So I’ve been having great fun lately on a new project. Not only do I love the story and the characters (except when they act out), but it’s flowing like a river during spring thaw. Okay, that metaphor isn’t the best because sometimes a lot of ice chunks clog up the flow and . . . well . . . yeah . . . anyhow, one of the fun parts of the new project is making use of 18th century thieves’ cant.
My first introduction to cant came in the book Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick (an excellent read, by the way). Cant was a secret language used among thieves, beggars, and other types of scoundrels. I believe there is a separate variation used by gypsies. Even though my NP (new project) is set in an alternate world, the thieves cant seemed a natural fit. The addition of this secret language has added great depth to my world building. I suppose I could have made words up, I’ve done that before, creating languages known only to my characters and sprinkling them throughout. And I do find I need to take some liberties with the cant, occasionally bending a meaning or tossing in a more modern slang term, still, it’s like that little sprinkling of hot sauce on a Bloody Mary. Or salt on fries. Or salsa on eggs. Well, you get my point.
This is just the kind of little something that I find I love in the books I read lately. In moderation, of course. Too much can ruin a good story. When I have to spend too much time trying to figure out what the character’s are saying, I lose patience. Yes, perhaps they really speak like that all the time. The problem is, I don’t. If I have to have a companion translation dictionary at hand, I swiftly lose my desire to continue on. Done correctly (and I only hope I am) the addition of such little details can really enrich the reader’s experience. It becomes those little gems that people remember and bookmark on their Kindle. Add in all those other good tidbits of world building we’ve seen here and elsewhere, and you’ll soon be immersing your readers in a land that seems as real as the one outside their door.
Have you ever stumbled across any dialects or languages used that intrigued you enough to research them? Do you like those sprinklings of gems, or do you find they pull you out of the story?