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Alternate History General Discussion

Bolt451

Anxious millenial cowgirl
Location
Sandford, Gloucestershire
Pronouns
She/Her
I'm thinking for my British Republics TL rather than a whole bunch of interviews telling the entire history of Britain from 1918 yo 1995 I write it as a journalist column focusing on either the presidential election in North Britain or.on both sides of the divide ahead of referenda on reunification?

But very biased and self involved. Fear and Loathing on the Iron Curtain. Hunter s Thompson but hes on real Ale and Buckfast instead of drugs
 
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JesterBL

Gastronaut
Location
Flyover Country, USA
Pronouns
he/him
One thing I probably focus on far too much is finding alternate terms to avoid inconvenient etymologies (examples: I want to describe something as a 'skunkworks' but obviously 'skunkworks' is an OTL Americanism with very specific origins in the 1930s, I wanted to avoid the thoroughly American 'supermarket' and 'suburb' so opted for the more Gallicized 'hypermarket' and 'faubourg'). Does anyone else do this?
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
I wanted to avoid the thoroughly American 'supermarket' and 'suburb' so opted for the more Gallicized 'hypermarket' and 'faubourg'). Does anyone else do this?
I think "this must be an AH because the terms are different" is a pretty common trope. I can't remember a specific example of me doing it but I know I have.
 

JesterBL

Gastronaut
Location
Flyover Country, USA
Pronouns
he/him
I think "this must be an AH because the terms are different" is a pretty common trope. I can't remember a specific example of me doing it but I know I have.
I guess more than simply sprinkling different terms in- does anyone else embark on seemingly endless etymological rivet-counting while trying to write their alternate history works?
 

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Published by SLP
Location
Nu Yawk
Pronouns
He/Him
I guess more than simply sprinkling different terms in- does anyone else embark on seemingly endless etymological rivet-counting while trying to write their alternate history works?
I sometimes do, but have a rule of thumb that in order to actually include it, it should be intuitive. For instance, having some totally made up military rank, even if it's not any more bizarre in etymology than an OTL one, would confuse a reader, but replacing the word "general" with titles like "grand colonel" and "corpsmaster" wouldn't because you can easily grasp that they're military ranks for people in a position of power.
 

Von Callay

Kept After Class by Mrs. MacBrayne
I guess more than simply sprinkling different terms in- does anyone else embark on seemingly endless etymological rivet-counting while trying to write their alternate history works?
The details are evading me right now, but I know @Gryphon has done this, but it was a negative example. That is, he'd changed things in such a way that a particular common term never came into widespread use, but there was no way to actually demonstrate the AH-ness of this, because people aren't going to notice that you just never say 'duffle bag' or something.
 

Gryphon

oh no
The details are evading me right now, but I know @Gryphon has done this, but it was a negative example. That is, he'd changed things in such a way that a particular common term never came into widespread use, but there was no way to actually demonstrate the AH-ness of this, because people aren't going to notice that you just never say 'duffle bag' or something.
'Duffle bag' is perhaps my worst instance of this (I use 'carryall bag' in most places where it or a similar term would appear, because 'duffle bag' dates back to only the early 20th century, its earliest known appearance in, of all things, an e. e. cummings poem), but the inverse is also troubling- I agonized over using the term 'x-ray' because it's such a weirdly specific OTL circumstance term that really shouldn't exist in most ATLs but there's simply no good, easily understood generic term or obvious alternate that wouldn't then require an extra half paragraph of explanation.

(I think, IIRC, the specific example we talked about was 'car'- I've preferenced 'auto' in a lot of stories, but no one will really notice if you don't say 'car' unless you draw attention to it.)

It's a really tough line to walk, because you can easily lose yourself in weeds forever in it- consider, for example, how many of the things you might say in a given day are a reference to an in-joke or a piece of media or any other thing that would be completely inexplicable to someone from an ATL, and then consider how rarely you see characters in any fiction, much less AH, reference popular media even obliquely (which would be difficult to explain in and of itself to a lot of premodern writers, where you need whole extra books to explain all the references present in the book you're reading).

Overall the best approach, I think, is to preference OTL terms where there's a good reason to, but if there's a simple and easy alternate term that would be instantly understandable, don't be afraid to use it, because you're the absolute god of the things that you're writing and no one can actually stop you from doing whatever you want except you.
 

napoleon IV

WAS TONTY PIZZA BEHIND THIS?
Location
Washington, Douglass Commonwealth
Pronouns
he/him
'Duffle bag' is perhaps my worst instance of this (I use 'carryall bag' in most places where it or a similar term would appear, because 'duffle bag' dates back to only the early 20th century, its earliest known appearance in, of all things, an e. e. cummings poem), but the inverse is also troubling- I agonized over using the term 'x-ray' because it's such a weirdly specific OTL circumstance term that really shouldn't exist in most ATLs but there's simply no good, easily understood generic term or obvious alternate that wouldn't then require an extra half paragraph of explanation.

(I think, IIRC, the specific example we talked about was 'car'- I've preferenced 'auto' in a lot of stories, but no one will really notice if you don't say 'car' unless you draw attention to it.)

It's a really tough line to walk, because you can easily lose yourself in weeds forever in it- consider, for example, how many of the things you might say in a given day are a reference to an in-joke or a piece of media or any other thing that would be completely inexplicable to someone from an ATL, and then consider how rarely you see characters in any fiction, much less AH, reference popular media even obliquely (which would be difficult to explain in and of itself to a lot of premodern writers, where you need whole extra books to explain all the references present in the book you're reading).

