Historical Description

Drage01  Wednesday, and Susan Sarah here. We’ve talked before about anachronisms in writing historicals, and I ran smack into this recently while writing a quick description of a woman’s hair in a late medieval context. Her hair is auburn, a dark red-brown. So I was searching for a phrase to conjure the sleek, polished sheen of the length of her hair, having used auburn the page before. Red, brown, auburn…the color of polished mahogany….

Mahogany_chest But wait! It can’t be mahogany-colored. I know this because, pen poised (or fingers poised over keyboard) I stopped to look this up. Mahogany was discovered by Europeans (South American people had known about it for a while) around 1500, and it wasn’t until after 1600 that it began to appear with any regularity in European and British furniture-making.

Historical context will sometimes determine the use of words and phrases in text and dialogue. Certain words and expressions that come readily to us, the authors and readers, are anachronistic, out of their time sequence, in a historical novel. Seemingly innocuous, they can tear the fabric of the historical context a little–too many, or just the right (or wrong) one can jar the reader out of that world.

Such as mahogany. Or walnut (another wood not used very early). Coffee. Chocolate. Cocoa. Tea.
I’m thinking of these words as adjectives and used in description, not as objects and items. Like, chocolate-colored satin. Water the color of weak tea. That sort of thing.

An author friend once told me, when she made the transition from medievals to nineteenth century, that she felt liberated in the writing–-for the first time she could use words like coffee, chocolate, tea, pastry, diamond, upholstered…and a whole slew of more “modern” words (for the 1800s), objects, concepts. She didn’t have to stop and think about it, or take a few minutes (or longer, alas, sometimes) to look the danged thing up. This happens frequently when writing medievals, and less so with later time settings, but it is a consistent consideration for any historical writer.

Orange Mentioning an orange sunset, for instance, in a medieval–but how do you describe that color, without that great word, "orange"? It’s an interesting dilemma that comes up with many other words, like mauve (a no-no until late nineteenth century), maroon, turquoise, aqua, citrus, lime, lemon, orange, tobacco brown, puce (pretty color, awful word!).

Harris_hawk Other simple things can trip one up, reader or author. A medieval hero may catch a hare while hunting, but it better not be a rabbit until after the 12th century–-they were introduced to Britain from Europe. Wolves were hunted in the extreme and became extinct in Scotland and Britain after the 1670s (where does that leave all those historical werewolves?). Falconry flourished…but don’t give a Harris hawk to your historical characters, even though they are commonly flown today (and appeared in that most sacred and adored of movies, Ladyhawke) –they didn’t occur naturally in Britain or Europe.

At what point is it okay to use the word “fathom” –- as in “he couldn’t fathom it” -– well, not in a medieval, nor even a Tudor-set novel, though the word has Greek and Old English origins. I once had the word “hothead” in a medieval book flagged by a copyeditor. I squeaked it through anyway, but it didn’t qualify for use, according to Webster’s finest.

Bouguereau_harvest What about the staff and stuff of life, bread, wheat, corn, barley, and so forth?  Wheat was not grown in most of Scotland, for example, and for a very long time (even centuries) they didn’t have the knack of yeast breads, especially in the Highlands. If you read a medieval Scottish novel and the characters are tearing into a fresh loaf of hot bread, feel free to shriek “no, no, it ain’t so!” (unless those characters are in a Lowland monastery run by English monks).  And “corn” in British-set novels is a very confusing term to Corn American readers especially. The English used “corn” as a general term for a variety of grains. We understand it as, well, corn.
   

Leighton1

Weaponry is another topic where one can easily trip up, and jar the story loose from its historical moorings. Even if the author abhors violence and doesn’t want her gentlemen, lords, dukes, earls, or ruffians fighting, a passing knowledge of weapons is essential to any historical writer, for fast referral. A rapier is neither saber nor broadsword, a broadsword is not a claymore, a dirk is not a dagger (not always anyway), a basket-hilt appears first in Scotland and only after a certain date, and on certain blades. A wheel-lock is not a fire-lock, a pistol or gun can be either. A glass is not necessarily a goblet or a cup, a flask is not a wine bladder, a girdle is a griddle (not a corset), a crusie is a lamp, not an author (couldn’t resist that one! *g*).

Some phrases that we’re used to hearing won’t ring true. A Regency hero, for instance, drawling “Oh, right,” in a sarcastic tone. Or a medieval hero snapping, “Not!” (I’ve seen both in books). On the other hand, it’s possible to adapt a modern tone to a historical for an upbeat, light, more immediate tone. We’ve all seen this done very well in novels as well as movies. A Knight’s Tale and Marie Antoinette are good examples of this. In historical novels, the author needs a good ear and a certain gift to pull it off, but it can be successful and really enjoyable.

It’s not always necessary to be the Anachronistic Police…but it is good for a writer to absorb research in passing and absorb language tone of whatever time frame the story is in, and it helps to be aware of quick, casual language and references used in text and dialogue. Though most readers will be forgiving about out-of-context references to the color of polished mahogany, coffee-brown satin, or lemon-yellow ribbons, sometimes little words like those can shake a historical framework.

Have you all come across this sort of thing in novels? I figure it falls into three categories: A) it drives one nuts, B) it’s barely noticeable, or C) the modern context of a word or phrase now and then can bridge the historical setting of the novel to our own time.  Whatcha think?

~Susan Sarah

92 thoughts on “Historical Description”

  1. POTATOES: native to South America. They were not available in Europe until well after 1492. I believe that many European avoided them even when they were imported; they thought they might be poisonous. I have read several stories where pre-1492 European characters ate potatoes.
    Kay

    Reply
  2. POTATOES: native to South America. They were not available in Europe until well after 1492. I believe that many European avoided them even when they were imported; they thought they might be poisonous. I have read several stories where pre-1492 European characters ate potatoes.
    Kay

    Reply
  3. POTATOES: native to South America. They were not available in Europe until well after 1492. I believe that many European avoided them even when they were imported; they thought they might be poisonous. I have read several stories where pre-1492 European characters ate potatoes.
    Kay

    Reply
  4. POTATOES: native to South America. They were not available in Europe until well after 1492. I believe that many European avoided them even when they were imported; they thought they might be poisonous. I have read several stories where pre-1492 European characters ate potatoes.
    Kay

    Reply
  5. I’m clearly type A (no pun intended). I live in dread of what mistakes will be unearthed in my first book by eagle-eyed readers. LOL! My editor caught a doozy . . . bless her.

