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Thorn, disability, trauma, and the words we use

Thorn, disability, trauma, and the words we use published on 5 Comments on Thorn, disability, trauma, and the words we use

Really enjoyed this piece, “I’m Not a Person with a Disability. I’m an Disabled Person“, by Lisa Egan. Worth reading the whole thing. A few pointed excerpts:

As a person with a mobility impairment, I am disabled by steps, stairs, escalators, being denied computer access as I can’t write by hand, inaccessible housing, and so on. To me, a flight of stairs without a lift as an alternative is the equivalent of right-clicking me and selecting “disable Lisa.”

[…]

I hated my body when I was not allowed on school trips or when I was left in the classroom on my own while my classmates were doing something more fun. I’d get left in the classroom on my own with a math textbook — anything is more fun than that.

Once I learned about the social model, I realized that my body wasn’t the problem at all. The reason I spent so much time in pain was because I’d get half a paracetamol every 4 hours for multiple broken bones.

There was no need for me to be in pain; effective painkillers existed by the 1980s. I just wasn’t given any. Denying someone needed pain meds is an attitudinal barrier making their life needlessly difficult.

[…]

“Disabled” is the best word in the world for describing the barriers I confront and no non-disabled person has the right to try and take that from me.

To be clear, she points out that she’s not saying “person with a disability” is Wrong or Bad across the board. Just that “disabled person” is the better term for her.


So, okay, the personal angle: I have depression.

Here, too, medication exists. Brain chemistry is more finicky than pain, so it took a couple years of trying meds that didn’t make a dent in mine, but finally, wham, ERIN used BUPROPION! It’s super effective!

And “person with a disability” feels more accurate on my end. (Or, better, “person with depression,” because a nonspecific “disability” makes people think of the physical ones first.)

Thing is, with mental health conditions, the context and perception is different. Outside observers can have a hard time distinguishing between the symptoms and your natural emotions. This is a Problem.

Saying “a depressed person” sounds like “a sad person,” and that’s the wrong idea! Even when it was untreated, even when I’ve been smack in the middle of a serious meltdown, it doesn’t feel like normal sadness. From the inside you can tell when things don’t line up with your actual emotions.

Seriously, I remember trying to articulate this to a therapist in seventh grade. Didn’t have the vocabulary for it at all, so the phrase I used was “I think [I’m crying because] there’s something wrong with my tear ducts.” And even this trained mental-health professional interpreted it as “oh, you’re in denial because you’re embarrassed to admit how upset you are.”

Nnnnnnnnnope. Insert your favorite “you tried” graphic here.

It’s not a facet of your personality. You can’t treat it by approaching it like a character trait that you have to work on. (Makes about as much sense as seeing someone with a backpack full of weights, and telling them to take some weight off by…exercising.) It’s a separate thing. A distinct noun.

The word choice has to make that clearer, not more muddled.

And, listen, I’m not gonna bite anyone’s head off if you use “depressed” in a context where it’s clear what you’re talking about. Right now I work with a group that does disability services, and that category in the database is “Disabled.” That’s fine.

But if I’m referring to myself, it’s gonna be “person with depression.” The implications there line up best with the ones I want to get across.


So let’s bring this around to Thorn.

The backstory in a nutshell: Sir Thorn killed a dragon. Hooray! But in the process he was badly injured, and the aftereffects linger to this day. Boo, hiss.

Physically, he has notable burn scarring on his left arm. And that’s after the best healing available in his magical fantasy country.

Mentally, he has what in our universe would be called PTSD. That’s been brought pretty well under control by treatment too, some of it recognizable in our world (therapy!), some of it not so much (magically soulbonded cat).

You can see some of the low-key effects in the strip so far. Nothing dramatic, no moments where he just aggressively cannot deal. (…Yet.)

It helps that his world has a pretty good understanding of trauma overall. You’d be amazed what a difference that makes. There’s this one IRL study, which I cannot for the life of me find now, where someone got to the survivors of a disaster (boat sinking? earthquake?) and gave them all a one-page flier about common trauma symptoms and effects. Followed up a year later, and the PTSD in the group was way lower — less common, less severe — than average.

