a current adjective used to mean huge, immense, or infinite. I’ve just scaled it down a little.

Frosty: Competent, Superior, Focused. Also currently in limited use. But it could easily see a resurgence among space-faring folks. Space is cold, after all. Very cold.

Joe/joe: Person. This is one that I just went with, and made it work as a gender-neutral term for a person. It doesn’t have an explanation, but it could. I like it because I can use it as a general term (the joes other there, some joe or other) or even a proper noun as slang (What do you think you’re doing, Joe?) I’m risking a little confusion for the reader, who may not understand it at first, but the payoff when it works is an inside reference between the reader and me.

What would you use for slang in your story, and why?