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October 25, 2019  |  Friday words #194  |  809 hit(s)

I don’t edit fiction, let alone write it, so there’s a bunch of vocabulary associated with fiction that’s new to me. Not long ago I ran across the word ficlet. This is a piece of short—very short—fiction. You’ll see different thoughts about just how long “short” is, but a common idea is that a ficlet is about 1000 words long. As one Twitter exchange put it, it’s microfiction.

Once you know that, you can see that it’s constructed from a shortened form of fiction (see also: fanfic) plus the suffix -let, which is a diminutive: booklet, platelet, leaflet, piglet. (One site disparages the term ficlet, but admits that "ficlet’s only saving grace is that it's at least better than ‘ficcie’.”)

The term ficlet seems to be mostly associated with the world of fanfic. One page says that the length is “able to fit in the space of one message board,” which is where the 1000-word length seems to come from.

While I was looking into ficlet, I ran across the related word drabble. If a ficlet is a piece of fiction that’s 1000 words long, a drabble is more constrained yet: it’s 100 words or less. A double drabble is 200 words or less; a pentadrabble is 500 words; a half-drabble is 50 words. Alternatively, there’s a school of thought that a drabble must be exactly 100 words (not counting the title), which would certainly make for an interesting writing challenge. (I think that if you want to stir things up in the fanfic community, post your opinions about the word count in a ficlet and a drabble.)

According to a glossary I found, the word drabble comes from a Monty Python bit in which “the first person to write a novel wins,” The term was adapted for a contest by the Birmingham University SF Society (in the UK), which apparently decided that 100 words was more manageable than a whole novel.

These terms, along with variations (flashfic, short-short, vignette, snippet, one-shot, Imagine), kind of make me wonder how I’d do at these highly constrained writing exercises. I don’t wonder so much that I’m actually likely to try to find out, tho.

For surprising origins today, an interesting parallel between languages. Someone had a Twitter thread about terms that are formed the same way in different languages. A commenter noted that English forgive is the same as Spanish perdonar (for=per, give=donar, as in donate). This blew my mind.

Naturally, I had to look up where the word pardon came from. Sure enough: we got pardon via French from a medieval Latin term perdonare. The original sense was theological; in Chaucer, the Pardoner sold papal indulgences.

There is some speculation that forgive and pardon are calques, or loan-translations, meaning that a word is translated into another language piece by piece. One source says that Latin might have calqued pardon from Germanic; Douglas Harper suggests that Germanic might have calqued forgive from Latin. Either way, now that it’s been pointed out to me, the relationship between the words is obvious.

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