Are you surprised to read that? I was too a few weeks ago when the words splashed across my TV screen as I sat watching a Spanish language news channel with my mother-in-law. Mi suegra (my mother-in-law) is much more comfortable with her native language so out of respect to her, when she comes to visit, we become a Spanish-speaking household.
Back to Mrs. Clinton—I couldn’t believe it when I saw the short bit of her giving a speech which had been mostly muted by the news station and the word retiro below her. When I later found my husband to tell him about the shocking retirement, he—a politico junky—obviously didn’t believe me. I insisted I’d just seen it plain as day on the news. I told him in Spanish, “Hillary Clinton retiro!”
He said, “Gueras (blondie—my hubby’s nickname for me), that means she went on vacation. As in a relaxing retreat.”
“Oh.” Ooops. And I consider myself fluent in Spanish.
Are you like me? Fascinated by other cultures, hypnotized by different accents? Are you prone to introducing your American girl-next-door to the ultra-magnetic Aussie, Brit, or Latino? And when they enter into conversation, have you researched your characters enough so that you are confident they are not saying something their great-great-grandparents might have said back in, oh I don’t know, the really old days?
And is internet research really enough? I once wrote about an Aussie who was supposed to be from this century and in a rock band. I could hear his voice, with all the rhymey things he did to the end of his words, but I wanted the phrases themselves to be authentic. The online Australian urban slang website I was using to find these terms spit something out at me one day. It said, Carlene, try “Fair dinkum.” I don’t know about you, but does a guy who wears his wallet on a chain, Doc Martens, and has a neck tattoo peeking out from his always black t-shirt sound like he’d utter the words, “Fair dinkum, mate.”?
Exactly. There was only one way to be sure. Accost the mom on my son’s football team who happened to be from Australia without seeming like a crazy person.
As far as I can tell, living breathing people are my best tools for researching authentic cultural dialogue. But when there’s no one in your rolodex from Ireland, Jamaica or Brazil, what do you do to ensure you’re getting it right? Seriously, I need to know! Please do tell.
And for the readers visiting this blog, do you worry about this when you read a story? Or do you leave it to the author’s artistic license? Is it really that important to you?
The first person to leave a comment answering what FIGJAM stands for gets a Mermaid surprise!
30 thoughts on “F.I.G.J.A.M.”
It stands for “F**k I’m Good . . . Just ask me” – at least it does in the Navy.
Yes! You are too good Robin Mermaid! I’ve got a pack of mermaid stickers with your name on them.
Oh – Loved the post! When I went to work for the Navy and DoD it was like another culture. All the acronyms . . . ugh. But, after a while they all seem second nature to me and now I use them all the time. FUBAR, SNAFU, POA&M . . .
Robin, help me out with SNAFU and POA&M
Situation Normal, All F***ked Up
Plan of Action & Milestones
Ahhh, thank you! I should have known those.
Sadly Robin, I knew all of those…
Robin–don’t forget WTF, O. (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Over) “What the F***, Over”. Not sure if we in the Navy coined it or the Army–my hubby used to say it too but still–love those military acronymns. Oh and the unique language, Scuttlebutt (rumors), Gedunk (junk or candy), Head (toilet), Bulkhead (wall), Deck (floor), etc.
Actually, “O” was Oscar–oops–sorry!
Loni, hubby is claiming the Army coined that but he may be a little biased. You Navy folk do have a very unique language, I’ll give you that!
That’s what FIGJAM stands for??? I was way off. 😉
This is a great post, Carlene-Mermaid. I take it even further than just language quirks though. I try to think about what year my hero and heroine were born so around what time were they in high school. What songs would have been popular at that point. What kind of slang would they have used.
The internet is awesomesauce but you’re right. Sometimes the best thing is to reach out to a real live person. 😉
Hi Kerri Mermaid,
So aside from the internet, who/what are your most trusted sources for getting these details correct? I have to say my younger siblings and cousins are generally ripe for the picking!
I just bought this great little book from Borders called “ManWords” and it is hilarious. I’d never heard of the term “chocolate bunny” before – know what it means?
I’m almost afraid to ask but…What does Chocolate Bunny mean?????