    Reply
  6. I’m clearly type A (no pun intended). I live in dread of what mistakes will be unearthed in my first book by eagle-eyed readers. LOL! My editor caught a doozy . . . bless her.

    Reply
  7. I’m clearly type A (no pun intended). I live in dread of what mistakes will be unearthed in my first book by eagle-eyed readers. LOL! My editor caught a doozy . . . bless her.

    Reply
  8. I’m clearly type A (no pun intended). I live in dread of what mistakes will be unearthed in my first book by eagle-eyed readers. LOL! My editor caught a doozy . . . bless her.

    Reply
  9. The only time I ever threw a book across a room was when the author had her 12th C. English people sitting in pews in church, and eating roasted chestnuts out of paper cones! At that point I figured she had done absolutely NO historical research, and I was no longer the least bit interested in anything she had to write.
    I admit I find it jarring when a writer has characters getting from London to Gretna Green by carriage in only two days or casually riding 25 miles for lunch. And any time I read that the hero throws the lady onto the horse and then mounts IN FRONT OF HER, I just want to scream. Does she hunker down so he can throw his right leg over her, or does he execute some kind of Baryshnikov-style gran jete, leading with the leg that has to end up on the other side of the horse?
    On the other hand, I think it’s possible to get lost in the research (I KNOW it, having been there etc.). I’m not sure how you decide when you’ve learned enough. I figured when I found out what was planted in a cloister garth I would be well-enough informed about the 12th C. to write my novel. Alas, I have not yet come upon that particular gem of information, though I’ve read literally hundreds of books about the period.

    Reply
  10. The only time I ever threw a book across a room was when the author had her 12th C. English people sitting in pews in church, and eating roasted chestnuts out of paper cones! At that point I figured she had done absolutely NO historical research, and I was no longer the least bit interested in anything she had to write.
    I admit I find it jarring when a writer has characters getting from London to Gretna Green by carriage in only two days or casually riding 25 miles for lunch. And any time I read that the hero throws the lady onto the horse and then mounts IN FRONT OF HER, I just want to scream. Does she hunker down so he can throw his right leg over her, or does he execute some kind of Baryshnikov-style gran jete, leading with the leg that has to end up on the other side of the horse?
    On the other hand, I think it’s possible to get lost in the research (I KNOW it, having been there etc.). I’m not sure how you decide when you’ve learned enough. I figured when I found out what was planted in a cloister garth I would be well-enough informed about the 12th C. to write my novel. Alas, I have not yet come upon that particular gem of information, though I’ve read literally hundreds of books about the period.

    Reply
  11. The only time I ever threw a book across a room was when the author had her 12th C. English people sitting in pews in church, and eating roasted chestnuts out of paper cones! At that point I figured she had done absolutely NO historical research, and I was no longer the least bit interested in anything she had to write.
    I admit I find it jarring when a writer has characters getting from London to Gretna Green by carriage in only two days or casually riding 25 miles for lunch. And any time I read that the hero throws the lady onto the horse and then mounts IN FRONT OF HER, I just want to scream. Does she hunker down so he can throw his right leg over her, or does he execute some kind of Baryshnikov-style gran jete, leading with the leg that has to end up on the other side of the horse?
    On the other hand, I think it’s possible to get lost in the research (I KNOW it, having been there etc.). I’m not sure how you decide when you’ve learned enough. I figured when I found out what was planted in a cloister garth I would be well-enough informed about the 12th C. to write my novel. Alas, I have not yet come upon that particular gem of information, though I’ve read literally hundreds of books about the period.

    Reply
  12. The only time I ever threw a book across a room was when the author had her 12th C. English people sitting in pews in church, and eating roasted chestnuts out of paper cones! At that point I figured she had done absolutely NO historical research, and I was no longer the least bit interested in anything she had to write.
    I admit I find it jarring when a writer has characters getting from London to Gretna Green by carriage in only two days or casually riding 25 miles for lunch. And any time I read that the hero throws the lady onto the horse and then mounts IN FRONT OF HER, I just want to scream. Does she hunker down so he can throw his right leg over her, or does he execute some kind of Baryshnikov-style gran jete, leading with the leg that has to end up on the other side of the horse?
    On the other hand, I think it’s possible to get lost in the research (I KNOW it, having been there etc.). I’m not sure how you decide when you’ve learned enough. I figured when I found out what was planted in a cloister garth I would be well-enough informed about the 12th C. to write my novel. Alas, I have not yet come upon that particular gem of information, though I’ve read literally hundreds of books about the period.

    Reply
  13. From Sherrie:
    Great post, Susan Sarah! Who knew there were so many words and terms not used in the medieval era?!! Gadzooks!
    I think writers (and the occasional stellar copyeditor) do a better job today rooting out anachronisms than they did decades ago, but howlers still crop up. Readers of historicals nowadays seem to know more about anachronisms than they did in the past. Witness the popularity of the subject. It’s just so much fun to pounce on the wrong word or phrase when we find them. *g* Thirty years ago I never heard readers talking with glee about the tiniest, most obscure anachronism found in a recent read. Not like they do today. Maybe the Internet is responsible for that. Dunno.
    Kalen, you probably don’t have to worry about any howlers in Lord Sin. With a 4-star review from RT, I’d say you’re on the right track! Congratulations on an impressive debut!
    Susan Sarah, I loved all the pictures in your post, but most especially the Bouguereau. (Gads, all those vowels!) I adore his work and have two of his paintings (reproductions) hanging in my house.

