Words for Wenches

Commenting on Pat’s post yesterday, RevMelinda wrote:
“I have a question for any of you wenches that might be interested–I
know a while back that Susan Sarah mentioned the OED as a crucial
resource for writers. However, I have been noticing lately that many
“historical” romance novelists are increasingly anachronistic in their
use of language: using words, phrases, idioms that surely did not
exist several centuries ago. (Was reading a regency-set historical the
other night and the spunky heroine said to some suggestion made by the
controlling hero, “That’s your problem!”–didn’t quite sound right to
my ear–actually, didn’t sound English, much less 19th century. . .or
maybe I’m just over-sensitive?) Does this drive you all crazy too, and
do you try to avoid it, or do you feel that a more modern language
style/sensibility helps the reader–or is it just not important? Are
editors alert for that kind of thing? (Even if you’re a
gazillion-selling author?– smile)
Did 19th century English folk really say “I’ll be in touch with you” or
“I’ll contact you” (two more things that grate)–I don’t have an OED
(though I do have a Greek lexicon!) so would love to have your guidance
on this and all matters historically linguistic.
(You are, after all, the WORD wenches!)”

Excellent question, RevMelinda, and as usual, the answers aren’t simple. But I’ll get to my conclusion before I go any further — to work in a work of popular fiction, the language used should flow smoothly past the reader, not giving her a sense of uncomfortable strangeness or one of anachronism. It’s not always easy to hit that spot, especially when we add the factor of most writers of historical romance today we’re talking about are writing about Britain but are not British.

Was it Shaw or Chesterton who described England and America as two nations divided by a single language? (I’m not too laze to look it up; I’m too short of time. I usually do my post late on Tuesday and I forgot. The gunpowder must have gone to my head!)

After 30 years of living in Canada my sensitivity to nuances of the language is blunted, and my critiquers sometimes catch me in an off phrase. And they’re all Canadian born and bred!

Also, I do think a lot of readers today like a breezy tone in a historical novel, and that’s hard to achieve without anachronisms both of words and of style of speaking. “I’ll be in touch” seems like an example of that.

Anyway, it really isn’t easy. There are words we could use, but which would startle people out of the story, like car for carriage. And ones we shouldn’t but that hardly anyone would question, like sex for sexual intercourse. I’ve tried to avoid that since I found out, but it becomes so clumsy at times I’ve decided to just use it now and then.

An interesting one is hello. It sounds okay, but it’s not. It’s not related to halloo! the hunting cry. It’s from the telephone. I quote.
“This greeting is much newer than most people think. The use of hello as a greeting is only as old as the telephone. The first recorded use is from 1883. It does, however, have earlier origins in other senses. It is a variant of hallo, which dates to 1840 and is a cry of surprise. That in turn is related to halloo, a cry to urge on hunting dogs. Halloo dates to about 1700, but a variant, aloo, appears in Shakeepeare’s King Lear a century earlier than that. And there is an even earlier variant, hollo, which dates to at least 1588 when Shakespeare used it in Titus Andronicus. There are also cognates in other Germanic languages. Helo was not a shoo-in for the telephone greeting either. It competed with several other options, including Alexander Graham Bell’s suggestion of Ahoy, but pulled into an early lead and by the end of the 1880s was firmly ensconced.”
Link to original page.

Apparently this was all because they felt an urgent need of a word to say. I’ve never figured out why “Good morning/afternoon/evening” was impossible. It must be some arcane form of etiquette no longer understandable.

Yes, I do come across phrases that are obviously absurd to me, which make me wonder how it got past a copy editor. I remember a duke who said he’s not pay “one red cent.” Just to confuse things, however, they did sometimes use the word dollar for their coinage, for reasons too complicated to go into now.

On the other side, I’ve had readers write to tell me there weren’t any corn fields in England, when “corn” is the English term for wheat, oats, and barley. And to berate me for my lack of grammar if a character says, “That ain’t funny.” That is perfectly good upper class slangy usage. My solution to those two is to stop using them because it isn’t important to me to do so. I often write around difficulties.

For example “He looked out the window” is like nails on a board to me so my characters are more likely to look out at the street or something like that to avoid fights with copy editors.

As morning is my writing time, I’m going to stop here. I’ll do more later.

How important to you is British sounding language in a British set book?

Do you like a taste of difference? Do you like a lot of difference so you really feel back in another time?

Any examples of language you thought very wrong? Please don’t name the authors. We don’t want to embarrass anyone, and anyway, you might be wrong.

Jo

111 thoughts on “Words for Wenches”

  1. “How important to you is British sounding language in a British set book?”
    There are probably anachronisms that would slip past me unnoticed, but when British characters sound American, I notice. I’m not used to hearing or reading American English, so the usages really jump out at me. Some of the words I’ve noticed are ‘gotten’, ‘pants’ (instead of trousers), ‘vest’ (instead of waistcoat), and ‘purely’ (used instead of ‘really’), also ‘snag’ (snag a husband/coat – as in get/pick up quickly).

    Reply
  2. “How important to you is British sounding language in a British set book?”
    There are probably anachronisms that would slip past me unnoticed, but when British characters sound American, I notice. I’m not used to hearing or reading American English, so the usages really jump out at me. Some of the words I’ve noticed are ‘gotten’, ‘pants’ (instead of trousers), ‘vest’ (instead of waistcoat), and ‘purely’ (used instead of ‘really’), also ‘snag’ (snag a husband/coat – as in get/pick up quickly).

