Using an English term, vs an Authentic term

When it comes to stories in non-English settings do you prefer words to be in English/Your native language, or in language authentic to the setting?

For example, if you were reading a Slavic inspired story would you prefer Emperor or Tsar, King or Krol, Duke or Ban

if you are writing in a setting that everything from the shack to the beer to the clothes is from X country or Era . Then yeah , it be weird if you don’t . And it’s always a nice thing to see .It really add to the feeling that you are right there , y’know .

I would prefer language that’s authentic to the setting. It would certainly enhance my experience, however it’s not a big issue. Depends on the quality of the writing really.


Tsar is basically a loanword into English, by this point. Similarly, Sultan or Shah or whatnot. The question is, how many words from other languages do you intend to use, which ones, and why? Past a certain point, dropping in more foreign language terms starts to seem gratuitous. The trick is figuring out where that point is.

Basically, write what you’re comfortable with, but be consistent, and make sure there’s a reason for which words you choose to translate, and which to use as-is.


Tsar was a genuine title used by Imperial Russia, it’s derived from Caesar. Tsar isn’t likely to be a title I’d use though, it was just an example.

Mostly I’d look at using it for titles and honorifics, as well as names of equipment and gear in more specific/regional terms. Basically just names and whatnot, I’m not going to use it beyond that as it is a fictional universe, and using a real language beyond naming and titling things for a fictional country seems a bit disingenuous

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It makes sense for weaponry, because those are specific terms, and usually the distinctions are important. They’re also distinctions that mean something to anyone who knows a lot about the history of weaponry (which I do not). When it comes to noble titles and military ranks, some of those tend to be pretty regionally-specific, too. For example, I often see settings inspired by Imperial Rome use specific Roman terminology, which makes sense to me.

Those seem like good choices.


I did that with both Oedipus and Sea Maiden but I made sure to add the uncommonly used words in English to a glossary :slight_smile:


i think it’s also important to not forget about the timeline
for example, russian rulers were offically called “prince”, “tsar” or “emperor” depending on the time period

In my opinion, if you’re writing for people who are unlikely to have a clue what you’re writing about, you should probably have a rethink. Don’t expect your audience to shoot off to google every five minutes…


Your approach looks like you’ve already found a good balance. Here’s my advice for other authors:

Honestly, less is more. It’s a real trap I’ve seen some authors fall into, going too heavy with words in a foreign language. This is coming from the ‘samurai guy’–in my stories, I have plenty of katanas and kimonos, lots of saké and dojos and even bushidō. But you won’t catch me measuring length in ‘shaku’ or weight in ‘kan’.

I’m writing in a fictional version of Japan, while other authors may be going for a much more historically-accurate setting. But our audience is mostly the same: young people who have a limit to how much vocab they want to be forced to memorize.

My recommendation is to focus on foreign words already well-known to English speakers, and introducing new words always in context to explain what they are. I would use them sparingly, and only for nouns like a weapon, a title, or whatever the locals call a bar. A little flavor goes a long way!


Since you have some experience in it, when coming up with names for SoH how did you avoid ones that are particularly jarring to say. I’m not sure how Japanese words and pronunciation tends to translate into English, but Slavic names are… Well it speaks for itself really


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Here’s a fun fact about Samurai of Hyuga: the author rarely even pronounces ‘Hyuga’ the right way. But that’s the thing–readers don’t need to be able to replicate foreign words phonetically to perfection. So long as they can pronounce it in some way, you’re fine. Names like ‘Nrvnqsr’ (a completely random example) are best avoided like the plague.

English speakers on the whole consume a whole lot more Japanese media than Russian, and that’s just a disadvantage you’ll have to work around.


I’d say it depends on the impact the word choice has in context.

Most people reading “the Vasilias of Somewhereland, Konstantinos I” will get that the strange word in there is roughly equivalent to “king” even if they’re totally unfamiliar with the language it’s in.

Most people reading “He entered his spiti and sat down” will be pretty confused until they either look the word up or the text explains it to them.

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I don’t think there’s a single right answer. Different readers will have different degrees of tolerance for unfamiliar words (including unfamiliar English ones, as readers of the great sci-fi author Gene Wolfe will be aware, and definitely including made-up words).