    Reply
  14. From Sherrie:
    Great post, Susan Sarah! Who knew there were so many words and terms not used in the medieval era?!! Gadzooks!
    I think writers (and the occasional stellar copyeditor) do a better job today rooting out anachronisms than they did decades ago, but howlers still crop up. Readers of historicals nowadays seem to know more about anachronisms than they did in the past. Witness the popularity of the subject. It’s just so much fun to pounce on the wrong word or phrase when we find them. *g* Thirty years ago I never heard readers talking with glee about the tiniest, most obscure anachronism found in a recent read. Not like they do today. Maybe the Internet is responsible for that. Dunno.
    Kalen, you probably don’t have to worry about any howlers in Lord Sin. With a 4-star review from RT, I’d say you’re on the right track! Congratulations on an impressive debut!
    Susan Sarah, I loved all the pictures in your post, but most especially the Bouguereau. (Gads, all those vowels!) I adore his work and have two of his paintings (reproductions) hanging in my house.

    Reply
  15. From Sherrie:
    Great post, Susan Sarah! Who knew there were so many words and terms not used in the medieval era?!! Gadzooks!
    I think writers (and the occasional stellar copyeditor) do a better job today rooting out anachronisms than they did decades ago, but howlers still crop up. Readers of historicals nowadays seem to know more about anachronisms than they did in the past. Witness the popularity of the subject. It’s just so much fun to pounce on the wrong word or phrase when we find them. *g* Thirty years ago I never heard readers talking with glee about the tiniest, most obscure anachronism found in a recent read. Not like they do today. Maybe the Internet is responsible for that. Dunno.
    Kalen, you probably don’t have to worry about any howlers in Lord Sin. With a 4-star review from RT, I’d say you’re on the right track! Congratulations on an impressive debut!
    Susan Sarah, I loved all the pictures in your post, but most especially the Bouguereau. (Gads, all those vowels!) I adore his work and have two of his paintings (reproductions) hanging in my house.

    Reply
  16. From Sherrie:
    Great post, Susan Sarah! Who knew there were so many words and terms not used in the medieval era?!! Gadzooks!
    I think writers (and the occasional stellar copyeditor) do a better job today rooting out anachronisms than they did decades ago, but howlers still crop up. Readers of historicals nowadays seem to know more about anachronisms than they did in the past. Witness the popularity of the subject. It’s just so much fun to pounce on the wrong word or phrase when we find them. *g* Thirty years ago I never heard readers talking with glee about the tiniest, most obscure anachronism found in a recent read. Not like they do today. Maybe the Internet is responsible for that. Dunno.
    Kalen, you probably don’t have to worry about any howlers in Lord Sin. With a 4-star review from RT, I’d say you’re on the right track! Congratulations on an impressive debut!
    Susan Sarah, I loved all the pictures in your post, but most especially the Bouguereau. (Gads, all those vowels!) I adore his work and have two of his paintings (reproductions) hanging in my house.

    Reply
  17. Thanks, Sherrie. *blush* I just found out my hero got a KISS from RT as well. I’m sooooooo happy!!!
    “or does he execute some kind of Baryshnikov-style gran jete, leading with the leg that has to end up on the other side of the horse?”
    Elaine, this is too funny. I can’t get this image out of my head now. LOL!

    Reply
  18. Thanks, Sherrie. *blush* I just found out my hero got a KISS from RT as well. I’m sooooooo happy!!!
    “or does he execute some kind of Baryshnikov-style gran jete, leading with the leg that has to end up on the other side of the horse?”
    Elaine, this is too funny. I can’t get this image out of my head now. LOL!

    Reply
  19. Thanks, Sherrie. *blush* I just found out my hero got a KISS from RT as well. I’m sooooooo happy!!!
    “or does he execute some kind of Baryshnikov-style gran jete, leading with the leg that has to end up on the other side of the horse?”
    Elaine, this is too funny. I can’t get this image out of my head now. LOL!

    Reply
  20. Thanks, Sherrie. *blush* I just found out my hero got a KISS from RT as well. I’m sooooooo happy!!!
    “or does he execute some kind of Baryshnikov-style gran jete, leading with the leg that has to end up on the other side of the horse?”
    Elaine, this is too funny. I can’t get this image out of my head now. LOL!

    Reply
  21. When it comes to language, I’m a person that looks at it in terms of your letter c. I just would like to be able to read it easily. .. but I sure wouldn’t want to read a historical person saying “that is so, like, crazy, man” in the 12th century or something. So seeing a Knight I believe you said saying Not. . . ah, problem for me. LOL But saying Oh, right. . . I wouldn’t even think that was wrong. 🙂
    Lois

    Reply
  22. When it comes to language, I’m a person that looks at it in terms of your letter c. I just would like to be able to read it easily. .. but I sure wouldn’t want to read a historical person saying “that is so, like, crazy, man” in the 12th century or something. So seeing a Knight I believe you said saying Not. . . ah, problem for me. LOL But saying Oh, right. . . I wouldn’t even think that was wrong. 🙂
    Lois

    Reply
  23. When it comes to language, I’m a person that looks at it in terms of your letter c. I just would like to be able to read it easily. .. but I sure wouldn’t want to read a historical person saying “that is so, like, crazy, man” in the 12th century or something. So seeing a Knight I believe you said saying Not. . . ah, problem for me. LOL But saying Oh, right. . . I wouldn’t even think that was wrong. 🙂
    Lois

    Reply
  24. When it comes to language, I’m a person that looks at it in terms of your letter c. I just would like to be able to read it easily. .. but I sure wouldn’t want to read a historical person saying “that is so, like, crazy, man” in the 12th century or something. So seeing a Knight I believe you said saying Not. . . ah, problem for me. LOL But saying Oh, right. . . I wouldn’t even think that was wrong. 🙂
    Lois

