The Maze Runner & the Evolution of Language

All this week we're going to be talking about THE MAZE RUNNER, the NYTimes bestselling dystopian by James Dashner.

Today, I'm going to talk about the language Dashner uses. In the first chapter, it's evident that Dashner developed a new slang language for his characters.

For me, this is very realistic. The base of change in language is slang. It's the first thing to change, and typically has the most dramatic change. In my day, something awesome was "cool." My students said it was "beasting." My parents called it "groovy."

And, of course, there are curse words. I think the potency of curse words evolve. In the Middle Ages, "zounds" was rather harsh, but "piss" was common. A Victorian lady wouldn't stand to hear anything as offensive as "damn." Whether you think it's right or wrong, "WTF" is certainly doing it's part to make the "f-word" more acceptable in daily use.

Language evolves based on location, too. When I took my students to England, I warned them that "Sorry," implied you'd passed gas, and to not use it when you bump into someone on the Tube. And the two-fingered peace sign means something completely different in England.

What Dashner did so well with his evolution of language was create words based on past words. "Shuck" seems to have replaced the obvious rhyme, and "clunk" is another word for, erm, poo. And while the new language may be a bit off-putting at first, it does have a logical progression for why it exists. Shuck has the rhyme--our words do tend to evolve based on sound--but clunk seems (to me) to have been the sound of, well...I imagined metal bed pans or similar...

When writing works of the future, I do think it's important to consider language. In my own novel, I altered slang and dialect to differentiate between the people from the past and the people from the future. It's based on what we currently have--with a few new words thrown in.

Another good thing to think about in language isn't just slang and curses words. It's also catch phrases. We all use crutch phrases when we talk--some people overuse "like" or "just" or "you know." In THE MAZE RUNNER, a common phrase the characters use is "good that." It's equivalent to everything being kosher or being agreeable with something.

This is also, by the way, a feature that I loved about FIREFLY. In Joss Whedon's world, English and Chinese speaking cultures became strongholds, so many Chinese words (particularly curse words) slipped into daily English language. This blend of two languages is likely. Consider how easily Spanish, Yiddish, and French words have integrated into our daily use.

FIREFLY (have you noticed how much I love that show?) also uses a progression of language. "Gorram" and "rutting" have obvious root words in our own language.

When we work on stories about the future, I think it's important to also consider language. It shouldn't overwhelm the story, but, much like a pinch of salt can make a dish perfect, a touch of language can make the story sing.

So, are there any stories you can think of that use a new type of language?

12 comments:

Kate Evangelista said...

I've actually wanted to read this book for a while now.

Andrea Mack said...

Great post. When I add in words that are specific only to my invented world, I try to only include a few, to avoid that overwhelming factor you mention.

Snazel said...

I know Scott Westerfield's Uglies series has a lot of slang in it, and that was something I really loved. Plus fantasy that loves worldbuilding, like Seanan McGuire's Toby Daye series, tends to have other swear words. :D

Matthew Rush said...

Well the Hunger Games trilogy did a little bit of this but the neologisms seemed mostly based off of capitol technology rather than street slang. The story that you describe here sounds like it uses that kind of slang language in a way that would be really engrossing.

Looking forward to checking it out!

Colene Murphy said...

I love when they use new slang for futuristic books. It makes it FEEL more futuristic. If there isn't new language it just feel like present time with different cloths and settings. Not really the future. If that makes sense.

Great post. I LOVED this book. Can't wait for more of your thoughts!

The Damsel In Dis Dress said...

Neat post. James' book is a perfect example. Making up slang for my pretend Scandinavian world was one of the funnest parts about writing that book. Of course there would be slang. It all adds to the atmosphere.

beth said...

Andrea--Yes, exactly--a few will go a long way.

Snazel--*headdesk* D'oh! I so should have included Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series in this!!

Matthew--I think you're right about Hunger Games. Collins started in that way, but yeah--it was more neologism than slang (although did some of the Capitol people have slang? I honestly can't remember)

Elana Johnson said...

Language is definitely a factor in futuristic novels and movies/TV shows. Great post, Beth!

lotusgirl said...

I agree with you hear. Evolving language is fascinating to me.

I really enjoyed The Maze Runner and the new swear words were an interesting thing, but at times I thought he used them too much. A little went a long way for me.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I love this, and try to put a pinch of future language in all my future stories. It's not easy. I once spent about a half an hour coming up with a single word...but it was cool! :)

Kay said...

The first book that came to mind is Rodman Philbrick's The Last Book in the Universe. Philbrook uses some old words in new ways like gummies for old people. I want to read Maze Runner even more now.

Elizabeth Briggs said...

I'm so behind so I just read this now, but I am also struggling with this for my book (which features lots of alternate worlds). Firefly and The Maze Runner are great examples of future slang done well.