RARA-AVIS: Re: Slanguage

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 23 Jun 2003

>Last week I read "Red Harvest" - for the first time, believe it or not - and
>although I enjoyed and admired it enormously, there were times when the
>"piled-up slang" (good expression, that) became just too much and
>stopped me in my
>tracks, like roller skating along a smooth pavement and then coming to a loose
>gravel drive. When every other word was a (frankly) phoney-sounding slang
>term, I didn't know whether to laugh or snarl; especially since, all
>these years
>after the writing, the meanings and contexts are no longer always obvious -
>shit, sometimes the *object* the term applied to no longer exists!

But Hammett didn't write RED HARVEST for you -- he wrote it for your grandfather, who probably got a real kick out of it. I think we should write for the times we live in, and let posterity hang. If it happens it happens, but most writers want to be read in their own lifetimes, not some hazy spot in the future. I know I do.

Of course, like anything a writer uses in forging his own style
(violence, sex, pop culture references, political opinions, brand names, technical data, whatever), slang can be over-used, but in the right hands any of these can add considerable weight and texture to a book.

And anyway, what's "slang," and what's just common usage? Will some guy in 2095 wonder why you used such archaic slang in your post? Can you imagine?

"Dear Moderator,

Last week I accessed the famous RED HARVEST post by the legendary Mat Coward, and although I enjoyed and admired much of it enormously, there were times when the slang became just too much and stopped me in my URL. What in Microsoft's name is "roller skating"? And other times I was rather troubled by the inherent sexism of the time -- "a loose gravel drive" is a particularly offensive and nasty phrase, no matter how well-regarded the writer is. Were they always so sexist back then? I don't see the benefit in keeping these old archives around if nobody can understand them, or worse, use such occasionally nasty language. What's the point? Someone should definitely Bush these old files, so modern audiences can access their data fully."

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