Attention writers of fantasy/historical fiction with archers: It's "shoot," not "fire"

The word “fire” did not become associated with launching projectile weapons until firearms were invented. In the early days of firearms, an officer would give the order, “Fire!” Meaning, “Put your burning matches to the touchholes of your muskets/cannon!” And then the word “fire” became associated with that, and kept the meaning “launch projectile weapon” long after actually handling fire ceased to be part of the operation. E.g., “Fire torpedo one!” means “Push the button that will engage the air-pressure launching mechanism and set the torpepo’s propellors spinning!” But if your story is set in a world where firearms have not been invented, a commander of longbowmen or crossbowmen or catapults should order his men to “shoot,” not “fire.”

S.M. Stirlings’ Emberverse series is an exception, because it is set in a world where firearms no longer work, but people still speak a form of English in which “fire” has acquired the meaning described above.

How about “let loose”?

If they’re archers, shouldn’t they be arching those arrows?

Yes, I’ve commented on this here at least once. It’s something of a minor pet peeve of mine.

Yes, I’ve heard “LOOSE!” used in fiction as the command for archers to attack.

In most fantasy, the characters aren’t even speaking English in the first place. There’s nothing wrong with using “fire” if the dialogue is being translated from Illuskan into Modern English. Same goes for historical fiction in which the characters are actually speaking Latin or Gaelic or what have you.

It’s not ‘Release!’? I always thought it was.

But is the Illuskan word for shooting an arrow the same word as the hot stuff at the end of a torch? Internal consistency must be maintained.

This. Unless your fantasy characters have some historical reason to associate fire with projectile weapons, they won’t be using their word for “fire” to order the use of such weapons.

Wouldn’t cannons and some siege equipment use lighted igniters before firearms?

What about flame-tipped arrows?

They aren’t using their word for flame. Their word for “attack using a projectile weapon” could be based off of a word that means “drop” or “sever”, but those words don’t directly translate into English as “attack using a projectile weapon”. We can’t have the Illuskan field commanders running around shouting “Drop!”, so we translate the Illuskan “attack using a projectile weapon” into the English “attack using a projectile weapon”. In contemporary English, the word “fire” fits the bill better than any other word.

While “fire” in this sense may have its origins in the use of matchlock firearms, you most certainly can fire a crossbow. Similarly, it’s possible for an ancient Roman to sabotage his enemy’s plans, even though the word “sabotage” has its roots in the destruction of industrial machinery. If you want to weed out all “modern” words, you’ll have to change so much that you won’t be translating into a contemporary dialect of English at all.

Now *that’s *pedantry!

Imho, I think we should just leave it alone. If writers had to make everything authentic, they’d never get a book written. If you look at Shakespeare, modern readers need as many footnotes as actual pages to understand what was said.

I’m perfectly inclined to let the writers use language that the audience understands, even if they may contain anachronisms or historic inaccuracies, rather than suffer through the footnotes.

One example that springs to mind is the translation of The Art of War by Sun Tzu. In that work, he uses a lot of measurements that are meaningless outside of ancient China, that have to be converted by translators to make sense. Imagine if say Morte D’Arthur used the actual measurement system of 10th century Britain.

How far do you want to take that, though? You can use the same logic to argue that having a Roman centurion say, “Dude, stop bitching! You’re harshing my mellow,” is okay, because he’s really speaking Latin, and it’s no more incorrect to translate it that way, then it is to translate it as, “Sir, desist in your lamentations, for they oppress my spirits.” While you’d be technically correct, one translation looses a lot of the flavor of the setting.

Actually, NCOs in any time or setting are more likely to say things like “stop bitching” than “desist in your lamentations.”

Heh. When I wrote my own book, it was based around a kingdom that was the only known habitation on the planet, so there wouldn’t be any loan words. So even though this wasn’t Earth so the book was certainly a translation of their language, and even though you can’t write English itself without using loan words, my mind kept rebelling any time there was anything that seemed too loany.

What other words are there for a town square besides “square”? I couldn’t think of any but “plaza”, which sounds Italian, so I was stuck repeating the one same word.

You’d be surprised. I give you the example of L. Sprague D’Camp’s classic ‘Incompleat Enchanter’ series, in which, for example, the Fire Giants of Norse Myth sounded like bums from da Bronx.

It’s a matter of having an accent that fits with the socioeconomic place in which the character being portrayed fits. A dumb thug sounding like a modern dumb thug gives the character more personality in one sentence than five lines of descriptive text might.

Green, perhaps?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Village_green
Central commons also fits.

Commons might have worked. Thesaurus.com didn’t exist back then, but it’s too late now since the book is writ. “Green” wouldn’t have worked. It was stone paved with public restrooms and whatnot.

Maybe they should just say something arch.

Now I’m picturing Robert Benchley and Noel Coward as medieval warlords.