    Reply
  25. I’ll try to avoid anachronistic words in descriptions, but I’m not obsessive about it. So maybe the heroine did have mahogany hair. But I wouldn’t use the word in dialogue in too early a time period, and I definitely wouldn’t forgive a 12th century potato. 🙂 I guess I’m more tolerant of words used in narrative than in dialogue.
    But it’s something that has to be thought about all through the book.
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  26. I’ll try to avoid anachronistic words in descriptions, but I’m not obsessive about it. So maybe the heroine did have mahogany hair. But I wouldn’t use the word in dialogue in too early a time period, and I definitely wouldn’t forgive a 12th century potato. 🙂 I guess I’m more tolerant of words used in narrative than in dialogue.
    But it’s something that has to be thought about all through the book.
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  27. I’ll try to avoid anachronistic words in descriptions, but I’m not obsessive about it. So maybe the heroine did have mahogany hair. But I wouldn’t use the word in dialogue in too early a time period, and I definitely wouldn’t forgive a 12th century potato. 🙂 I guess I’m more tolerant of words used in narrative than in dialogue.
    But it’s something that has to be thought about all through the book.
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  28. I’ll try to avoid anachronistic words in descriptions, but I’m not obsessive about it. So maybe the heroine did have mahogany hair. But I wouldn’t use the word in dialogue in too early a time period, and I definitely wouldn’t forgive a 12th century potato. 🙂 I guess I’m more tolerant of words used in narrative than in dialogue.
    But it’s something that has to be thought about all through the book.
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  29. Kalen — Congrats on LORD SIN! Can’t wait to meet him. 🙂
    Elaine — LOL on your “mounting” word picture.
    As a reader, I’m now more forgiving of word usage than I am on clothing. Since I became a proud owner (and wearer) of a Regency sift, corset, petticoat and gown, (thanks in part to Kalen and my mom) I’m here to tell you there’s no reaching above the head or sitting on the bed with knees curled to the chest. And as for those beautiful garden love scenes that leave the heroine sky clad… they’re a bit beyond my imagination now. Ah, well… that’s the price of knowledge I suppose.
    As a writer, I worry endlessly about getting busted by the Anachronistic Police. (and the scathing Amazon comments they often leave) In my current MIP, I keep wanting to use the word “sorry.” Anybody have any good ideas on how a Regnecy gentleman say “I’m so sorry” (expressing condolence for a loss?
    Thanks,
    Nina

    Reply
  30. Kalen — Congrats on LORD SIN! Can’t wait to meet him. 🙂
    Elaine — LOL on your “mounting” word picture.
    As a reader, I’m now more forgiving of word usage than I am on clothing. Since I became a proud owner (and wearer) of a Regency sift, corset, petticoat and gown, (thanks in part to Kalen and my mom) I’m here to tell you there’s no reaching above the head or sitting on the bed with knees curled to the chest. And as for those beautiful garden love scenes that leave the heroine sky clad… they’re a bit beyond my imagination now. Ah, well… that’s the price of knowledge I suppose.
    As a writer, I worry endlessly about getting busted by the Anachronistic Police. (and the scathing Amazon comments they often leave) In my current MIP, I keep wanting to use the word “sorry.” Anybody have any good ideas on how a Regnecy gentleman say “I’m so sorry” (expressing condolence for a loss?
    Thanks,
    Nina

    Reply
  31. Kalen — Congrats on LORD SIN! Can’t wait to meet him. 🙂
    Elaine — LOL on your “mounting” word picture.
    As a reader, I’m now more forgiving of word usage than I am on clothing. Since I became a proud owner (and wearer) of a Regency sift, corset, petticoat and gown, (thanks in part to Kalen and my mom) I’m here to tell you there’s no reaching above the head or sitting on the bed with knees curled to the chest. And as for those beautiful garden love scenes that leave the heroine sky clad… they’re a bit beyond my imagination now. Ah, well… that’s the price of knowledge I suppose.
    As a writer, I worry endlessly about getting busted by the Anachronistic Police. (and the scathing Amazon comments they often leave) In my current MIP, I keep wanting to use the word “sorry.” Anybody have any good ideas on how a Regnecy gentleman say “I’m so sorry” (expressing condolence for a loss?
    Thanks,
    Nina

    Reply
  32. Kalen — Congrats on LORD SIN! Can’t wait to meet him. 🙂
    Elaine — LOL on your “mounting” word picture.
    As a reader, I’m now more forgiving of word usage than I am on clothing. Since I became a proud owner (and wearer) of a Regency sift, corset, petticoat and gown, (thanks in part to Kalen and my mom) I’m here to tell you there’s no reaching above the head or sitting on the bed with knees curled to the chest. And as for those beautiful garden love scenes that leave the heroine sky clad… they’re a bit beyond my imagination now. Ah, well… that’s the price of knowledge I suppose.
    As a writer, I worry endlessly about getting busted by the Anachronistic Police. (and the scathing Amazon comments they often leave) In my current MIP, I keep wanting to use the word “sorry.” Anybody have any good ideas on how a Regnecy gentleman say “I’m so sorry” (expressing condolence for a loss?
    Thanks,
    Nina

    Reply
  33. I’m willing to forgive little errors in description and even occasionally anachronistic items showing up, but I WILL NOT forgive horridly anachronistic dialogue. It’s, like, sooo not OK, ya know?

    Reply
  34. I’m willing to forgive little errors in description and even occasionally anachronistic items showing up, but I WILL NOT forgive horridly anachronistic dialogue. It’s, like, sooo not OK, ya know?

    Reply
  35. I’m willing to forgive little errors in description and even occasionally anachronistic items showing up, but I WILL NOT forgive horridly anachronistic dialogue. It’s, like, sooo not OK, ya know?

    Reply
  36. I’m willing to forgive little errors in description and even occasionally anachronistic items showing up, but I WILL NOT forgive horridly anachronistic dialogue. It’s, like, sooo not OK, ya know?

    Reply
  37. “Anybody have any good ideas on how a Regency gentleman say “I’m so sorry” (expressing condolence for a loss)?”
    He’s just say “I’m sorry” as a modern person would. There are TONS of examples of this use of “sorry” in period books. The earliest one I found with a 30 second search on Google Books dates from 1789 (in The Gentleman’s Magazine). This use is common in written sources throughout the Regency period.

