So I was hip deep in an edit and there it was - right in the middle of the paragraph 'letting off steam'. In a sci-fi setting. OK so we still use it, even today, in an era when most probably don't know about its origins or the technology that underlies the phrase. By contrast, the phrase 'coals to Newcastle' - meaning taking something to somewhere there is already a lot of it - was commonly used all over the UK, for centuries, now since those coalfields closed, most people under 30 have never even heard it.
Share your examples of any consciously updated phrases of this sort you have used in your writing. Oh and if anyone has an update for 'letting off steam' do please share that too :)

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  • Venting? Unbending? Gearing down? Blowing dust? I've used all of those.
  • I decided to use the opening to rephrase my objections with an uppercut and a left cross with Tony's little brass helpers attached.
  • One I watched with interest happened with the turning of the century. I remember hearing old folks talking about, "Back in ought 3, we did such and such." It was such a quaint phrase, I wondered if we would have something similar, but doesn't seem like it. Then again maybe we aren't far enough away from the turn yet.
  • "Venting Plasma"? "Ejecting the warp core"?

    Part of the issue is that if we update or change idioms like this the audience could miss the meaning. The idioms exist for a reason, and though they may be anachronistic in some settings, we're still telling the story to a modern audience. We already assume that all of the alien languages, and future versions of English, have been translated for us, so why not translate the idioms too? We do that in modern to modern translations right?

    A small example: there is a common phrase in German: "Es tu mir leid". Shifting for grammar differences, it literally translates to "I am suffering you". Which doesn't make much sense in English, not least because we usually don't verbinate "suffering" in that way. When you translate that phrase into English, you more correctly translate it as "I'm very sorry" (although even that doesn't quite express it in English because Germans only use "Es tu mir leid" for apology, not usually for sympathy, and never for small excusing. (Frankly English speakers use "I'm sorry" for WAY too many different things.)

    So, that's the kind of stuff I think about when I'm writing in a distant foreign setting, including the far-future. I know I'm already translating everything everyone is saying into English anyway, so I need to strike a balance between literal and idiomatic translation, just like any other translator.
  • I know I'm already translating everything everyone is saying into English anyway,
    So true, and this is something I always bear in mind and will often let very common phraseology slip passed as most readers will not even realise that is what it is. I think the issue comes when a common term suddenly stands out as being too anachronistic against the background of the scene. But in general, I am in total agreement. I hold with the same for historical styles too, which some fantasy authors seem to obsess on. I get very irritated by someone trying to 'archaise' their writing and I have no wish to stumble through a mock up Shakespeare or Chaucer, the original is tough enough thank you ;)
  • I think Brandon Sanderson did this quite well with the Alloy of Law series (even the title plays like that). One expression they have is someone who is considered a good person is called a "good metal." While, someone rotten (someone of a questionable nature) was called a "bad metal."

    I think we can quite easily replace idioms of this era (and this world) by fully understanding the way the phrase works.

    The phrase "letting off steam" (or its counterpart: "blowing off some steam") is easy enough for people to understand, even in this day and age, because we've all seen a pot of boiling water, with the lid covering it, keeping in the lid. A few have even seen a tea kettle when it reaches a boil (and most even understand without having seen one). The phrase "letting off steam" means to relieve some of the pressure building, before, like trapped steam, it blows.

    I think I'll leave figuring out an alternative to the test of you.
  • I've run into a few that I've had to think about. My most recent encounter (posted to FB) was dealing with an argument between 2 characters and watched by a 3rd. I started to write "her head swiveled as if she were watching a ping pong match" (or tennis) then realized I had the wrong setting and time to use that set of phrases.

    Wound up having to completely rephrase the scene, so she watched the verbal fencing match.
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