In one of my previous posts, I discussed the profanity found in The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate. In that post, I didn’t talk about “rogga” or “still” as slurs, mostly because the real world parallel to rogga is both obvious and something I don’t feel qualified to talk about. However, I would like to return to profanity by discussing still as a slur.
I like that the orogenes have their own response to rogga, and I especially like that they chose the word still as the vehicle for this. There’s a certain level of irony in it – they live in the Stillness, but as Jemisin says about the Stilness, it “…is not still even on a good day.” (7), so it is fitting that those who know the Stillness best are the ones who are not stills.
The other thing that is interesting about still as a slur for a non-orogene is that it implies that stills are missing something that the orogenes have. In their world, to be an orogene is to be wrong, to be an abomination or a monster. Thus, this implication that to be a still is to be lesser, to be missing a skill (and the sessapinae) that is ultimately helpful in the world of the Stillness is a way for orogenes to empower themselves. In any other world, orogenes would be superheroes, and I think using still as a slur is a way to acknowledge their own power in a world that consistently discriminates against them.
I’ve also been doing a lot of thinkING about Ykka’s use of rogga as a caste name. Essun’s reaction to it is extreme: “You blurt: “Rogga?” You use this word all the time, but hearing it like this, as a use name, emphasizes its vulgarity. Naming yourself rogga is like naming yourself pile of shit. It’s a slap in the face. It’s a statement – of what, you can’t tell” (Jemisin 268). This reaction is perfectly valid – this word has centuries of violence attached to it, and even in today’s examples of reclaiming slurs, people don’t name themselves after these reclaimed slurs, though they can and do identify with them. Regardless, Essun’s reaction is justifiable, both because of the history of violence “rogga” recalls and because naming yourself rogga immediately outs you as an orogene and puts you in danger.
However, I also think that Ykka’s reclamation of rogga is important and impactful. It is a reference to current attempts (and successes!) to reclaim derogatory words and make them declarations of power, which are proven to make the people reclaiming them feel more empowered. It also works in the context of Castrima, since orogenes are in charge there, but I’m not convinced it could work anywhere else in Sanze.
In lieu of beating a dead horse and continuing to vocalize my thoughts on slurs in The Broken Earth Trilogy, I’d like to invite my classmates to a continuation of this conversation. What do you think about still as a slur for non-orogenes? How do you feel about Ykka’s reclamation of rogga, and do you think Essun could ever come around to it?