I have spent the last couple of years writing contemporary mysteries and before that, Victorian romances. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve attempted Regency cant. I have an entire thesaurus of words, but my head simply isn't picking up the speech patterns that allow boxing cant or catty insults the way it used to do. Worse yet, the hero is American, and now I have to wonder how much of Regency-speak an American might use. Or a spinster who spends more time in books than society. Oh, and then there are the Frenchmen and the country folk. . .
I may have unconsciously created this gothic mansion in the middle of nowhere rather than confront Regency society again! Admittedly, I’m not fond of fops and dukes and snobbish misses. Been there, wrote that, read it one too many times. My Muse needs to flit.
So, I’m sitting here looking at the Regency thesaurus and trying to find ways to insert the expected slang. My hero is already grumpy. There’s a word that carried over into modern language. Calling him a cross patch and saying he’s in high dudgeon sounds bird-witted when he’s shooting bats off the ceiling.
My chemist and accountant are constantly wrangling (a word in UK English since medieval times), and I can’t imagine my American calling it a row or my spinster saying argufy. Perhaps she might think the hero is in prime twig or in good form but if my very proper maiden lady thinks he’s well-built or broad-shouldered, doesn’t that say the same? Why go the extra mile?
So, is the Regency-speak we most associate with Regency romances basically a citified form of speech? How much of this slang would have been in common use? Maybe some of the colorful phrases for drunk: half seas over, in his cups, jug-bitten. . . A lot of that probably emerged from the common folk and young dandies picked it up. Boxing cant most certainly emerged from a lower lifestyle and young rogues adopted it and presumably passed it on to the rest of society. But I’m thinking my spinster will just call the captain a drunkard.
Don’t get me wrong—I like using various types of speech to sharpen character. I’ll eventually bring in some London types, I suppose, although I can’t imagine any proper matrons calling the American a rum touch. Perhaps she’d see him as a caution? Doesn’t eccentric say it better? I do like outside of enough for excessive, though. Maybe I can slip that in.
But I have no handy thesaurus for Americanisms of the Regency era. Once upon a time I knew a lot of slang for cowboys in the wild west, but that was essentially after the Civil War and not the same, even if I could remember it, which I don’t. And while I may be familiar with accents and regionalisms in contemporary America (notice, I don’t write British contemporaries because that’s a language all its own. I’ve attempted UK characters and know whereof I speak!), I don’t know what accent my American from 1815 might have.
Once upon a time I used to hunt down the speech patterns of various regions of the UK, but I don’t believe anyone but me noticed. And since I’m not exactly designating the specific location of my mystery manor, it hardly seems worth digging up local slang. If I signify uneducated speech by dropping “h’s” and slurring “ing,” will anyone care if that’s correct for an unspecified area of the country?
How much do you noticed slang and accents when you read? Do they add to the tone of a book or just annoy the heck out of you?