Let me know if you’ve had this problem.
You’re writing out a scene. The characters are on the verge of discovering something. They creep through dank halls to a hidden underground chamber. They slip inside, and what awaits them? A cult ritual in full swing? A monster in the Labyrinth? Do they find out Bob’s horrible fate?
Whatever is in that chamber, you characters have different reactions. One loses control of their gag reflex, while another is stunned speechless, and a third exclaims, “Jesus!” at the top of—
Wait. Jesus doesn’t exist in this world.
Let’s back track.
Curses! A lot of people swear, whether they only do it out of frustration, sprinkle it into their casual conversation, or have their own unusual euphemisms to avoid using the traditional “bad words.” And the severity of cursing ranges from place to place. What’s a scathing insult in one culture will get you laughed at in another. Yet, there is nothing more satisfying than unleashing a series of linguistic bombs when something doesn’t go right. Eases the pain quite well.
Let’s take Jesus out of the equation. Here are some tips for creating oaths in a fantasy world.
1) Take your fantasy religion (or its equivalent) into account. There’s a reason my mind defaults to “God!” or “Jesus!” and sometimes it’s good to start working with what we know. So, it’s not unreasonable that your characters may shout the names of their god/goddess/revered figure. If the world has a pantheon, outside of names, they may curse by numbers. “By the Twelve/Seven/Three” or “By the Gods/Goddesses” are usually popular ones. As is “Gods-damned.” Damning is a thing all gods seem to like to do.
2) As a rule, curses are considered vulgar language. A favourite tactic of some writers is to take Tip #1 and add a ‘vulgar’ body part to it. “[God’s] balls” and “[Goddess’s] tits” are standard ones.
3) Our curse words are generally good to use. See George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” for reference.
4) If you want to avoid references to genitals and wiggly bits in your oaths, take Tip #2 and add a different body part. For this tactic, it’s best to use body parts that the god/goddess might be known for. “[God’s] Eyes!”, “[Goddess’s] Thousand Teeth!”, or “By the Mouth of [Whoever]” are some examples.
5) If you’re writing a book where copious amounts of real world swears would not be appropriate, you may need to make up your own. In this case, remember that simple swear words generally need to be quick and harsh sounding. The base word has to be something a person could shout in a moment of frustration or surprise. Then you can add the suffixes to spice up conversations. Do remember that most swears have a basic definition that usually has a nicer or less harsh word also attached to the meaning.
A good fictional example of this is the term “taff” in the Thief series. Taff, taffer, taffing—they’re all euphemisms for theft or thieves. The way the word is placed into sentences almost makes it look like a place-holder for a real swear. Just remember that slang and curses comes from somewhere, so when used in the proper context, the actual meaning should be fairly obvious.
6) Consider other cultures. ‘Bastard’ is an insult is some places, and a term of endearment in others. Some places do not consider swearing to be a taboo, and it shows in the way most people talk. Others do everything they can to cover up vulgar language. Take your world into accord when deciding what swears are worse where.
These are my basic tips for creating curses in your fantasy world. Hopefully, it helps you add a bit of spice to your dialogue.