In our English language conversations, sometimes we want to suggest that the details aren’t really important. We might indicate this with an interjection — like “anyway”, or “at any rate”. In Aligare society, people express the same sentiment, but they don’t typically say “anyway” or “at any rate”. Instead, they say “at any pace” — or “anypace” for short.
Judellie blew a jet of smoke through her grinning teeth. “He doesn’t sound so good to me.”
Rue couldn’t help a smile. “You shouldn’t say things like that. Not where folk can hear you, anypace.”
-Chapter 5 of Render (A story of Aligare)
As Felixi turned away, he nodded. It was a movement brief as a heartbeat, but Rue felt it an accomplishment anypace.
-Chapter 9 of Render (A story of Aligare)
Why this detail? Well, I thought it was important that these non-human folk have a few minor — but striking — differences from our Earth conversations. They’re supposed to be understandable, but not fully familiar. How better to do that than with some simple turns of phrase we don’t usually use? I know I’ve never heard another human say, “That’s what I think, at any pace.”
In a deeper sense, though, “anypace” reflects the understanding between Aligare’s three peoplekinds. Everyone has their own skill sets and abilities, and their own ways of arriving at a destination. Everyone is different; Aligare society always tries to respect that. So when someone says, “at any pace”, they basically mean to say, “However we get there and however long it takes, we’re arriving at the same conclusion.” It’s acknowledging that there’s no One Right Way to get goals accomplished.
But still, it’s a casual phrase. Aligare folk don’t think about the significance as much as I do.
◦ The power of one descriptive word (heidicvlach.com)
◦ Korvitongue (heidicvlach.com)
◦ Teas and tisanes: what’s in a name? (heidicvlach.com)
Yesterday, there was a minor fire in my apartment building. I don’t know the full story but apparently, something electrical shorted out in a utility closet. The fire was limited to that closet, and the superintendent put out with fire extinguishers before the fire trucks arrived. No one was hurt — unless the superintendent’s slightly singed hair counts. There’s a few thousand dollars’ worth of smoke damage but everyone who lives in the building is safe and still has a home.
That’s not what you’d assume based on the local news. Early reports described this event as a “blaze”. When I imagine a “blaze”, I imagine something like this:
That’s the conclusion many other people drew, as well. The sight of fire trucks and water hoses (which were brought into the building as a cautionary measure) only supported the idea that there was an ongoing, serious fire. Residents of the building were inundated with phone calls from worried relatives asking if they were alright. Some were even told, “Your house is on fire!” by people who had only heard a rumour of a terrifying, life-destroying “blaze”. Today, I even heard people saying that they heard the building “burned down”.
Crazy, huh? A poor choice of words can send a community into an absolute panic. For an older example, consider the story of Martian canals. An Italian astronomer described canali on the surface of Mars, an idea translated into English as “canals”. Canals are often man-made, so this choice of word fueled the idea that there are Martian aliens with full-fledged civilizations. People ended up getting very panicky indeed about the idea of Martians invading Earth.
Of course, when people aren’t sure what’s truth and what’s fiction, one word can easily seem to signal danger. Our animals instincts tell us to take potential threats seriously. Words still have power in fiction, but it’s a more subdued and enjoyable power. In a clearly fictional framework, a word like “blaze” can give the reader a jolt of imagery and emotion in the same way a roller coaster gives us a safe, controlled thrill.
Focused on final Render edits as I am, it was just a bit bizarre for a word choice to jar my daily life so powerfully. While I’m thinking carefully about terminology like Aligare magic, people out there are picking the words broadcast over national news networks and sometimes those people choose poorly. What a double-edged blade language is.
- Aligare in the distant future (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Korvitongue (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Summarizing a novel (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
In the Aligare world, people prepare tea. Warm, steeped beverages are very popular. They’re comforting, and that means that offering a visitor some tea is perceived as a kind gesture.
From the author’s end, though? I had a lot of semantic trouble with this simple custom. You see, in our world, “tea” refers to the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. We colloquially call it “tea” when we’re drinking a cup of hot steeped plants, but that’s not always accurate. Caffeine-free “herbal tea” isn’t tea at all. If you’re drinking chamomile or peppermint or any blend that doesn’t contain tea, it’s called a tisane. (As a waitress, I struggle to bite my tongue when people ask for “normal tea” as opposed to “herbal tea”.)