Hi Carlene, don’t know if this is the real meaning of SNAFU but a sailor I was once married to told me it means Situation Normal, all F***ed Up. I don’t worry about accents in the stories I’m reading, I “dunt” like getting hung up on what the slang words mean or how to pronounce them!
That’s correct Terry!
Hi Aunt Terry, thank you for stopping by. And thank you for sharing your point about not wanting to get hung up on the slang words. I sat in on a workshop that warned us about phonetically typing out a character’s accent because it takes the reader away from the page. I think my best example as a reader of not caring too much about slang was when I read the Girl With a Dragon Tattoo books. If I would have gotten stuck on all the pronunciations in them I’d never have finished the wonderful stories.
One I like to use is MFIC
Hi Jessica! Thanks for stopping by, what does MFIC mean?
Hi Carlene, great post! I think it all comes down to the specific knowledge of the reader. For example, as a reader, I probably wouldn’t mind if a writer gets Australian slang incorrect — simply because I don’t know it’s wrong. However, it drives me crazy when writers get basic facts about Thai culture wrong — such as, all Thai food has peanuts in it. So since we don’t know what our readers know, I suppose we should just try to get as much right as possible!
Very good point P.H. We don’t know what our readers know so it’s best to assume they are willing to follow us into the story to a point but yes, we need to get it down as much as possible!
I agree accuracy is a good thing but if I don’t know any better than it doesn’t hurt me (as a reader).
Thanks for the FIGJAM! I’m gonna start using it…EVERYWHERE! 😉
Hey Kathleen! Thanks for stopping by. Girl, when you got it, you got it. FIGJAM is yours!
As a reader, I think the same as some others on here….”what I dont know doesnt hurt me”, however I sometimes spend hours looking up slang words when I am reading a book based on another culture…..so, sometimes its just too much. On the other hand, I DO like to learn new stuff….I just think when the book has TONS of slang and accent, it’s frustrating and I eventually give up and put the book down……and dont count on ALL your younger siblings for generational help……hahaha i have gotten pretty old and slow in my young age..hahahahaha
So basically we need some balance in there. Just enough to keep it fresh and new but not so much that we bog you down. Even “old and slow” you’re still pretty hip with me kiddo! Thanks for stopping by!
Great post Carlene! I think it is important to try to make your characters as authentic as possible without over-doing it. I hate reading a story where I can tell the author knows nothing about the time frame, location or culture they are writing about. They don’t have to have everything perfect to make me happy but at least show they have a general knowledge on their subject because something can mean one thing in one place and something completely different in another.
As for inspiration… I find people are my best reference but when that isn’t possible I use the internet and books other people have written set during the same time frame or location.
Hi Dana Mermaid (as opposed to my little sis Dana who posted before you…y’all have fabulous names!) I hear you about having that general knowledge where something means one thing in one region and something else in another. That’s why I tend to gravitate toward using settings of places I’ve been to or like you mentioned, have read about substantially. Of course there’s always my fave place to chat someone up–in line at a place like Comic-Con!
Carlene…… ok so I SERIOUSLY thought that Hillary Clinton retired…. from office…. don’t do that to me!!
So I read your blog (stop being shocked)…
Remember that book that I bought because of the book promotion with the tea bag that you sent me??? OK, well its kinda difficult because the british author writes in her normal terminology. Having been fascinated with the land of our people for most of my life, I know a thing or two about British slang & terminology but…… its like you really have to think about things she says as you are reading.
oh for people that are reading this and don’t understand my saying “the land of our people”, Carlene and I are related =)
Hi there, thank you for stopping by. I’ll confuse the masses even more and call you Ann instead of Emma or maybe try and explain how you are biologically not just my aunt but also my first cousin. Anywho, I know what you mean. It goes back to that article I read where they said not to use language, fonts, phonetics, etc that will take the reader out of the story. I still want to read The Untied Kingdom because I really loved the author’s promotional tea bags at the conference. You may like the book “The Bad Mother’s Handbook” by Kate Long. I found it easy to read even though it’s very much a British book. Love you and thank you so much for stopping by!
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