Outlaw Language by Lawrence Berry

The editors and publishers ruling the Transmundane Press universe are unique in being connoisseurs of inventive language. They encourage stories where the words themselves are hooked to electric current. I write a monthly column called Forbidden Words (And When To Use Them) on the vocabulary of dark speculative fiction and the most brilliant new words each year aren’t generated by giant alien forms of intelligence working on a lathe of dreams. They come from outlaws, musicians, kids trying to fool their parents with creative forms of code, and the occasional Science Fiction writer. William Gibson’s cyberspace will probably stay in the dictionary for at least a century. Before Mr. Gibson, the word simply did not exist.

Vast programs sift through all means of recorded expression and count how many times a word is used. Those lost and forgotten disappear from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and go the planet of forgotten nouns where they form huge drifts constantly reshaped by winds from the distant past. Those more nimble, and more useful, keep their place in the 2nd Edition of the OED, an immense work comprised of 20 volumes and carrying 171,476 words and 47,146 obsolete entries.

Archaic words are those forms rarely seen but still used in a historical context. An example would be darbies (handcuffs) and Bedlam (currently defined as uproar or confusion, the archaic meaning surfacing now and then in horror films and referring to a poorly run asylum where torture is used as part of treatment). In contrast, obsolete words are dinosaurs belonging to a lost world.

An obsolete word that may revive is alienist. This has an obsolete meaning for a doctor now known as a psychiatrist but is currently used to describe a psychiatrist that assesses the competence of a defendant in court.

When I wrote Abra, I began by doing a search for new and old words that have a criminal connotation because I was writing about people who live outside the law-abiding circuit of normal life.

Stash came up. The word surfaced from the criminal underworld in 1794 and meant items of value hidden by criminals. Now it can mean a cache of Snickers bars you’re hiding from the kids.

The largest source of invented words came from kids whose phones often get raided by concerned parents. 53Xis code for sex. Finsta is a fake Instagram account used to deceive parents. Clout demon is a wannabe. Drippin’ means flashy or ostentatious. Cringey refers to the actions of an old, un-hip adult.

The new expression that most amazed me was lean, an intoxicant made of cough syrup and soda. In my time the ‘nightmare cocktail’ was made by busboys clearing tables after the restaurant closes pouring the remains of cocktails into one big stew. A ‘stub’ was a vagrant cigarette butt you might accidentally ingest if you weren’t paying attention.

Thicc means a person with a great body. Tea is gossip. means very.

So when I came up with ‘the crazy dance of peyote stars,’ I was having a lean, dodging cringey relatives after my stash of cough syrup, totally drippin’ (dressed in my best clothes).

Editor’s vary, but the best make a writer tread that knife-edge that exists between the known and the soon-to-be-invented.



48416177_2008938705839504_8094266344947580928_nLawrence Berry sold his first story to Cavalier Magazine and went on to have a ‘best of’ in that publication. Specializing in horror stories, in his work can be found in a number of new anthologies and podcasts. Lawrence specializes in horror fiction.


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