More understanding, less stigma, good consequences all around. When Thorn doesn’t want to talk about his backstory, that’s out of a sense of privacy and boundaries, not because he’s been shamed into never talking at all. When he faces something that might play into his triggers, his teammates know it’s a reasonable risk, and will matter-of-factly offer to run interference if he needs it.

(You would think there would be more fictional dragonslayers who, in the aftermath, have triggers related to fire….)

Most of the time, these days, he’s functioning at a good level. Not a lot of active impairment. Most of the time, the people around him are not selecting “disable Thorn.”

However:

that is kind of what the dragon did, you know?

Thorn’s conditions are the result of a specific event. One that was even more actively aggressive than “failing to provide treatment” or “designing things that don’t accommodate how his body works.” They were inflicted on him, and that’s an important part of how he thinks of them, and how he would want other people to understand them.

The phrase “person with a disability” is timeless, eternally-present. “Disabled” is a past-tense verb, better for implying that this had a starting point, that it’s part of the texture of his personal history.

And even in those moments when it’s not actively affecting him — after he’s had years of good support, and is generally in a pretty healthy place — the history is still significant.

Kind of like how you would keep calling yourself “educated” long after you’re out of school (and, let’s face it, have forgotten a lot of the specifics). The experience was still a big part of shaping who you are today, and that’s what you’re trying to get across.

tl;dr Thorn would prefer calling himself “disabled.”


…in English translation, anyway. His native language isn’t necessarily going to break down these terms and their implications in the same way. But that’s a layer deeper than I’m gonna dig in a single post.

Readers, any of you involved in disability advocacy in a non-English language, and/or have opinions about the politics of the lingo it uses? Drop a comment, let me know.

Some fantasy linguistics for these fantasy languages

Some fantasy linguistics for these fantasy languages published on 12 Comments on Some fantasy linguistics for these fantasy languages

Since both main languages in Leif & Thorn are getting rendered into English, they have features and subtleties that might not be clear in the translation. Started making notes for my own reference, and figured I would share.

(Readers who are into linguistics are totally welcome to dissect this stuff and offer ideas! [Looking at you, Mara.])


Sønska uses the vowels Å, Ö, and Ø, as well as acute accents, producing letters like ó and á.

Old Ceannic uses acute and grave accents, but they’ve fallen out of style in modern times. You’ll probably only see them in proper nouns that date back centuries, e.g. Rhódon (the mythohistorical epic hero), Aibreán (the majority ethnic group), or Iùlag (a constellation, the Compass).

Ceannic has a T-V distinction in its second-person pronouns. That is, when Thorn says “how are you?” to his sister, it has a different “you” than the same phrase addressed to President Romarin. Sønska does not have this distinction.

Sønska does, however, have reflexive possessive pronouns. That is, the phrase “Leif went to Thorn’s apartment and shared some of his coffee” has a different “his” depending on whether it refers to Leif’s coffee or Thorn’s coffee. Ceannic doesn’t do this.

Both languages have masculine and feminine third-person pronouns (he/him and she/her). In Ceannic, when people need another gendered pronoun, they usually just make the plural third-person pull double duty (singular they/them). Sønska, meanwhile, has a longstanding singular pronoun specific to nonbinary/agender people (much like ze/zir or hen/hens, but not a neologism). The idea of using a plural as a singular sounds like word salad up there.


Some notes on character fluency:

Thorn speaks awkward Sønska: stilted, with a limited vocabulary and some struggles with grammar. The two languages aren’t developed fully enough for me to know exactly what errors he should be making, because I am not Tolkien. Mostly I just think “if I were trying to say this in French, what’s the best I could do?” and then back-translate.

His Sønska will get more fluid and natural-sounding the more months he spends guarding the embassy, though it reverts to clunkier forms when he’s stressed or his attention is elsewhere.

Juniper speaks even more limited Sønska: basic vocabulary, almost no grammar (“show him the thing”). Holly knows school-level Sønska: mostly building-block conversational phrases.

On the other end of the spectrum, Violet reads voraciously in Sønska (as well as Middle and Old Ceannic, and probably a few other languages). She has an incredible vocabulary, excellent grammar, subtle grasp of idioms and allusions…and a chronic problem with pronouncing things weirdly.

