Guest Author Day: Sherry Thomas ponders Too Old or Not Old Enough?Monday, March 24, 2008 17:00
I read romance sites and blogs and have for a long time. Becoming a publish author myself, however, means that from time to time I suddenly run into mentions of my name or my book when I’m least expecting it.
The first time it happened it nearly gave me a heart attack. I was reading this opinion piece on DearAuthor.com, about the truths and perceptions of historical accuracy, when I came across this paragraph:
Recently I read a book set in the late 1800s in England that referred to New York harbor on Independence Day (1885); werewolf (Old English); velvet lined handcuffs (pre 1900s). The book was historically accurate but because I have had a decade of reading almost solely Regency related romances, when I first started reading, I had to remind myself of the time period. The more immersed I became in the story, the less this became a concern.
That book, of course, was Private Arrangements. And what gave me the heart attack was that I’d never thought to check up on any of those things, especially Independence Day, which according to Jane’s research came into use only 8 years ahead of the time setting of the scene in which it was mentioned — I totally lucked out there.
And it’s not as if I don’t research. I’m constantly looking up words, phrases, people and constantly learning dates that surprise and sometimes dismay me.
For example, the word “dreadnought“. I had my heroine’s mother barge into a duke’s path like a dreadnought. I loved that simile: this refined, petite woman compared to a deadly hulk of steel. Alas, according to my dictionary, the term “dreadnought,” at least as referring to a class of battleships, did not come into use until 1906. There went my wonderful imagery.
Another place in my manuscript originally had a phrase that went “Mycenaean bronze, still-vivid relics of Minoan fresco, glass-encased fragments of papyrus from the time of the Pharaohs.” Upon further research, however, I discovered that the word Minoan was coined by British archaeologist Arthur Evans, who had yet to start his major digging on Crete when this particular scene took place. And I couldn’t find mentions of fresco being found lying around, so Minoan fresco became “seals from the island of Crete.”
And other examples abound. My first copyeditor caught quite a few of them. The phrase “femme fatale,” for example, isn’t old enough: it came into use only in 1912. The word “deadpan” is even newer: 1928.
The word “Marquis,” however, is too old. My copyeditor commented that in England, the word “Marquis” had been deprecated in favor of “Marquess” since the early 1800s. At which point I said “You’ve got to be @#%&ing kidding me!” and hauled myself to the university library. I went through several hundred pages of a Debrett’s Peerage from the turn-of-the-century, and sure enough, not a single marquis in sight.
So, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, now we have words that are too old, and words that are not old enough. What are words that are just right? Yep, we have a few of those too.
“Shag,” for example. I know a lot of people think Austin Powers but shag, as in to copulate with, dates from 1788. The word “bang,” as referring to sexual intercourse, dates from some years after the setting of my book. But I took a little artistic liberty as the dates given in dictionaries are when the words first make it into written media, and it’s safe to assume that vulgar slang words could hang around for years — especially in those more restrictive days — before showing up in print.
And of course, the word “fuck” is as old as dirt. And the first instance of it in known writing? A satirical poem composed partly in code, which when deciphered, reads “they [the Carmelite friars of Cambridge] are not in Heaven because they fuck the wives of Ely [a nearby town]“.
Comment on any of today’s four Sherry Thomas guest posts with whatever crazy thing you’ve done for love, or the strangest anachronism you’ve ever read in a book or seen in a movie, and you could win an ARC of Sherry’s 29 July 08 Bantam release, Delicious, and a Private Arrangements t-shirt! (Two prizes, one winner.)
Remember, only one entry per IP address is eligible for the prize, but you can comment as often as you wish. Winners will be chosen from comments entered between now and midnight tonight, 24 March, according to the blog’s timestamp (U.S. Central).