In the world of my own CoG story, Choice of Rebels, there are a lot of semi-obscure terms derived from Greek. When I read fantasy or sci-fi, I enjoy worlds with a distinctive vocabulary, and I wrote the kind of story I personally enjoy reading. I find the initial challenge of “learning the language” is more than repaid by greater immersion down the line; and where (as in Neal Stephenson’s much-criticized Anathem or Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun) the world’s distinctive language has some resonances with our own world’s history/politics/religion, all the better.

But of course not everyone enjoys that challenge. Some people bounce right off that initial obstacle, and never end up immersed at all. I recently got my favorite one-star review of Rebels on Google Play, which was mainly an extended complaint about “…all the uncommon and unpronounceable words and poorly explained concepts… Here’s a tip: if you have a glossary of terms you made up, you made a mistake. If that glossary is more than one page, you messed up your story. And if someone needs to look at the glossary at the beginning of the story just to get through the prologue, instead of just being used if you need a refresher after leaving, you made a bad story. I really am interested in this world but I feel like I’d need to take a college course to get all the concepts into my head.” :slight_smile:

It goes without saying that this reader enjoys different things in their fantasy than I do. Their “tip” is right on when it comes to writing for the sizeable audience that doesn’t want to work too hard for their entertainment –

But I wrote for a different audience, one with tastes closer to my own. And for anyone worrying about the impact of obscure/challenging language on sales figures, it’s worth noting that Rebels has been very successful commercially. I don’t disagree with Devon that all else being equal, it’s probably better to use weird vocab sparingly. Readers of the WIP thread for Rebels will remember that there were plenty of terms I avoided because they seemed a bit too obscure, or didn’t evoke as strong an English cognate. (The Hegemony could have been the Basileia).

But plenty of readers do appreciate being challenged to learn a vocabulary–and there are enough of them to carry a CoG to commercial success. So ultimately, if you feel it enriches your work, I’d say go with your gut.


Rebels had quite clear language and concepts I thought, I went in blind on my first run and I wrapped my head around the concepts fine. Thuerges do magic, Helots are slaves, Harrowing is ritual sacrifice and form of tax, none of that is outlandish or overly hard to comprehend.

Gotta say I’m glad you went with The Hegemony, sounds a bit more insidious than Basileia


I’m a huge proponent for writing the sort of story you want to write, and that an author should use whatever words it takes to achieve that end. Well, so long as they don’t go against Apple’s terms of service I suppose. I really have no idea how CoR’s challenging language affected sales. My guess is that it didn’t do much compared to the quality and magnitude of the work itself.

I do want to add though, that readers of WIP threads and playtesters have an inherent passion for choice games. That’s why they’re here. You can assume–as a whole–that they are willing to pay more attention to your work than a typical user who stumbles upon your game in the app market. From what I’ve found, it’s grabbing their attention at the start that is most difficult.

Once you get past that, and they’re a few chapters invested into your story and characters, you can take them on any journey you want.


I mean, as a Russian I don’t really mind if the words are in English or you use the Russian word for it. To be honest I actually prefer them to be in english. Less chance of confusion that way and the words tend to be easier to pronounce to non-native speakers. As long as you give the feel of it being in another nation or time period through descriptions and dialogue whether you use “foreign” words or phrases doesn’t matter to much to me.

I’ve largely bastardized various East and West Slavic words in order to make a nobility system. Heck the entire culture of the fictional kingdom is a bit of a mix of various Slavic cultures, so I’m taking a few creative liberties

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That seems fine by me. I mean really as long as you can tell what the words mean in the story without having to look it up its not really a problem with me. Kind of like what you said about Rebels. Helots were clearly slaves, Harrowing is a ritual sacrifice, etc. It’s just games that throw in terms without much concept or explanation that are a bit frustrating. But a pseudo-Slavic kingdom in a choice based game seems really interesting. You don’t see many of those. Usually its either something like England, France, or the Roman/Greeks.

Lots of excellent tips - I learned quite a bit in this thread. Thanks all!

Though if I had to echo an important thought, it would be @Hazel mentioning consistency, many posts ago. Very critical no matter what you choose, in my opinion.