Leif knows a handful of words in Ceannic, including “yes/no”, “please” (formal), “thank you” (formal), and a handful of nouns. He’s trying to pick up more. (He doesn’t know “leaf” yet. Nobody tell him.)

High-level embassy officials are fluent in both Sønska and Ceannic. The embassy guards have a high level of Ceannic understanding, even if their ability to speak it varies.


A lot of the names, proper nouns, and other formal terms are lifted straight from real-world languages. They don’t map directly to the way those languages relate to each other IRL — I just want them to feel internally consistent within a group, and “foreign” with respect to other groups.

  • Sønska names are pulled from Swedish and Norwegian. Lots of Swedish combination surnames, e.g. Ambassador Beringar = “bear-spear”.
  • The guards at the Sønheim embassy are specifically named after Valkyries (Sigrún, Geirskögul).
  • Old Sønska names are dodgy Internet Hungarian (Stanczia, Imri). These are mostly used for naming ancient vampirese; I figured making them Romanian would be a little too on-the-nose.
  • Ceannic last names are French. Like Ceannic first names, they have a theme. Estragon = tarragon, Lavande = lavender, and so on.
  • Formal or old-fashioned Ceannic terms and names map to Irish Gaelic. Tiernan (the cat) = little lord, Margaid (the ship) = pearl.
  • Go back far enough, and Old Ceannic pulls from Ancient Greek (Rhódon = rose).

One other language has been alluded to in the comic so far, and that’s Getsunai, language of the country to the west of Ceannis. Getsunai formal nouns are pulled from Japanese; all the native last names come from professions, so I’ve just rendered them in English, as in Birch Baker.

In spite of those IRL languages being really widely divergent, Getsunai in-universe is more closely related to Ceannic than to Sønska. I’ll break that down in more detail some other time…when I have a good map to post, because this is much easier to understand when you can see where the mountains are.

WordPress plugins and offsite crossposts

WordPress plugins and offsite crossposts published on No Comments on WordPress plugins and offsite crossposts

img180I’m trying out Tumblr Crosspostr with Leif & Thorn. If you’re reading this on Tumblr, it’s working!

Especially curious about how the image (on the original post, it’s a right-aligned thumbnail) is going to turn out.

(ETA: the image turns out terrible. Will remember to be wary of that in the future.)

Over on BICP, I’m field-testing the much-more-heavy-duty Social Network Auto Poster for Tumblr crossposting. It can do a bunch of other sites too — but I’m already using the nice lightweight Social to broadcast to Twitter and Facebook, and don’t have accounts on any of the rest.

Going purely by the setup options, I’m liking Crosspostr better. It lets you pick a set of default tags to add to every crosspost! With SNAP, you either have to do that manually, or start adding your webcomic name as a tag to every post. On its own site.

Who wants to start a Leif & Thorn TVTropes page?

Who wants to start a Leif & Thorn TVTropes page? published on 1 Comment on Who wants to start a Leif & Thorn TVTropes page?

You can kick it off with Bilingual Bonus, Empathy Pet, Call A Smeerp A Rabbit, Cool Sword, Has Two Mommies, and maybe Norse by Norsewest.

Plus a few tropes about diplomacy, knighthood, and gardening? And while my searches are coming up empty on it, there’s got to be one for Introduced Surrounded By Flowers.

This current storyline is going to add a few good ones to the pile, too. Details will be obvious by Sunday….

Color-coded languages in transcripts!

Color-coded languages in transcripts! published on No Comments on Color-coded languages in transcripts!

I’m taking the plunge and color-coding the languages in the comic transcripts. Not for every strip — if all the characters are Ceannis natives speaking Ceannic, or Sønheim natives speaking Sønska, it’s redundant — but for the ones where the language clash is relevant.

Read an updated transcript to see the colors in action!

If these don’t work for you for some reason — colorblindness, a bad monitor, whatever — but you’re running Firefox or Chrome, you can customize the appearance on your end. Add Stylish for Firefox or Stylish for Chrome to your browser, and create a new style with the following text:

@namespace url(http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml);

@-moz-document domain("leifandthorn.com") {
.ceannic {
color: #496F2B;
}

.sonska {
color: #3B2775;
}

}

Then modify however you like. Overwrite the colors, change the font, anything else CSS can do.

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