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Words for Fathers

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‘Maba,’ the Gethenian version of ‘mama,’ is attested in “Coming of Age in Karhide” and in “The Shobies’ Story.”

‘Amha,’ ‘mother/parent-in-the-flesh,’ is attested in chapter seven of TLHoD.

‘Seyan’, ‘sibling,’ is attested in the BBC radio play of The Left Hand of Darkness, when Estraven tells Genly the hearth tale of the place inside the blizzard.

‘Mothersib,’ ‘aunt/uncle’ is attested in “Coming of Age in Karhide,” but it’s a story that uses the premise that the narrator, Sov, is not writing in Karhidish. So, I made up a Karhidish word, for the fun of it. I’ve decided ‘amha’ becomes ‘amhēs’ in the genitive case to form ‘amhēsseyan,’ because otherwise I looked at all that Greek in undergrad for nothing. Short alpha declension fans make some noise!

‘Odamha,’ something almost, but not quite, entirely unlike ‘father,’ is not attested in any of Le Guin’s stories. That’s my coining based on the calendar and clock chapter of TLHoD. ‘Odamha’ turns into ‘od’hma,’ the equivalent of ‘dad,’ because a bunch of my friends are linguists and their pernicious influence has made me think that consonant clusters and metathesis are cool. I have simple tastes! I love a good H sound! Languages are so fun, guys. I nearly wrote a bit in the conversation where Estraven’s like, “children, Genly? At my age?” where the misunderstanding came from Genly conjugating a verb wrong by leaving out a perfective-aspect infix. But then I was like, you know what? That’s a little too self-indulgent and tangential!

‘Ommi’ comes from *od+maba (ommaba). I think they’re close to ‘daddy’ and ‘dada.’ Which is why it’s weird for Estraven when Genly essentially asks him if he’s daddy.

‘Hesamha,’ ‘grandparent-in-the-flesh,’ is another thing I cobbled together by stealing the ‘hes' of ‘hes-kyorremy’ (higher council/parliament) and tacking it on to ‘amha.’

A sitto phone is just me taking citófono, the (cooler-sounding!) word for entry-buzzer/intercom from my native language and putting a little Karhidish spin on it. (Soft C is not attested in Karhidish.)


“Reading Coming of Age in Karhide” and “The Shobies’ Story,” and to a lesser extent, “Winter’s King” helped supplement The Left Hand of Darkness in forming a picture of Karhidish family structures and the role of the not-mother parent.

“Winter’s King” describes Argaven the 17th’s (she/her) parent in the flesh as an ogre, someone whom she felt safest away from when she was a child. There was an adult called Borhub with whom the young Argaven felt safer, but there’s no indication of who Borhub is, or what her relation to young Argaven is. Whatever the relationship is, it is clearly not as important as the person’s name.

TLHoD primarily gives an outsider’s perspective on hearths, kemmer, and relationship structures on Gethen. Still, I find the fact that King Argaven the 15th (he/him) is trying for an heir of the flesh because kemmering-children only sort-of “count” incredibly telling. It’s such a small detail and it manages to imply so much about fatherhood on Gethen.

Sov’s (no pronouns, temporary she/her during kemmer) ancestral hearth in “Coming of Age” sheds light on how class intersects with family structure. Sov's hearth, Ereb Tage in Rer, discourages vowing kemmer because they’re not posh. Someone or another’s mother is quoted as saying, "Vowing kemmer, what do you think you are, some kind of noble? some kind of fancy person?” Sov has plenty of family: mother and grandmother and cousins and siblings and cousins’ parents and siblings’ children, but this is not a hearth where people have fathers. It’s not till Sov's mid-teens that Sov learns who their getter is. Nevertheless, Kharrid is still around the hearth, working as a cook. If you read this story, I should warn you that there’s a moment where Sov and Kharrid have what can only be called Weird Vibes—but without crossing into incest.

In “The Shobies’,” on the other hand, the family structure is different. The Gethenians on the ship (no pronouns at all) are a Karhidish family of four: one couple with a six-year-old and a four-year-old. (Incidentally, those are the ages assigned to Ashe’s two children by Estraven in the radio play. I chose to make them ten and five instead. Estraven swearing oath to Ashe specifically because there was a child on the way makes better sense to me.) In “The Shobies’,” Oreth is Asten’s mother and Rig’s father, and Karth is Rig’s mother and Asten’s father. They are both very loving to both their children, but the young children only ever address their respective birthparent as maba, and there is a faint, faint sense in the family’s interactions that the parent who bore the child has more of a responsibility for that child than the other. In one scene, around a fire, each child lies on their mother’s lap. At another point in the story when Asten and Rig are both distressed, Oreth picks up Asten and Karth picks up Rig.


Lastly, here are some things from the fic that I stole from Real Life:

Notary string: they have that in Germany, but also, for some reason, in a stationery shop in a Canadian city where I lived for a bit.

Getting an egg cracked on your head on your birthday: I’m from South America! I have personally seen this happen to people when I was in elementary school. It’s very gooey! They do this in other places too, but not where I currently live, so I have dodged my designated egg this year. I’m now 23 and no eggs were harmed in the making of this.