I wandered across a little piece of wisdom a few posts ago, captured in the word bloodrust. Okay, okay, so bloodrust ain’t a word. It’s a neologism coined by China Miéville, to describe a phenomenon in his fictional city of New Crobuzon. In writing that post, I started thinking about what a word like that says about the culture in which it arises. In this post I’m going to do some more thinking on that topic.

Think about how much exposed metal and how much bloodshed you’d have to have in your city to come up with a word like bloodrust. So much blood is been spilled so often, and so ubiquitously, and cleaned up so seldom, that you have to name this phenomenon you see blooming all around you.

Bloodrust. It’s perfect. It describes exactly what it is, without a single extra word of description from Miéville. He drops it in a single sentence and then moves along, leaving us to wonder how the bloodrust got to be there. And when we ask ourselves that question, we discover volumes of information about the world Miéville has created.

Drive-by shooting is equally elegant. A monstrous event, to be sure, but the term has a lot to say about the neighborhood (and the country, and the culture) in which it happens. Only people who shoot each other tens of thousands of times a year need to discern this kind of shooting from that kind of shooting.

The fact that the American medical establishment needs to distinguish between the overweight and the obese is another commentary. So is the fact that the Japanese have the word karōshi—“death from overwork.” Another Japanese favorite of mine—again, monstrous but fascinating—is shokushu gōkan, or “tentacle rape.” Only in a society obsessed by erotic art and porn will you find an established vocabulary word for something like this. (And this one goes back centuries; shokushu gōkan is the subject of woodblock prints, not just Wandering Kid movies.)

As a storyteller, there are few talents more important than word choice. I find it interesting that cultures engage in some pretty sophisticated word choice too.