Regency Speak

Rice_LessonsinEnchantment_200x300I 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. . .

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Bouncers, Rattlepates and Popinjays—Let’s Talk Regency!

RegencyBuckAndrea/Cara here, No, it’s not a fudge or a Banbury tale! Today I’m going to prose on a bit about Regency cant all the delightful top-of-the-trees expressions that color the era. (I’ll try not to be a windsucker, or to make a cake of myself.)

Like many of you, I fell under the spell of Regency romance on reading Pride and Prejudice. For me, Austen created an endlessly fascinating world—her sharp and slyly witty views on society, family and the elemental tensions of falling love really captured my fancy (honestly, who can resist balls at Netherfield or Mr. Darcy?)

Blue hatBut it was reading Georgette Heyer’s delightful novels that really made me want to write Regency romance. I think part of it was the wonderfully evocative cant she sprinkled so liberally throughout her pages. Expression like “ape-leader,” “under the hatches” or “in his cups” were such fun! They added wonderful color and texture to the stories and helped whisk me away from the ordinary, everyday world to a more exotic—and magical—place.

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W-DeskLady5 Pat here:

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 
Homonym 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.

Love sign 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 ( 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 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  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?