For May 2007


May 14th, 2007 

The Birth Of A New Word

Anacosmism    [an-uh-koz-miz-uhm]   /æna- koz miz -im/

- noun 

1. something or someone that is not in its correct universe or cosmic location, esp. a thing or person that belongs to an inappropriate universe: A pine tree is an anacosmism within an alien universe with no direct connection to Mundis, the universe of earth and humankind.

2. an error in fantastic literature in which a person, object, event, etc., is assigned an existence or accepted place within a universe to which it cannot belong: To assign the concept of day and night to a universe without an equivalent of suns or stars is an anacosmism.

[Origin: 2007, Jennifer Diane Reitz; ANA-, + COSM-, + -Ismos -ISM]


One of my spouses is involved with a writer's group, and he is in the process of reviewing another writer's fantasy novel. One problem with the book is that although it is set in another world, in a fantastic universe of sword and sorcery (and cliche elves and such), it features a vast number of strictly terrestrial things; plants, animals, tools and devices, and so forth. The characters in the book speak of minutes and seconds when they have no clocks and tell time only by the sun and moon, their plants and animals are all those to be found only on earth, and they have the months of the year, and the days of the week, yet no Rome to produce the names that are used. This is a world with no connection to our earth, yet filled with earthly things, and earthly historical references.

I regularly wrestle with exactly these issues, and I take such matters seriously. To suspend disbelief, and thus to fully enjoy a fantastic story, the author -I believe- must make every effort to ensure the self-consistency and realism of the universe the story is set in. To be sloppy, or unthoughtful about it is a disaster - though of course deliberate failure in this matter is the very substance of a satire or farce. But the serious work... to such the world as a whole needs must be carefully tended to.

Stephen needed a means to tell this writer that they were doing something wrong, but lacked a word. The term 'Anachronism' hardly fits, for it deals only with matters of time, and here we are dealing with hyperuniversal errors, errors of the multiverse. So I gave him my own private word, which now I am sharing with you; anacosmism.

In writing Pastel Defender Heliotrope, as well as To Save Her (not to mention Unicorn Jelly), I am always careful to avoid anacosmisms. In Unicorn Jelly, I could never refer to 'wind' or 'cold' for such things do not exist in the universe of Tryslmaistan, at least within common or ordinary experience. Thus, although the human protagonists of my story are the descendants of people from our earth, it is only reasonable that after millennia, any term for cold or wind would be lost altogether. On the other hand, I could freely make use of 'day' and 'night', because while Tryslmaistan has no suns and no moons, it does have charged orbs which glow and serve a similar function, at least from the perspective of human beings standing on the sands of a Worldplate.

Additionally, I needed to avoid most common colloquialisms, phrases, and chestnuts, because such things would have also been long forgotten. I could never use 'running like the wind', obviously, and neither could I ever have a character say that they were 'dog tired' -because dogs had perished utterly eons ago, and no memory of them remained. I could not have any reference to 'radio' or 'television' or anything electronic or electric, because electricity as a force, cannot exist in the Tryslmaistan cosmos - instead it is replaced with something else that roughly serves in its stead, the same being also true of 'gravity' and all the terms associated with it.

I also had to be very careful of what things which were allowable, being derived from earth originally, so as to make use of them in a manner reflective of the unique history of my colony of humans in Tryslmaistan. They needed to have a stronger influence in their culture from those people from earth which dominated their early days, and which affected their development the most. I must do this in all of the stories I do involving the descendents of earthlings in alien universes.

If, in Pastel, I were to put a telephone, or a 24 hour clock, or have a character say that a color was a 'blue as the ocean', I would be committing an anacosmism. None of those things have any reality, nor any hope of reference, in the universe of Pastel. If I imagined the people of Tryslmaistan building an aeroplane, or a Zeppelin, it would be an anacosmism, because the physics of that universe would not permit such a machine to function at all. Likewise, if I put crawlclocks, crystal basilisks, electanic radiation, gloms, chatoyanite, or made reference to tratons and yaurons in a story about our own earth, it would be an anacosmism, because none of these things can exist, live, or be within the physics of our universe.

I think it is important to be very careful about such matters. And it is very simple, really, to fix such an issue, if only an author but spends a tiny amount of mindfulness.

Let us imagine that an author has created a passage such that, within the context of some universe utterly unconnected by history or contact with our earth, a character rides a horse through a meadow filled with daisies and surrounded by mountains covered with pine trees. Everything is wrong with this fantasy; pine trees are native only to the earth, likewise daisies, and horses as well. Each has an evolution that depends on earthly physics, earthly time, and earthly matter.

To change this, at its most simple, requires nothing more than the invention of a few new names, and a few moments of imaginative description; the character now rides a shaggy lankstrider across a meadow of blue wisternist, surrounded by mountains covered with great and ancient forests of strethstand. In other parts of the story, a sentence or two could be provided to describe these plants and animals further, offhandedly, as one would discuss any matter, and thus a truly unique and creative world would be formed in the mind of the reader.

I call the need for this 'The Japan Issue'.

In the late 1800's one has to wonder what possessed the United States to forcibly 'open' the island nation of Japan to trade, quite against their will. No easy answer is obtainable; there was no specific need of anything Japan had that could not be obtained elsewhere in the Pacific Rim, and there was no military value in such trade, neither was it possible to conquer and possess Japan. Why then go?

Because it was exotic. Japan was very exotic then, and arguable still is to many Americans, and that which is exotic is interesting, and interesting things have value according to how desirably exotic they are. Beauty and wonder are commodities.

When a person sits down to an entertainment that takes place in some utterly unearthly locale, they are there, in part or in whole, to experience the exotic. They want something new, and something different, they want the desirably exotic.

It cheats the reader, and art in general, to slap together a poorly imagined world of ordinary things barely repackaged as something fantastic - unless a critical part of the fantasy directly involves a connection with our ordinary world.

It is cheap and impoverished to put horses in fantasy worlds (in general) - which is why I commend the Chocobo of the Final Fantasy games, the Striders of The Dark Crystal, and the Taun-Tauns of Star Wars... all serve the same purpose as a horse, but do so with a unique and exotic sense of wonder. And that is what the customer is there for.

A horse in a completely disconnected fantasy cosmos is an anacosmism; a thing placed inappropriately within a universe.

It does not take overly much to invent an original name for an original person, place, or thing. There are many ways to do it. One can simply make up a word, create a word that neologistically invokes certain feelings or ideas because of the arrangement of known suffixes or prefixes, or even generate a portmanteau; a word that is a combination of existing words, slammed together in some fashion. I am a great fan of the portmanteau - consider 'slithy' from the poem Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll... it is 'slither' and 'slimy' slapped together - 'slithy'. It evokes an exotic but yet roughly intelligible concept.

The next step is to give flesh to your bone-words, and that is easily enough done by merely describing what they represent. Often, the poorest way to do it is to just out and define things blatantly "A wild dorse is a three-meter high ruminant that features the characteristics of both a dog and a horse", whereas an often better way to describe a new thing is to gradually reveal it - "...the dorse's padded, clawed feet ran swiftly over the bulbed mat of tannulous plants...", "...the dorse grazed contentedly, munching the tall thantis grass, and occasionally tossed the mane on its tall neck as...", "... Cantra rode upon the back of her dorse, sitting high in the ornate saddle..." and so forth. Gradually a complete picture emerges of the unique beast.

I would offer that much is gained for both author and reader, if the author but takes time to avoid anacosmisms, and attempts to fill in original details to their world that both define it, and engender a sense of the exotic and the wondrous in the reader.

And this is true for any medium, from books to comics to film.


By Jennifer Diane Reitz

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