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Real slang for an imaginary world

My fantasy world characters toss around a lot of jargon and slang specific to their reality.I love constructing their everyday lingo. I do thousands of hours of language and historical research and write thousands of words in background notes before I settle on the words and phrases my characters use to describe made-up events, issues, and concepts.

And then I don’t explain any of it. Why do I let readers flounder  if I’ve gone to the trouble of constructing origin stories for my slang?  In a word: cruelty. (just kidding!)

I do it because these words are as normal for the characters as TV or cool would be to us. No one I know wastes time explaining how cool means good, or that TV is short for TeleVision. Conversations full of concepts like  rollover and acronyms like DPS can be overwhelming, but they also make the actions and interactions feel real.

I do provide as much context as a scene allows, and I’m not above using the New Guy trope to shoehorn a little background into the narrative. I draw the line at sacrificing flow and rhythm to hammer raw data onto the page.

This is a blog, not a story, so have at it. Here be some slang terms and their straight-up definitions. Like any glossary it’s self referential. Entries use words that are in other entries. Enjoy. And if you have words you think someone in Rough Passages would use, lay ’em on me in the comments.

  • Arsenal: a combat-trained squad of bangers
  • Banger: anyone with a dramatic destructive power. R’s and P’s in the higher power tiers, telekinetics with
  • Burnouts: those who develop powers at puberty rather than middle-age. Few live past 20. Those who do are usually bangers and often end up in law enforcement “special needs” units.
  • Carnie: a rollover with major physical manifestations. See also: geek, pistol.
  • Cherry bomb: female burnout
  • Crow: female middle-aged rollover with threatening powers
  • Dip: from DPS, the abbreviation for Department of Public Safety, the federal bureaucracy responsble for R-factor testing, education, and all other rollover-related issues.
  • Dollie: female rollover with innocuous or attractive powers
  • Early-Onset: the official term for pubescent rollover
  • Flare: a power surge that accompanies a rollover exercising their abilities. Invisible to the eyes of nulls, but an auroral glow can be seen by some rollover types and appears on some visual recording media.
  • Joe/Little Joe:  male rollover with superhuman powers but otherwise normal appearance.
  • Midlife Monsters: obsolete nickname for USMC Mercury Battalion
  • Monster Buff:  fan of all things rollover-related. Many buffs keep extensive lists of rollover variant types they’ve ID’d “in the wild.” They scour public record information for likely rare variants and share data with other buffs. Clubs meet to swap sighting information, plan sighting trips, discuss the faults of the designation system and argue over validity of each others’ IDs.
  • Monster Marines
  • Null: someone with no powers/someone whose R-factor blood test is negative for rollover potential.
  • Pigeon: middle-aged or older female DPS employee.
  • Pistol: someone whose rollover power is more like a disability, likely to suicide
  • Poz: from positive. Someone who tests positive for the blood factor that proves them vulnerable to rollover.
  • Punk: rollover with human appearance and minor powers
  • Pyro: pyrokinetics and anyone else with rollover powers that cause booms
  • Rollover: a metamorphosis that hits some middle-aged people and leaves them with superpowers and/or dramatic physical changes.
  • Roll cool/Roll hot:  Hot rollovers develop their full active abilities in minutes or hours. For the first few years after the phenomenon began occurring, hot rollovers were the only kind anyone knew existed. In recent years cool, slow rollovers are becoming more numerous.
  • Rouster: military personnel charged with assisting the DPS in policing the powered population.
  • Series: official ability designation. First letter indicates primary disruption type, scaled 1-0 with 1 indicating the highest power manifestation, sub-categorized by additional letters within each series.
  • Slag: an insult term for particularly animalistic carnies.
  • Teke: Telekinetic
  • Torpedo: militarized water elemental or anyone with.
  • Whistle bait: 
  • Willie-Pete: a pyro who loses control and self-immolates.


By K. M. Herkes

Author, gardener, and cat wrangler.

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