Overall the best approach, I think, is to preference OTL terms where there's a good reason to, but if there's a simple and easy alternate term that would be instantly understandable, don't be afraid to use it, because you're the absolute god of the things that you're writing and no one can actually stop you from doing whatever you want except you.
My go-to example of how words are tied to history is the name of the metal copper. In Roman times copper mainly came from Cyprus, so they called it aes cyprium (metal of Cyprus), which was corrupted in the Latin word cuprum, which later became the Old English coper and then eventually copper. So in an ATL where Rome never came into being, or Europe is a backwater and Chinese is the world's lingua franca, or even the Normans never invaded and the Anglo-Saxons stay around there's no reason why your characters would use the word copper. But how likely is a writer to find some alternate term for copper? As you say, that becomes losing yourself in the weeds forever over it. This is also a problem you also encounter in fantasy writing, except it's worse there because there is no real history to tie to, every word becomes questionable.

My only real hard and fast rule on this is that you absolutely must avoid using terms your readers will instantly realize shouldn't exist in the ATL and cannot under any circumstances be explained away. The obvious example here is a character in a world where Christianity doesn't exist using "Jesus Christ" as an expletive. Other than that I agree, just do what you want it's your world.
 

Von Callay

Kept After Class by Mrs. MacBrayne
The other, smaller (undoubtedly sillier to worry about) problem I've thought of is when that relatively easy option is taken, to use an equivalent term from a different region or part of history that people still recognize, like 'wireless' instead of 'radio.' If you use a term that varies by region and handle it carelessly, you might just create the impression in the reader that you don't know that Americans say 'gas' instead of 'petrol' or 'sneakers/tennis shoes' and not 'trainers,' and not that you knew that and meant something by the change.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
I sometimes do, but have a rule of thumb that in order to actually include it, it should be intuitive. For instance, having some totally made up military rank, even if it's not any more bizarre in etymology than an OTL one, would confuse a reader, but replacing the word "general" with titles like "grand colonel" and "corpsmaster" wouldn't because you can easily grasp that they're military ranks for people in a position of power.
The Doctor Who spinoff book I, Alastair made up a colonel-equivalent for its fascist world of "column leader", which gets across "is leader" while also sounding just dodgy for some reason. Something about it just sounds jackbooty.
 

Christian

Well-known member
I remember one alternate history I've read about Russia investing more into private business.

It was, let's say to be nice, very sparse on the details and rather simplistic on effects. One section just said, "The government distributed land, production increased and poverty went down." That part usually requires entire chapters of more than 2K words to cover, but it was mentioned very quickly.

Also, at the very end, he just randomly wrote down that he approved of how gay people in Russia were being treated because, as a Christian, his beliefs are against homosexuality. He said that he believed it was not right to censor or ban him for saying that because AH.com believed in free speech.

I'd be much more critical and harsher if I didn't soon learn that said author was just entering his teenage years. He was 14 or so, and I'm not sure how right it is to scold a teenager for stating his still forming beliefs.
 

ChrisNuttall

Well-known member
I

I'd be much more critical and harsher if I didn't soon learn that said author was just entering his teenage years. He was 14 or so, and I'm not sure how right it is to scold a teenager for stating his still forming beliefs.
He's a teenager. Scolding him will only strengthen his convictions that he's write and you are so wrong that all you can do is hurl insults, rather than reasonable arguments. Encourage him to think about why he thinks it instead.
 

Redolegna

Champagne Socialist
Published by SLP
Location
Paris
Pronouns
he/him
One thing I probably focus on far too much is finding alternate terms to avoid inconvenient etymologies (examples: I want to describe something as a 'skunkworks' but obviously 'skunkworks' is an OTL Americanism with very specific origins in the 1930s, I wanted to avoid the thoroughly American 'supermarket' and 'suburb' so opted for the more Gallicized 'hypermarket' and 'faubourg'). Does anyone else do this?
To go with faubourg (they were the suburbs in medieval times, but they got absorbed into the towns and cities proper during the modern era), you can add "banlieue" (current suburbs), so banleague and the newer "couronne périurbaine" (exurbs), periurban crown. And for downtown, it's "centre-ville", city centre.
 

Wolfram

The possum is not OK. Neither are we.
Location
the Velvet Coffin, Texas
Pronouns
he/him
Something about it just sounds jackbooty.
I think part of it might be that the only place most people hear 'column' as an organizational term is in the couplet 'fifth column', which evokes either scary revolutionaries or scary authoritarians spreading conspiracy theories about scary revolutionaries to justify purges and crackdowns.
 
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Geordie

"One of popculture's most iconic men"
Published by SLP
Pronouns
he/him
I think "this must be an AH because the terms are different" is a pretty common trope. I can't remember a specific example of me doing it but I know I have.
I used "Nokias" as a catch-all term for mobile phones in Let Them Talk. My thought process was that in another world they could have nailed the leap to smartphones, and thus "done a Hoover".

I know @Mumby has used "velocipede" instead of "motorbike". Others may have done similar, but I remember that one.
 

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Published by SLP
Location
Nu Yawk
Pronouns
He/Him
I used "Nokias" as a catch-all term for mobile phones in Let Them Talk. My thought process was that in another world they could have nailed the leap to smartphones, and thus "done a Hoover".
This makes me want to do a setting where phones in general are called "Bells" or "Tele-Bells". Both from the dominant company name and the noise they make when ringing....
 
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