Sayings, exclamations, and phrases from fantasy worlds

Sayings, exclamations, and phrases from fantasy worlds

This was originally posted to patreon as patron-only content in October 2019.

Something that’s on my mind recently as I work on updating BLACKWING WITCH, a work-in-progress fantasy world that is still very early in development. The main culture I deal with in BLACKWING is the witchfolk, the people of the Empty Wilds and other places on the edge of civilisation who practice small magics and live in isolated family groups.

For the witchfolk, most of the sayings and proverbs I’ve been writing about have been related to their specific elements or areas of focus, as this is in many ways analogous to a religion. For Wy, a moon witch, a common exclamation is ‘Stars and sea’. Her sister Illvisar, an air elemental, greets a newcomer with ‘Well met and good winds’.

I’m not sure whether these sayings will make it into future drafts. Definitely I feel like they need tweaking. I’m funny about fantasy phrases and exclamations — they can seem awkward or forced, and I’m very aware of that in my own work.

I try to make it match the setting, though. And in BOOKS & BONE, I really leaned into that awkwardness, as it suited the world. ‘Festering rats!’ is a common cry of Smythe, and you often hear necromancers exclaiming ‘Ghosts and gargoyles!’ or ‘Morrin’s teeth!’ referencing the Goddess of Undying and her infamous bag of human teeth. For me, the awkwardness of these phrases worked because they not only matched the setting, they were kind of funny, and on the whole so is BOOKS & BONE.

Off the top of my head, there’s also a proverb I found cute:

‘Therianthropy uses skin?’ He couldn’t quite manage to hide the revulsion in his voice, but this time Ree’s lips twitched in a scant smile.

‘Is that your only protest?’ She studied him closely, looking for signs of pity or disdain. ‘Just that it’s practically unpleasant?’

Smythe’s eyes widened. ‘I — well, yes? It’s not really for me to judge another’s course of study. “Cast not the eggs from your nest, lest you find it empty”, and all that.’ He looked a bit sheepish.

I think I liked it best because it’s so nearly a real world proverb. I think I started somewhere with ‘don’t cast the first stone’ and worked on it from there.

Anyway! Just a few worldbuilding thoughts for your Wednesday. 🙂

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