Monday Muse: The Joys of Vernacular

This is about worldbuilding. It’s not a comment on language or the ever-evolving nature of slang, though I could absolutely write about that. And maybe I will. Because that’s a fun subject, and I could talk about how the shifting expectations of readers in particular have caused language to change. But I don’t want to.

Today, I want to complain about trash collection centers.

Oh, yeah. That’s what we’re talking about today. Trash collection centers.

In the world of Talentless, the Mages have the ability to transfigure (dropping the Harry Potter reference in because it’s 20 today!) objects, so that’s what they do with their trash. As soon as things are worn, broken, less-than-new, the Mages send the object in question to one of their transfiguration centers (I think their power is… uh… Amethyst) in order to have it changed into something else. It’s at once really wasteful and environmentally friendly since a lot of things aren’t exactly new but they’re also invited to get rid of anything that isn’t absolutely pristine.

What matters here is… what do we call these places? Transfiguration Centers? Sure. But not just trash gets transfigured. A lot of things do, and these are specifically places where things that have been thrown out are changed into other things. Trash Transfiguration Centers. Like… Recycling Centers. But in Utterra, where they have magic, there would probably be different nomenclature. This invites a few questions:

  1. What is the official name for the Amethyst power? Transfiguration? Transmutation? Transmogrification (which, for those of you familiar with Hedy’s story, is what the process in The Lost City is called)? An official government building is going to have something official. The Social Security Administration, the Department of Motor Vehicles, etc. Knowing what the official power is called will help us form an official name.
  2. What is the informal nickname by which the citizenry knows the building? No one I know uses the formal name for anything government-related. We say DMV and USPS. The White House wasn’t called that until the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt, who felt Executive Mansion was too formal for an office that was meant to represent the people. Even if the formal name is Refuse Collection and Transfiguration Centers, what would the people call it? The Mages wouldn’t like the word trash. They’re not throwing things away so something like Waste Management wouldn’t work. Trans Centers… well, even if it worked in-world, it has certain implications in our world, so something like that is out.

Basically, coming up with nomenclature is a matter of understanding your world and what the people within it think of themselves. We might just shorten Refuse Collection and Transfiguration Centers into R-CAT Centers, or even RCT Centers. Or we’d say something like Recycling Centers because that’s basically what we have now, without the magical aspect. R-CAT also gives me flashbacks to school testing… and not good ones. Furthermore, RCAT or RCT implies a society that is matter-of-fact about the way they translate formal nomenclature to informal; it even has mild science-fiction implications. The Mages of Utterra name their magics and center their entire identity around color. People with law enforcement abilities are Blues (it used to be White, but… it got a bit too on-the-nose calling the largely repressive presence of law enforcement the Whites. Yes, Blue is just as obvious, but whatever), animal husbandry is Brown, Red is healing, etc. The less common magics get jewel-tone names like Amethyst and Sapphire. So this is a society that isn’t going to just use initials even if they’re not going to always say Refuse Collection and Transfiguration Centers. “Send it off to the Amethysts,” might be a phrase they would say. Or maybe they call them Reconstruction Centers, which can be shortened to Reconstruction, as in, “Take it down to Reconstruction.”

Now. This might be what the Mages themselves call their R-CAT Centers (which is officially what I will call them in my head), but what about the people across the Wall? The Talentless. The people who see the Mages throwing away things that would be considered a treasure among their people. A people who have to patch and reuse old items until they literally fall apart, at which point they’re cobbled together into something new. Is Reconstruction the right term for them, or would they have something reflecting their more… tenuous relationship with the Mages of Utterra? A suggested Trash-mutation when we were talking about this, and I think that sounded like what Emmett might call them. So maybe the Talentless refer to them as Trash-mutation centers, said somewhat ironically because the Talentless wouldn’t consider pretty much anything in an R-CAT center trash. As far as they’re concerned, most everything the Talentless throw away just needs a spit shine. So maybe they call the Amethysts the Shiners. Nothing too fancy because these aren’t a people with access to higher education (or, in the case of most of them, a basic education), but definitely full of the disdain that the average citizen of the Encampment has for the way the Mages run their life.

What does all of this mean? It means I used this blog to figure out what to call R-CAT centers. But, on the larger scale, it’s an example of how good worldbuilding works. You can’t just pick a name and go with it. Things have to make sense within the context of the world you’ve created. Just because we’d call the DMV the DMV doesn’t mean the Mages would. (They’d probably call them Transport.) And names are powerful. They reflect not only what something is but the way people think about language, naming, and the relationship they have with something. R-CAT centers represent an everyday reality to the Mages. It makes sense to them to send something even slightly damaged off to Reconstruction. It’s no big deal to them to acquire a new anything because of their magic. To the Talentless, however, who might have been using the same pair of child’s shoes for forty years, it’s evidence of the wastefulness, conspicuous consumption, and disregard of the people of Utterra. And naming needs to reflect that.

That’s it for me today! I’ll be back on Friday with… um… OK, no. It won’t be Bleak House. I needed to take a break from that. But it’ll be something.

C

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