Since so many of us enjoy playing with words, I’ve been keeping track of the words I’ve thrown out of the current WIP. For those of you who think a writer pours a story from her fingers directly onto the page—this might be a spoiler. My first outpouring of story is in draft mode, rather like an artist sketching on canvas before adding paint. Anything and everything may be erased as I go back and color in the details. Language is particularly susceptible for culling since I dash out the first word that remotely says what I need to move the story forward, then have to go back and craft real sentences with better word choices.
Aside from the fact that my crazed typing will frequently substitute homonyms ( two words pronounced
or spelled the same way but with different meanings) for the words I really mean, I’m likely to toss in slanguage all my own. These words are frequently archaic to today’s vocabularies but anachronistic for the Regency, like bejeebers and hightail. They sound old, so my addled mind accepts them and moves on. If a word just sounds particularly English, like gobsmacked, my characters are quite apt to emit it, unless I smack them down and correct their…ahem, English.
Unfortunately, phrases like “making love” or “having sex” or even something so innocent as “a tad” or “not to worry” don’t leap out and smack the modern reader as anachronistic, even though they are. So they’re a tad hard to spot.
Maybe we all ought to talk with our hands. (Sign to left means love or I love you) Slang might be particular to its time period, but words like pretty, cute, handsome, and sophisticated are hard to juggle. I’m not likely to call a Regency heroine cute, because it would more likely be an insult—as in too clever for her own good. The modern reader isn't likely to grasp that . Handsome, however, might mean appropriate or large, as in a handsome fortune. That it also could mean a large and/or graceful form, as in a handsome man, just confuses the issue, but I think the modern reader can work that one out based on the sentence. Sophisticated, on the other hand, (hear me sigh) was not generally a compliment. The original meaning was to adulterate, to deceptively modify. I assume it must have gone on to mean a person who could speak circles around an innocent and confuse their thinking, then progressed on to mean that person was more culturally adept. So whether or not one is considered a sophisticate in the Regency era might or might not be a good thing. I don’t care. I want my heroes to be worldly, sophisticated men. Take that any way you like it. I just won't introduce a character into a sophisticated room unless my brain is turned off. Which it could be.
Anyone interested in a great Regency thesaurus needs to see Emily Hendrickson’s compilation (http://www.emilyhendrickson.com/referencebook.html). I have it, but that doesn’t mean the word I want is there, because of the bad habit mentioned above. It’s a bit hard to find bejeebers in any thesaurus, much less one that translates to the Regency era.
Besides Rogets and Emily’s compilations, I use several online references, including http://onlineslangdictionary.com/ in my attempts to add crutches to my feeble memory and track dates of origin. Eric Partridge has some excellent dictionaries from the time period, my favorite is the Dictionary of Catch Phrases, but again, if I don’t know the word I want, it’s pretty hard to find it.
And just because he’s so much fun to read, John Dierdorf’s site http://www.io.com/~dierdorf/words.html is bookmarked in my reference file (scroll down for index that leads to words discussed). Hats off to one of his blogs for adding the cute, pretty, sophisticated conundrum to my knowledge.
Now that I've totally crossed your eyes and dotted your tees, are you going to go back and re-read all your Regencies for all the no-no's? Or just laugh when you discover them because you know better than the author?