Nomenclature is a system for naming things within a particular field or discipline. The common terms and expressions ensure that the members of this group can communicate with and understand each other across the entire field.
When you do research for fiction, you will undoubtedly encounter unfamiliar words relating to your subject. In some cases, context can help you figure out what these words and phrases mean. In others, you might need the assistance of a specialized dictionary.
You can find these at the library or online. Or online at the library.
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With scientific fields, such as astronomy, archaeology, or medicine, the terminology is practical—that is, it relates to the actual thing in discussion and it may be the same across the entire discipline, or even multiple disciplines. The language of research is pretty much the same everywhere. The words sample, peer review, empirical research, citation, and abstract all mean identical things no matter what field you’re talking about.
With other fields, it becomes jargon, a set of terms that is unique to that particular activity. Computers are a good example. Hard drive, server, FTP client, and macro specify actual things used in computer science and programming.
In retail, companies use words like guests instead of customers, associates instead of employees, and open merchandising (where a customer can interact with products) to describe their environment. You might have come across this in daily life—your own workplace may use specific terms for certain things that you don’t use anywhere else.
“We call it ‘rocket fuel’ here, Bob, because it blasts you off and tastes terrible.”
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Fields you might explore for a book can be anything, but common ones in popular literature include:
- Law enforcement
- Entertainment (as in Secret Book)
- Niche groups such as gangs, fandoms, etc.
You might also find multiple layers in authentic nomenclature. Let’s say you’re writing about biker gangs. Because they own and work on their bikes, they would have a command of the language surrounding motorcycles—their parts, the tools used to work on them, etc.
A closed criminal group such as an outlaw motorcycle club (one percenters) will also have a subset of terms they use to refer to any unlawful activities, such as drug dealing. And finally, they’ll have jargon they use within the group, such as slang they use for members, cops, wives and girlfriends, and club activities.
We have been discussing this, and it is with deepest regret we revoke your membership in our esteemed organization due to your repeated extracurricular activities with our most revered leader’s marital partner.
Fantasy authors engaged in deep world-building will make up their own nomenclature for things, but it still needs some basic organization so readers can relate to it. If it’s done well, with good context, the reader won’t get very far before he starts to figure it out. If it’s done poorly, reading the book will frustrate the reader, and he/she will abandon it.
Anthony Burgess’s seminal novel A Clockwork Orange is a good example. The narrator Alex speaks in an argot, or secret language, called Nadsat. It consists mostly of Russian-influenced slang words spoken by the teenage subculture of the novel. Burgess, a linguist, also incorporated Cockney rhyming slang principles into the language, coming up with words like Charlie (prison chaplain—from actor Charlie Chaplin).
In 1984, George Orwell created Newspeak, a fictional language the totalitarian Big Brother state used to control the populace. Words like thoughtcrime, doublethink, and duckspeak encompass the societal concepts but act to diminish the expression of any thought. Characters are expected to speak and even think in these terms or face retribution.
I thought about a Twinkie today; they’re coming to get me soon.
Use of authentic nomenclature when writing about certain professions or activities can lend a sense of realism to your fiction. Make up your own to enrich and deepen your fantasy world.