But as much as I wanted to use accurate terminology in my Stories of Aligare, few people know the difference between tea and tisanes. If I had my non-human folk talking about drinking some tisane, I’m sure the average reader would be annoyed that I didn’t explain what this invented fictional drink is. And if I explained the difference between tea and tisanes, it would seem like an unnecessarily big deal. The difference between tea and tisane is not a plot point in Remedy or any other story. When I’m writing my human-free world and introducing new ideas to the reader, I need to be careful to pick my battles — and hot beverage terminology isn’t important enough to fight over.
So when aemets, korvi and ferrin make a hot drink out of steeped plant matter, it’s called “tea”. The tea plant does exist in their world, but it’s called camellia. And, actually, camellia isn’t primarily used for drinks.
“I’ve got some camellia,” [Rose] said.
It was Father’s, a cache of tea-plant meant to dye his clothes a rare sepia shade. He had thanked the friend who gifted it – then he told Rose, in murmured confidence, that camellia was wasted as dye when it made such a fine energizing tonic.
Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 8
The point I’m getting at is that Aligare folk drink tea, but it’s not the cup of milk, sugar and caffeine many humans think of as tea. And the Aligare world doesn’t have coffee trees. So, um. If humans were welcomed into an Aligare home, we would be welcomed warmly but we might find it hard to get up in the morning.
- An interview with Peregrine of Ruelle (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Aemets’ airsense (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- The lucky rue plant (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
This post originally appeared on my Blogger account. So you might find it familiar!
There’s a unit of measurement called the smoot. You might find it while telling Google Earth which units to give distances in. The smoot sits in a pull-down menu along with more familiar measures like miles and kilometers — which is interesting because what the heck is a smoot? (Other than a reason to bicker with your autocorrect software. No, TextEdit, I don’t mean “smote”.)
According to Wikipedia, a smoot is equivalent to 5 feet, 7 inches or 1.7 metres. Which is the height of Mr. Oliver R. Smoot, a graduate of Masschusetts Institute of Technology. He and his fraternity buddies invented the unit of measurement as part of a prank. Over 50 years later, their painted smoot markings on Harvard Bridge are still used as points of reference by locals.
When Google offers measurements in smoots, it’s not really for practical purposes. It’s an obscure joke. The smoot was never intended to be taken seriously and people seem to find the whole thing amusing. Could that be that why this measurement endured far longer than most frat stunts?
Maybe it’s like how the foot has endured as a unit of measurement. Using a man’s foot as a unit of measure must have been practical in ancient times, but it’s a bit silly to hold things against the nearest adult man’s feet nowadays. Why are feet an acceptable form of measurement while smoots are a weird joke? Neither of them are more absurd than using a metre, which is defined as 1) one ten-millionth of the distance from the equator to the North Pole, or 2) the distance light travels through a vacuum in 1/299 792 458 of a second. How the heck am I supposed to measure a piece of string against THAT?
But then again, it’s not like I could have Mr. Smoot follow me around in case I need to measure things. I doubt it’s possible for a standard of measurement to be immediately practical and relevant in all situations. We’re better off picking some arbitrary length, making metresticks/yardsticks to measure with, and calling it a day.
For my Aligare world, I have the characters measure short distances in “knuckles”, which is the distance between two of a person’s knuckles.
It’s about 1 inch/2.5 cm. Hand width is similar between korvi and aemets. Ferrin have small paw-hands so for the sake of clarity, they use the span of three knuckle bones, not two. Everyone knows that a knuckle is a very rough measurement, so they’ll specify whether this knuckle of mint stems is generous or skimpy.
Other measurement units are the “hank”, the average height of a cotton plant (about 5 feet/1.5 metres). And a “stone’s throw” which is, well, anywhere between 2 metres and 20. Without a government or a monarchy to impose specifics, everything is taken with a grain of salt. Or five grains. Sometimes.
Units of measurement exist so that people have some constants to relate to. Humans have a lot of ways to measure, I’m guessing because we’re an awfully competitive and curious bunch — but any sentient being needs a way to talk about length and distance, even if those units aren’t precise. Each unit has its intended audience, and we can convert measures to fill in the gaps. As the smoot proves, a unit of measure doesn’t need to be universal to be useful; that’s the long and short of it.
- Scars: fictional meaning vs. real mundanity (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- How lifespan affects the fantasy viewpoint (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Unusual objects and their measurements (ask.metafilter.com)