Thursday, January 24, 2008

Tech Top -- Words, words, words ...#1

I got an interesting comment off-Board, talking about some of the particular language of the book.

It was Franzeca Drouin, Eloisa's research assistant, who brought these to my attention. Her website is here, and very cool. If words interest you, go check it out.

What it is...
when you're writing along in 1800 there's just lots of words that haven't been invented yet -- clairvoyant, scientist, kiwi fruit -- and you want to avoid these words, as a general rule,
because lots of people know these words haven't been invented in 1800 and you don't want to annoy these people
because some of them are, like, librarians and they will come after you with pitchforks.

So, anyway,

Sometimes you make mistakes, even with all your attention engaged and making an honest effort to do the research.
(The main research being the OED and Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Grosse and the loverly loverly Googlebooksearch feature and, of course, just generally using your noggin.)

And sometimes, you deliberately use a word that hasn't been invented yet.
(When you do that, you have to be prepared to duck and run for cover and somewhere there is a minor demon writing this all down in a book and he puts a black mark next to your name and giggles. )

And sometimes you make choices between a couple possibles.

Let me look at just the first couple that were brought to my attention and talk about what I did with them and why ...

Here they are, the first three of a dozen or so ...


p. 18: "sock" while making her cosh; ("cosh" itself in that sense is 1869; perhaps your researches brought it closer to the beginning of the 19th Century.) I would recommend "stocking" instead of sock; as she probably would be wearing stockings, not socks, and socks seems to have a more specialized usage.

p. 24: "driveway" too American suburbia; try "carriage way" or just "drive"

multiple places, including pp 52, 249 and 252: "bedroom"--yes, kind of okay timewise, but "bedchamber" is older, and sounds, I think, more authentic, without making things more confusing.

sock --
now this is just a typical example of the kind of problems that beset me and probably beset everybody else who writes Historical Romance , which is rather a lot for a word like sock to do, isn't it?

The word 'sock' was in used in 1802 in what is essentially its modern meaning. (It's in Milton and in Samuel Johnson's dictionary and I have an 1840 ref to knitting a 'child's sock'.)

The word 'stocking' was also used in 1802, and was a hundred times more common than sock. Stocking is the word Grey and the others would have called what Annique was wearing.
Stocking, at the time, meant anything from filmy silk to bulky knitted wool.

Now obviously the meaning of the word 'stocking' changed drastically in the twentieth century. To a modern American, 'stocking' generally means a wispy nylon object.

So I'm faced with a word that's been in continuous use -- 'stocking' -- which is what they would have actually said, but whose meaning has drastically changed (for an American.)
And the word sock which was current in the time, but rarer, and whose meaning has not changed.

So, anyhow, in one of those unsatisfactory compromises we make, I called the things on Annique's feet stockings about everywhere, but one time I called them 'socks' so the reader would get a better idea of what they looked like without me going to the trouble of describing them.
Using the word 'socks' once is me telling modern American readers that these are thicker than what she thinks of when she hears the word 'stockings'.
Hinting, ya know.

Lots of this kind of compromise goes on when we're picking what words to use.

Which happened in the line -- "The road you seek, the driveway to the Sisters of the Orphans, is opposite."


Technically, the word existed. It wasn't even rare.
But I was wrong to use it.
Just wrong.
Because it 'sounds' wrong.
It sounds modern and American suburbs, even though it is authentic.


"bedroom"-- and the comment was -- yes, kind of okay timewise, but "bedchamber" is older, and sounds, I think, more authentic, without making things more confusing.

In the timeframe, 'bedroom' and 'bedchamber' are both commonly used.
It looks like bedchamber is about 40% more common.

I picked bedroom throughout because it avoids the 'ye olde historical novelle' sound. And it's more American without being unauthentic.

and finally cosh --

Here is where I admit to cheating. The first use of 'cosh' is long after my period.

For simplicty, for clarity, to avoid odd circumlocutions, because I am weak ... I used a word outside the time period and I did it deliberately

(Le sigh)


  1. Hey Joanna!

    From what I hear, Franzeka is a wonder with research. She has visited us over at RNTV and has amazed us with her skill and talent. It all leaves my head spinning :-)

  2. She's just great. She must be Channelling the historical period. HOW can she know all these word origins and usages.

    (jo shakes her head in wonder)