    Reply
  38. “Anybody have any good ideas on how a Regency gentleman say “I’m so sorry” (expressing condolence for a loss)?”
    He’s just say “I’m sorry” as a modern person would. There are TONS of examples of this use of “sorry” in period books. The earliest one I found with a 30 second search on Google Books dates from 1789 (in The Gentleman’s Magazine). This use is common in written sources throughout the Regency period.

    Reply
  39. “Anybody have any good ideas on how a Regency gentleman say “I’m so sorry” (expressing condolence for a loss)?”
    He’s just say “I’m sorry” as a modern person would. There are TONS of examples of this use of “sorry” in period books. The earliest one I found with a 30 second search on Google Books dates from 1789 (in The Gentleman’s Magazine). This use is common in written sources throughout the Regency period.

    Reply
  40. “Anybody have any good ideas on how a Regency gentleman say “I’m so sorry” (expressing condolence for a loss)?”
    He’s just say “I’m sorry” as a modern person would. There are TONS of examples of this use of “sorry” in period books. The earliest one I found with a 30 second search on Google Books dates from 1789 (in The Gentleman’s Magazine). This use is common in written sources throughout the Regency period.

    Reply
  41. “Anybody have any good ideas on how a Regency gentleman say “I’m so sorry” (expressing condolence for a loss)?”
    He’s just say “I’m sorry” as a modern person would. There are TONS of examples of this use of “sorry” in period books. The earliest one I found with a 30 second search on Google Books dates from 1789 (in The Gentleman’s Magazine). This use is common in written sources throughout the Regency period.
    Jo, have I mentioned how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE Google Books? Man is it useful!!!!

    Reply
  42. “Anybody have any good ideas on how a Regency gentleman say “I’m so sorry” (expressing condolence for a loss)?”
    He’s just say “I’m sorry” as a modern person would. There are TONS of examples of this use of “sorry” in period books. The earliest one I found with a 30 second search on Google Books dates from 1789 (in The Gentleman’s Magazine). This use is common in written sources throughout the Regency period.
    Jo, have I mentioned how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE Google Books? Man is it useful!!!!

    Reply
  43. “Anybody have any good ideas on how a Regency gentleman say “I’m so sorry” (expressing condolence for a loss)?”
    He’s just say “I’m sorry” as a modern person would. There are TONS of examples of this use of “sorry” in period books. The earliest one I found with a 30 second search on Google Books dates from 1789 (in The Gentleman’s Magazine). This use is common in written sources throughout the Regency period.
    Jo, have I mentioned how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE Google Books? Man is it useful!!!!

    Reply
  44. “Anybody have any good ideas on how a Regency gentleman say “I’m so sorry” (expressing condolence for a loss)?”
    He’s just say “I’m sorry” as a modern person would. There are TONS of examples of this use of “sorry” in period books. The earliest one I found with a 30 second search on Google Books dates from 1789 (in The Gentleman’s Magazine). This use is common in written sources throughout the Regency period.
    Jo, have I mentioned how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE Google Books? Man is it useful!!!!

    Reply
  45. Awesome Kalen! Thank you! I never thought to use Google books to search for the use of a word. I will from now on!
    Nina, who’s hero is about to utter, “I’m so sorry.”

    Reply
  46. Awesome Kalen! Thank you! I never thought to use Google books to search for the use of a word. I will from now on!
    Nina, who’s hero is about to utter, “I’m so sorry.”

    Reply
  47. Awesome Kalen! Thank you! I never thought to use Google books to search for the use of a word. I will from now on!
    Nina, who’s hero is about to utter, “I’m so sorry.”

    Reply
  48. Awesome Kalen! Thank you! I never thought to use Google books to search for the use of a word. I will from now on!
    Nina, who’s hero is about to utter, “I’m so sorry.”

    Reply
  49. Google Books is great for looking for a word or phrase to see if it was being used. The Online Etymology dictionary says that this use of “sorry” dates to 1914, but that is CLEARLY not the case. I’ll have to check my OED when I get home . . .

    Reply
  50. Google Books is great for looking for a word or phrase to see if it was being used. The Online Etymology dictionary says that this use of “sorry” dates to 1914, but that is CLEARLY not the case. I’ll have to check my OED when I get home . . .

    Reply
  51. Google Books is great for looking for a word or phrase to see if it was being used. The Online Etymology dictionary says that this use of “sorry” dates to 1914, but that is CLEARLY not the case. I’ll have to check my OED when I get home . . .

    Reply
  52. Google Books is great for looking for a word or phrase to see if it was being used. The Online Etymology dictionary says that this use of “sorry” dates to 1914, but that is CLEARLY not the case. I’ll have to check my OED when I get home . . .

    Reply
  53. All great reasons why I will never write a medieval! I’m familiar enough with the basic no-no’s of Regency and Georgian eras, but I’d be checking the internet every sentence for a medieval, trying to find the dates when words were used.
    As for common words like “sorry”–I think this comes under making the book accessible to the modern reader. Austen was a wonderful writer for her time period, but today’s reader coming upon her for the first time in a mass market format might not find her narrative to be what she expects. And that is the death of a book. So while it might be correct to write a sentence like “I regret and deplore the occasion of your grief, madam,” it saves a lot of words to cut to the chase. “G”
    And let’s not try Beowulf anytime soon, okay?

    Reply
  54. All great reasons why I will never write a medieval! I’m familiar enough with the basic no-no’s of Regency and Georgian eras, but I’d be checking the internet every sentence for a medieval, trying to find the dates when words were used.
    As for common words like “sorry”–I think this comes under making the book accessible to the modern reader. Austen was a wonderful writer for her time period, but today’s reader coming upon her for the first time in a mass market format might not find her narrative to be what she expects. And that is the death of a book. So while it might be correct to write a sentence like “I regret and deplore the occasion of your grief, madam,” it saves a lot of words to cut to the chase. “G”
    And let’s not try Beowulf anytime soon, okay?

