Cussing. No, I promised. No adult language. But Cussing is a C-word for which I have more than a little talent. I like the intensifiers and the transitive verbs. I like the broken-glass window into the culture in question.
My immigrant great-grandfather–who was a liar, by the way–insisted that there were no dirty words in his native language. And he said this with such angelic composure that people believed him. Until I came along. Hello, internet, and a list of words so colorful, I had to translate the translations for some of them.
So, in my current project, I find myself exploring insults and curses on a non-earth world. At the moment, I’m looking for just the right thing for a woman to say to her husband (in a unilateral marriage) when she finds out he’s lying to her.
So far, the insults have come from his culture, not hers.
His culture values family, so the worst of their insults are things that imply someone isn’t living up to their responsibilities, or isn’t capable of helping their family. Suggesting, for instance, that someone is competing for advancement when he should be working to rebuild after a tragedy. Suggesting that he would have to be forced into even the lightest, and most pleasurable work.
Her culture, on the other hand, is much more class-conscious. If she wants to insult someone, she’ll probably point out their lowly status, or poverty.
And frequently, the insults just don’t translate. They may know they’re being insulted, but they’re not too likely to understand the exact reasons that what’s said is an insult. They confuse each other, and learn from the experience.