Study Guide

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Tone

By Robert Heinlein

Tone

Speaking Like a Space Cowboy

We've all been there. You buy a brand new copy of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, go home, make yourself a cup of tea, sit down to read this novel you've heard so much about, and… what the what? Did you accidently get an unedited copy? Was there some sort of mess-up in the printing run, a defect that dropped all the the's?

No, dear Shmooper, that's the novel as intended. In a vein similar to Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, Mannie and his Luna gang speak a unique brand of English—much the same way Americans and the British speak unique variants of English. More specifically, the novel hosts what linguists call a pidgin, a makeshift language created when people of two or more language are put into the same community and required to communicate with each other.

The languages blended together in Mannie's pidgin are specifically chosen, too, as each one reflects a specific rebellion or colony from Earth's past. Consider:

  • Mannie often uses the word tovarishch, a term used in the Soviet Union as a form of address and translates to "comrade" (2.26). The word "Bog" is also the Slavic language's word for "God."
  • The Loonie language is also sprinkled with a lot Australian slang, such as dinkum (genuine) and cobber (a pal).
  • Of course, English is the base for Mannie's language, so there is also a fair amount of English—specifically American—slang to be had, such as stoolie, "a police informer" (2.2).

All three of these slang choices brings to mind parallels of Earth's history dealing with rebellion or colonial rule—both of which mirror Luna's current predicament. The Russian flavor directly links to the Russian Revolution of 1917 when the Tsarist regime was overthrown. The Australian slang brings to mind that Australia was once a prison colony for Great Britain. Finally, Americanisms are present to draw connections to the American Revolution and America's rebellious spirit in general.

Crafting a pidgin at all is a direct reference to humanity's imperialist history in general, as these types of languages are generally created through colonialism (Source).

Finally, the slang tone also grants our protagonist, Mannie, a down-to-earth vibe—well, down-to-moon, we guess. He's just an average, affable guy who understands what it's like to work and make a living. This is important when you consider the revolution is supposedly an everyman's insurrection. As such, Mannie's tone makes him the voice of the people, both literally and figuratively.