    Reply
  55. All great reasons why I will never write a medieval! I’m familiar enough with the basic no-no’s of Regency and Georgian eras, but I’d be checking the internet every sentence for a medieval, trying to find the dates when words were used.
    As for common words like “sorry”–I think this comes under making the book accessible to the modern reader. Austen was a wonderful writer for her time period, but today’s reader coming upon her for the first time in a mass market format might not find her narrative to be what she expects. And that is the death of a book. So while it might be correct to write a sentence like “I regret and deplore the occasion of your grief, madam,” it saves a lot of words to cut to the chase. “G”
    And let’s not try Beowulf anytime soon, okay?

    Reply
  56. All great reasons why I will never write a medieval! I’m familiar enough with the basic no-no’s of Regency and Georgian eras, but I’d be checking the internet every sentence for a medieval, trying to find the dates when words were used.
    As for common words like “sorry”–I think this comes under making the book accessible to the modern reader. Austen was a wonderful writer for her time period, but today’s reader coming upon her for the first time in a mass market format might not find her narrative to be what she expects. And that is the death of a book. So while it might be correct to write a sentence like “I regret and deplore the occasion of your grief, madam,” it saves a lot of words to cut to the chase. “G”
    And let’s not try Beowulf anytime soon, okay?

    Reply
  57. “Sorry,” is great for the truly sincere. If a more ambiguous sentiment is called for, “You have my condolences,” would work, leaving the hearer wondering if he means it or is merely being polite.
    I love that stuff in books, in real life it drives me nuts. Straightforward, please!
    I do like stories I read to be grounded in history and, referring to yesterday’s post, at least some recognizable geography. But I’m pretty forgiving.
    Oooh, Lord Sin got a KISS already? Must meet this man. 🙂

    Reply
  58. “Sorry,” is great for the truly sincere. If a more ambiguous sentiment is called for, “You have my condolences,” would work, leaving the hearer wondering if he means it or is merely being polite.
    I love that stuff in books, in real life it drives me nuts. Straightforward, please!
    I do like stories I read to be grounded in history and, referring to yesterday’s post, at least some recognizable geography. But I’m pretty forgiving.
    Oooh, Lord Sin got a KISS already? Must meet this man. 🙂

    Reply
  59. “Sorry,” is great for the truly sincere. If a more ambiguous sentiment is called for, “You have my condolences,” would work, leaving the hearer wondering if he means it or is merely being polite.
    I love that stuff in books, in real life it drives me nuts. Straightforward, please!
    I do like stories I read to be grounded in history and, referring to yesterday’s post, at least some recognizable geography. But I’m pretty forgiving.
    Oooh, Lord Sin got a KISS already? Must meet this man. 🙂

    Reply
  60. “Sorry,” is great for the truly sincere. If a more ambiguous sentiment is called for, “You have my condolences,” would work, leaving the hearer wondering if he means it or is merely being polite.
    I love that stuff in books, in real life it drives me nuts. Straightforward, please!
    I do like stories I read to be grounded in history and, referring to yesterday’s post, at least some recognizable geography. But I’m pretty forgiving.
    Oooh, Lord Sin got a KISS already? Must meet this man. 🙂

    Reply
  61. This post made interesting thinking for me today. My bedtime reading this week has been Teresa Medeiros’ incredibly fun “Touch of Enchantment”–which I believe is set in the “near future” though the exact date isn’t mentioned (it’s the sequel to “Breath of Magic” which was published in 1996, and it’s about the grown-up daughter of the original couple, so I’m thinking 2020 or so?).
    So as I was reading your post about anachronisms, Susan/Sarah, I was also pondering the perils of writing about the future. After the future date comes to pass, what things written about in the “futuristic novel” will be accurate? and which ones will be ridiculous? Which “futuristic anachronisms” will be jarring to the reader? (I remember reading “1984” in 1984, for example. . .)
    As I am reading “Touch of Enchantment” I am enjoying myself hugely but also really admiring Medeiros for really getting so much of it right. There’s the occasional little phrase or reference to a brand name or a piece of technology or something that doesn’t feel like “today,” but nothing that jars you out of the story.
    Is this at all on topic or am I just Really Tired? (smile)

    Reply
  62. This post made interesting thinking for me today. My bedtime reading this week has been Teresa Medeiros’ incredibly fun “Touch of Enchantment”–which I believe is set in the “near future” though the exact date isn’t mentioned (it’s the sequel to “Breath of Magic” which was published in 1996, and it’s about the grown-up daughter of the original couple, so I’m thinking 2020 or so?).
    So as I was reading your post about anachronisms, Susan/Sarah, I was also pondering the perils of writing about the future. After the future date comes to pass, what things written about in the “futuristic novel” will be accurate? and which ones will be ridiculous? Which “futuristic anachronisms” will be jarring to the reader? (I remember reading “1984” in 1984, for example. . .)
    As I am reading “Touch of Enchantment” I am enjoying myself hugely but also really admiring Medeiros for really getting so much of it right. There’s the occasional little phrase or reference to a brand name or a piece of technology or something that doesn’t feel like “today,” but nothing that jars you out of the story.
    Is this at all on topic or am I just Really Tired? (smile)

    Reply
  63. This post made interesting thinking for me today. My bedtime reading this week has been Teresa Medeiros’ incredibly fun “Touch of Enchantment”–which I believe is set in the “near future” though the exact date isn’t mentioned (it’s the sequel to “Breath of Magic” which was published in 1996, and it’s about the grown-up daughter of the original couple, so I’m thinking 2020 or so?).
    So as I was reading your post about anachronisms, Susan/Sarah, I was also pondering the perils of writing about the future. After the future date comes to pass, what things written about in the “futuristic novel” will be accurate? and which ones will be ridiculous? Which “futuristic anachronisms” will be jarring to the reader? (I remember reading “1984” in 1984, for example. . .)
    As I am reading “Touch of Enchantment” I am enjoying myself hugely but also really admiring Medeiros for really getting so much of it right. There’s the occasional little phrase or reference to a brand name or a piece of technology or something that doesn’t feel like “today,” but nothing that jars you out of the story.
    Is this at all on topic or am I just Really Tired? (smile)

