Boy, Will Spell-Check Like This Entry

An interesting line of questioning struck me today.

I’ve already pondered the relative merits of rabbits and smeerps. Today, though, it occurred to me that I’m not sure the goblins in my fantasy world are so similar to the goblin archetype – what there is of a goblin archetype, anyway – that calling them that is the best option. So: calling a goblin a smeerp?

This is a slightly nerve-wracking idea, because my fantasy world includes my own versions of a number of common fantasy species, including elves and dragons, as well as original species that have names I made up because they don’t approximate any fantastical creatures I know of. Calling goblins smeerps could be a slippery slope. While readers are unlikely, in my case, to say, “Hey, those smeerps are totally just goblins with a different name!”, it’s quite possible they would say, “Hey, those eerps* are totally just elves with a different name!” In a few cases, it would be just absurd. No matter how different its powers and behavior might be, a horse with a horn in the middle of its forehead is a unicorn, and to call it otherwise invites ridicule.

I’ve read fantasy that included monsters that were definitely orcs or goblins but were called Nar’kizul or Ur-gizen or whatever, and I’m not sure it added much to the story. On the other hand, I don’t want readers’ minds drifting in the direction of, say, the Gringotts goblins, or even the awesometastic Labyrinth goblins, while reading my stories.

So, something I’m thinking of at the moment.

*Because of the eers. Get it?

5 thoughts on “Boy, Will Spell-Check Like This Entry

  • What about gnomes, gremlins, kobolds, imps, etc.? Words that can mean “goblin” more or less but don’t come packaged with a ton of preconceptions?

    Or–I’m not sure about this, I’m making it up just now–what about deriving a plausible in-story word that sounds similar, like, I don’t know, “gobbies?” It’ll be obvious that it’s a play off “goblin,” but perhaps readers’ overall impression will be of “creatures like goblins but unique to this story?” Maybe?

  • Hmm, I can see what you mean about goblin – but if you define what your goblins are like right away, I don’t think it would be a serious problem.

    Alternately, you could always go with “orc” (which the OED defines as “a devouring monster; an ogre; spec. a member of an imaginary race of subhuman creatures, small and human-like in form but having ogreish features and warlike, malevolent characters” – and it more-or-less meant this even before Tolkien, although I’m not sure about the warlike.) By doing that you are certainly not going to escape the shadow of Tolkien, but to be fair if you’re going to write about elves, that’s sort of a given.

    A new word I learned recently and was used to great success in the Lois Bujold series I’ve been reading is “bogle,” which the OED says is “a phantom causing fright; a goblin, bogy, or spectre of the night; an undefined creature of superstitious dread. (Usually supposed to be black, and to have something of human attributes, though spoken of as it.) Also, applied contemptuously to a human being who is ‘a fright to behold’.”

    My school of thought, as long as you are using traditional folkloric creatures, is to choose a word with a real etymology rather than something that just sounds good! That’s really where “smeerp” goes afoul.

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