Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews, welcome.
The Author: Robert Jordan
Work in Question: The Wheel of Time (Eye of the World, specifically)
The Profanity: “Burn Me”
There is a cohesion in the faux-profanity used throughout this series, which is a positive. But, Robert Jordan falls into a common faux-profanity pattern that crops up all too often, where common words and phrases are conscripted into obscenity. (Looking at you, Stormlight Archive.) These often fall short for me; in one moment they’re ordinary words and phrases wielded by characters with standard use and then the next moment they brandished as profanity. That’s… odd.
“Burn me” is a perfect example of this. A burn is a reasonably common occurrence in our real world, just as it is in Jordan’s Westlands. The word is used as a descriptive by Jordan where one would expect. There’s even a character named Burn (a wolf). This common use affects the faux-profanity phrase, by attaching it to the everyday it draws out any suggested coarseness. It’s profanity robbed of the profane.
Throughout Eye of the World, the phrase is often wielded as an oath — but it’s implied to have the same effect as an intensifier, which is linguistically confusing. Many oaths get shortened to intensifiers over time, but no one is naming their kid (or wolf) after either of them. To that point, “burn” isn’t used on its own, although it would make sense linguistically, especially for an intensifier.
But, the consistency gives it some value. Fire and the results thereof clearly hold some place space among the population. And similar phrases crop up. Plus, this is a reduced version of a longer and more interesting oath, “the light burn me” which — while not entirely fresh as far as fantasy oaths go — reads much better. I’d argue that while it wavers on any perceived offensiveness, and although it works well enough as an oath, it’s better as an intensifier.
Previous Raunch Reviews
- “Slitch” from Robert A. Heinlein’s Friday
- “Yarbles” from Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange
- “Cuss” from Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox
- “Feth” from Dan Abnett’s Gaunt’s Ghosts from Warhammer 40k
- “Shazbot” from Garry Marshall’s Mork & Mindy and Dynamix’s Starsiege: Tribes
- “Seven Hells” from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones
- “Mudblood” from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series
- “Frak” from Glen A. Larson’s, Ronald D. Moore’s, & David Eick’s Battlestar Galactica
- “Jabber” from China Miéville’s Bas-Lag series
- “Storm it”/”Storms”/”Storming” from Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archives
Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.