    Reply
  64. This post made interesting thinking for me today. My bedtime reading this week has been Teresa Medeiros’ incredibly fun “Touch of Enchantment”–which I believe is set in the “near future” though the exact date isn’t mentioned (it’s the sequel to “Breath of Magic” which was published in 1996, and it’s about the grown-up daughter of the original couple, so I’m thinking 2020 or so?).
    So as I was reading your post about anachronisms, Susan/Sarah, I was also pondering the perils of writing about the future. After the future date comes to pass, what things written about in the “futuristic novel” will be accurate? and which ones will be ridiculous? Which “futuristic anachronisms” will be jarring to the reader? (I remember reading “1984” in 1984, for example. . .)
    As I am reading “Touch of Enchantment” I am enjoying myself hugely but also really admiring Medeiros for really getting so much of it right. There’s the occasional little phrase or reference to a brand name or a piece of technology or something that doesn’t feel like “today,” but nothing that jars you out of the story.
    Is this at all on topic or am I just Really Tired? (smile)

    Reply
  65. Hoo boy, I am really way too tired to be loose on the internet. Just to clarify about “Touch of Enchantment,” it’s a time-travel piece which begins and ends in the “near future”, and our Very Modern Heroine of the Near Future is thrown back into the 1200s or so and meets a Big Handsome Knight. So it would be more accurate to say it is “partially” set in the near future, I think.

    Reply
  66. Hoo boy, I am really way too tired to be loose on the internet. Just to clarify about “Touch of Enchantment,” it’s a time-travel piece which begins and ends in the “near future”, and our Very Modern Heroine of the Near Future is thrown back into the 1200s or so and meets a Big Handsome Knight. So it would be more accurate to say it is “partially” set in the near future, I think.

    Reply
  67. Hoo boy, I am really way too tired to be loose on the internet. Just to clarify about “Touch of Enchantment,” it’s a time-travel piece which begins and ends in the “near future”, and our Very Modern Heroine of the Near Future is thrown back into the 1200s or so and meets a Big Handsome Knight. So it would be more accurate to say it is “partially” set in the near future, I think.

    Reply
  68. Hoo boy, I am really way too tired to be loose on the internet. Just to clarify about “Touch of Enchantment,” it’s a time-travel piece which begins and ends in the “near future”, and our Very Modern Heroine of the Near Future is thrown back into the 1200s or so and meets a Big Handsome Knight. So it would be more accurate to say it is “partially” set in the near future, I think.

    Reply
  69. Anachronisms definitely b) drive me nuts, unless I’ve made a conscious decision to ignore it from the start. There is no point getting upset about mistakes in a Julia Quinn chick-lit-regency. It just isn’t the point.
    I think the americanisms are the most annoying sort of anachronism. A single use of sidewalk rather than pavement and I’m suddenly pulled out of the story. There seem very few US authors immune to this. Is it much harder to spot than the early potatoes? I’m not sure how you check, but there is a steady list growing in my head of words that need to be in a find/replace function in any manuscript.

    Reply
  70. Anachronisms definitely b) drive me nuts, unless I’ve made a conscious decision to ignore it from the start. There is no point getting upset about mistakes in a Julia Quinn chick-lit-regency. It just isn’t the point.
    I think the americanisms are the most annoying sort of anachronism. A single use of sidewalk rather than pavement and I’m suddenly pulled out of the story. There seem very few US authors immune to this. Is it much harder to spot than the early potatoes? I’m not sure how you check, but there is a steady list growing in my head of words that need to be in a find/replace function in any manuscript.

    Reply
  71. Anachronisms definitely b) drive me nuts, unless I’ve made a conscious decision to ignore it from the start. There is no point getting upset about mistakes in a Julia Quinn chick-lit-regency. It just isn’t the point.
    I think the americanisms are the most annoying sort of anachronism. A single use of sidewalk rather than pavement and I’m suddenly pulled out of the story. There seem very few US authors immune to this. Is it much harder to spot than the early potatoes? I’m not sure how you check, but there is a steady list growing in my head of words that need to be in a find/replace function in any manuscript.

    Reply
  72. Anachronisms definitely b) drive me nuts, unless I’ve made a conscious decision to ignore it from the start. There is no point getting upset about mistakes in a Julia Quinn chick-lit-regency. It just isn’t the point.
    I think the americanisms are the most annoying sort of anachronism. A single use of sidewalk rather than pavement and I’m suddenly pulled out of the story. There seem very few US authors immune to this. Is it much harder to spot than the early potatoes? I’m not sure how you check, but there is a steady list growing in my head of words that need to be in a find/replace function in any manuscript.

    Reply
  73. …of course I should have said in any manuscript set in England. And don’t get me started on the American use of “British” when it really should be “English”. The US music genre “British Invasion” is just so cringeworthy. They’re English!
    Ok, rant over now.

    Reply
  74. …of course I should have said in any manuscript set in England. And don’t get me started on the American use of “British” when it really should be “English”. The US music genre “British Invasion” is just so cringeworthy. They’re English!
    Ok, rant over now.

    Reply
  75. …of course I should have said in any manuscript set in England. And don’t get me started on the American use of “British” when it really should be “English”. The US music genre “British Invasion” is just so cringeworthy. They’re English!
    Ok, rant over now.

    Reply
  76. …of course I should have said in any manuscript set in England. And don’t get me started on the American use of “British” when it really should be “English”. The US music genre “British Invasion” is just so cringeworthy. They’re English!
    Ok, rant over now.

