Foreign words in an imaginary setting

Toby Frost

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Say we're in an alternate reality, where England and France have never existed (like Middle Earth) or a far-future setting where England and France are long forgotten (like Dune). The characters are speaking a different language, but their dialogue is written in modern English (not Ye Olde Fantasy talk.) Two intellectuals are debating, and one of them makes a good point, to which the other says "Touche". Does this seem wrong to anyone?
 

The Judge

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Seems fine to me, with one proviso.

If you're translating their different language into English so we can understand them, then to my mind you can use English expressions even if the words themselves aren't originally English, if these people have a cultural equivalent. Touché is a well-known expression in English even if it retains its Frenchness, so I'd be happy to use it, provided their culture has something like fencing and the idea of "touched" meaning a point is scored. But if the story is set eg in the Viking era or around the Norman conquest, I'd think the use of touché very out of place then even if they have the equivalent of French speakers.

Not sure if that's actually helped you!
 

Toby Frost

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No, that does seem helpful to me. The setting does have a lot of swordfighting - and more importantly the rules around it that fencing needs - so it seems reasonable that the inhabitants would have their own equivalent word. Thanks!
 

HareBrain

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I agree it's fine in terms of language, but bear in mind that a % of readers will immediately think of Touché Turtle, which might undercut any dramatic tension the scene has built up.
 

Elckerlyc

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Touché is a commonly used word (expression), in Dutch as well. So, I guess it is a widespread notion and response to a well-made point.
Suppose your novel were translated into Dutch, like your modern English story is a translation of the language spoken in your alternate world, I would not raise an eyebrow when reading touché.
 

ckatt

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I have to say that I strongly agree with the Judge. If the characters would not be speaking English then you are in effect transiting the story for the reader. So any word on our language is valid.
I think any kind of 'licence' a literary translator might take you can too.
 

Jo Zebedee

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I agree it's fine in terms of language, but bear in mind that a % of readers will immediately think of Touché Turtle, which might undercut any dramatic tension the scene has built up.
Well I did. But Touche Turtle had much drama. You fiend, making it seem otherways. *Unsheathes sword* *Brandishes it* *Touche away!*
 

msstice

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(y) from me. In such cases I consider what translators do in the real world.An effective translator takes the idioms, slang, wordplay of, say, Korean, and converts that to corresponding concepts in contemporary English. It's a balance of reminding the reader of the original setting and the reader's enjoyment.

That said, you may profit from inventing a a few words for things like this, to remind the reader of the setting. If done in context the reader will pick it up, and some may like that.

Reminds me of this discussion: Using story measurement units vs real measurement units
 

Topher

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I had a very similar query briefly with the word kindergarten, but came to much the same conclusion as judge above. These words have been incorporated into the English language now, and I think they're fine (unless, as they said, the world doesn't have fencing or kindergartens)
 

Vince W

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Say we're in an alternate reality, where England and France have never existed (like Middle Earth) or a far-future setting where England and France are long forgotten (like Dune). The characters are speaking a different language, but their dialogue is written in modern English (not Ye Olde Fantasy talk.) Two intellectuals are debating, and one of them makes a good point, to which the other says "Touche". Does this seem wrong to anyone?
Interesting you mention Dune. That book is written entirely in Imperial Galach, which by strange coincidence is exactly like English. At least that's what I tell myself in these situations.
 

Dave

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Touché is also Touché and means Touched in Esperanto if that helps! I think the Stainless Steel Rat books had everyone speaking Esperanto. Or as Vince suggests, you make up your own original language, like Star Trek's Federation Standard, which just happens to be exactly the same as Modern English.
 

HareBrain

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There's never going to be an exact answer to this, because I think everyone has a slightly different point at which they think words from our world don't quite fit. I couldn't bring myself to use "Adam's apple" in an alternate-world book, for example, because who would it be named after? I knew Teresa in the past has described feeling unsure about "French windows" (I think she said she ended up making the "f" lower case"), and "berlin" as a kind of carriage. (That one did jolt me slightly when I came across it in one of her books.)

Sometimes knowledge is an inconvenience. I recently learned that "shrapnel" is named after its inventor. Now, if I use that in an alternate-world story, some little imp is going to inject 10ccs of doubt into my brain.
 

Toby Frost

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Yes, I did leave out the words "thug", "sod" (as in a person) and "lesbian" from fantasy stories for the same reason, as they derive from real-world sources. (I would probably have left out "lesbian" anyhow, as it sounds a bit too modern and 20th century in outlook.) I remember being rather thrown when a character in a David Eddings book wielded a Lochaber axe.
 

.matthew.

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I agree that it would sound odd, but can't think of a word I'd use instead of touche. I suppose you could have them perform a conciliatory gesture in its place though.
 

Toby Frost

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In a section involving spying in a mock-Renaissance fantasy story, I got very close to using "dead letterbox" to describe a drop-off point for a message - and then realised that the postal service wouldn't be invented for several centuries.
 
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