    Reply
  77. Interesting comments! Seems like most of us have a certain tolerance for anachronisms (which are hard to avoid entirely)in the text of a story, and less so in the dialogue.
    I too had heard that ‘sorry’ was of later use than Regency, but that never made sense to me. Its Old English origins and relation to the words ‘sore’ and ‘sorely’ makes it likely to have been used much earlier. That might be possible to search out on Google Books too. I wouldn’t be surprised if a form of it pops up in early English lit somewhere–Anglo-Saxon, Chaucer, and so on.
    A lot of words and phrases were probably in common use long before someone thought to record them, in pre-dictionary days, so I don’t always go by the date the dictionary gives (even though copyeditors often do so).
    Congrats on a nice RT review and KISS award, Kalen!
    The confusion of English vs. British — hmm… sometimes we use it because it’s a way to refer to England and Scotland. And maybe it appears more often in American novels because the English are still The British (and Redcoats) to us Colonists. *g*
    (susan sarah, ducking)

    Reply
  78. Interesting comments! Seems like most of us have a certain tolerance for anachronisms (which are hard to avoid entirely)in the text of a story, and less so in the dialogue.
    I too had heard that ‘sorry’ was of later use than Regency, but that never made sense to me. Its Old English origins and relation to the words ‘sore’ and ‘sorely’ makes it likely to have been used much earlier. That might be possible to search out on Google Books too. I wouldn’t be surprised if a form of it pops up in early English lit somewhere–Anglo-Saxon, Chaucer, and so on.
    A lot of words and phrases were probably in common use long before someone thought to record them, in pre-dictionary days, so I don’t always go by the date the dictionary gives (even though copyeditors often do so).
    Congrats on a nice RT review and KISS award, Kalen!
    The confusion of English vs. British — hmm… sometimes we use it because it’s a way to refer to England and Scotland. And maybe it appears more often in American novels because the English are still The British (and Redcoats) to us Colonists. *g*
    (susan sarah, ducking)

    Reply
  79. Interesting comments! Seems like most of us have a certain tolerance for anachronisms (which are hard to avoid entirely)in the text of a story, and less so in the dialogue.
    I too had heard that ‘sorry’ was of later use than Regency, but that never made sense to me. Its Old English origins and relation to the words ‘sore’ and ‘sorely’ makes it likely to have been used much earlier. That might be possible to search out on Google Books too. I wouldn’t be surprised if a form of it pops up in early English lit somewhere–Anglo-Saxon, Chaucer, and so on.
    A lot of words and phrases were probably in common use long before someone thought to record them, in pre-dictionary days, so I don’t always go by the date the dictionary gives (even though copyeditors often do so).
    Congrats on a nice RT review and KISS award, Kalen!
    The confusion of English vs. British — hmm… sometimes we use it because it’s a way to refer to England and Scotland. And maybe it appears more often in American novels because the English are still The British (and Redcoats) to us Colonists. *g*
    (susan sarah, ducking)

    Reply
  80. Interesting comments! Seems like most of us have a certain tolerance for anachronisms (which are hard to avoid entirely)in the text of a story, and less so in the dialogue.
    I too had heard that ‘sorry’ was of later use than Regency, but that never made sense to me. Its Old English origins and relation to the words ‘sore’ and ‘sorely’ makes it likely to have been used much earlier. That might be possible to search out on Google Books too. I wouldn’t be surprised if a form of it pops up in early English lit somewhere–Anglo-Saxon, Chaucer, and so on.
    A lot of words and phrases were probably in common use long before someone thought to record them, in pre-dictionary days, so I don’t always go by the date the dictionary gives (even though copyeditors often do so).
    Congrats on a nice RT review and KISS award, Kalen!
    The confusion of English vs. British — hmm… sometimes we use it because it’s a way to refer to England and Scotland. And maybe it appears more often in American novels because the English are still The British (and Redcoats) to us Colonists. *g*
    (susan sarah, ducking)

    Reply
  81. Thanks, Susan Sarah. *grin* I think I’m ready for Mrs. Giggles.
    I wonder why the OED has such a late date on “sorry”? If I can find earlier references with a 30 second search of Google Books one would thing the OED would be aware of them. The earliest use in the “apology” sense I’ve stumbled across thus far is 1753.
    Regardless, anyone writing a late 18th century/Regency/Romantic era novel should be confidant in using it (if it’s good enough for the Gentleman’s Magazine . . . ).
    Now I’m terrified that I’ve used “sidewalk” in my book. Ack! Must go look . . .

    Reply
  82. Thanks, Susan Sarah. *grin* I think I’m ready for Mrs. Giggles.
    I wonder why the OED has such a late date on “sorry”? If I can find earlier references with a 30 second search of Google Books one would thing the OED would be aware of them. The earliest use in the “apology” sense I’ve stumbled across thus far is 1753.
    Regardless, anyone writing a late 18th century/Regency/Romantic era novel should be confidant in using it (if it’s good enough for the Gentleman’s Magazine . . . ).
    Now I’m terrified that I’ve used “sidewalk” in my book. Ack! Must go look . . .

    Reply
  83. Thanks, Susan Sarah. *grin* I think I’m ready for Mrs. Giggles.
    I wonder why the OED has such a late date on “sorry”? If I can find earlier references with a 30 second search of Google Books one would thing the OED would be aware of them. The earliest use in the “apology” sense I’ve stumbled across thus far is 1753.
    Regardless, anyone writing a late 18th century/Regency/Romantic era novel should be confidant in using it (if it’s good enough for the Gentleman’s Magazine . . . ).
    Now I’m terrified that I’ve used “sidewalk” in my book. Ack! Must go look . . .

    Reply
  84. Thanks, Susan Sarah. *grin* I think I’m ready for Mrs. Giggles.
    I wonder why the OED has such a late date on “sorry”? If I can find earlier references with a 30 second search of Google Books one would thing the OED would be aware of them. The earliest use in the “apology” sense I’ve stumbled across thus far is 1753.
    Regardless, anyone writing a late 18th century/Regency/Romantic era novel should be confidant in using it (if it’s good enough for the Gentleman’s Magazine . . . ).
    Now I’m terrified that I’ve used “sidewalk” in my book. Ack! Must go look . . .

    Reply

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