    Reply
  3. “How important to you is British sounding language in a British set book?”
    There are probably anachronisms that would slip past me unnoticed, but when British characters sound American, I notice. I’m not used to hearing or reading American English, so the usages really jump out at me. Some of the words I’ve noticed are ‘gotten’, ‘pants’ (instead of trousers), ‘vest’ (instead of waistcoat), and ‘purely’ (used instead of ‘really’), also ‘snag’ (snag a husband/coat – as in get/pick up quickly).

    Reply
  4. I feel really stupid here, because I like to think I have a better-than-average ear for spotting Americanisms–I lived in England for a year, I watch a fair amount of British TV and read a lot of British-authored books, both contemporary and classics, etc. But I hadn’t realized that “He looked out the window” is an Americanism. What would my characters say/think instead? (I need to run home and do a search and replace on my manuscripts!)
    Anyway, though there’s obviously at least one Americanism that’s been sailing right past me all these years, when I do spot Americanisms and/or anachronisms in a Regency they drive me crazy. It takes away from the “time travel” experience I’m hoping to have whenever I pick up historical fiction of any genre.

    Reply
  5. I feel really stupid here, because I like to think I have a better-than-average ear for spotting Americanisms–I lived in England for a year, I watch a fair amount of British TV and read a lot of British-authored books, both contemporary and classics, etc. But I hadn’t realized that “He looked out the window” is an Americanism. What would my characters say/think instead? (I need to run home and do a search and replace on my manuscripts!)
    Anyway, though there’s obviously at least one Americanism that’s been sailing right past me all these years, when I do spot Americanisms and/or anachronisms in a Regency they drive me crazy. It takes away from the “time travel” experience I’m hoping to have whenever I pick up historical fiction of any genre.

    Reply
  6. I feel really stupid here, because I like to think I have a better-than-average ear for spotting Americanisms–I lived in England for a year, I watch a fair amount of British TV and read a lot of British-authored books, both contemporary and classics, etc. But I hadn’t realized that “He looked out the window” is an Americanism. What would my characters say/think instead? (I need to run home and do a search and replace on my manuscripts!)
    Anyway, though there’s obviously at least one Americanism that’s been sailing right past me all these years, when I do spot Americanisms and/or anachronisms in a Regency they drive me crazy. It takes away from the “time travel” experience I’m hoping to have whenever I pick up historical fiction of any genre.

    Reply
  7. ‘I hadn’t realized that “He looked out the window” is an Americanism.’
    Neither had I, and I’m from the UK. It sounded quite normal to me, and interchangeable with ‘he looked out of the window’.

    Reply
  8. ‘I hadn’t realized that “He looked out the window” is an Americanism.’
    Neither had I, and I’m from the UK. It sounded quite normal to me, and interchangeable with ‘he looked out of the window’.

    Reply
  9. ‘I hadn’t realized that “He looked out the window” is an Americanism.’
    Neither had I, and I’m from the UK. It sounded quite normal to me, and interchangeable with ‘he looked out of the window’.

    Reply
  10. Don’t even remember the name of the book or the author, but I cringed when a character referred to young children as “rug rats”. Since I’m not anywhere close to being an expert, that may actually be OK. But it really sounded WRONG when I read it and I had to sit there and shake my head for a minute before going on.

    Reply
  11. Don’t even remember the name of the book or the author, but I cringed when a character referred to young children as “rug rats”. Since I’m not anywhere close to being an expert, that may actually be OK. But it really sounded WRONG when I read it and I had to sit there and shake my head for a minute before going on.

    Reply
  12. Don’t even remember the name of the book or the author, but I cringed when a character referred to young children as “rug rats”. Since I’m not anywhere close to being an expert, that may actually be OK. But it really sounded WRONG when I read it and I had to sit there and shake my head for a minute before going on.

    Reply
  13. I’m no expert, either, but my critique partner and I discovered using “sorry” as in “I’m sorry” is totally anachronistic in a Regency. And about a week later I read it a million times in a brand new release–but hardly cared, since the book was so good!
    Still, I’m with those who are constantly surprised by what they find out when they do research words. I’m always backward–either it was a word back then and I don’t think it should be, or it wasn’t and I think it should. Drat!

    Reply
  14. I’m no expert, either, but my critique partner and I discovered using “sorry” as in “I’m sorry” is totally anachronistic in a Regency. And about a week later I read it a million times in a brand new release–but hardly cared, since the book was so good!
    Still, I’m with those who are constantly surprised by what they find out when they do research words. I’m always backward–either it was a word back then and I don’t think it should be, or it wasn’t and I think it should. Drat!

    Reply
  15. I’m no expert, either, but my critique partner and I discovered using “sorry” as in “I’m sorry” is totally anachronistic in a Regency. And about a week later I read it a million times in a brand new release–but hardly cared, since the book was so good!
    Still, I’m with those who are constantly surprised by what they find out when they do research words. I’m always backward–either it was a word back then and I don’t think it should be, or it wasn’t and I think it should. Drat!

    Reply
  16. To speak of someone having an enormous or inflated ego sounds wrong to me. Isn’t that a twentieth century post-Freud thing? Also, I like my characters to speak with proper grammar, unless historically accurate slang is used to delineate characters. If I wanted modern characters, I could read a modern romance.Could they not at least speak like the people in an Agatha Christie novel? That at least is British upper class, if not Regency. I hate it when they use California- speak. God forbid a Regency heroine speaking like Brittany Spears. This has put me off reading more than one author.

    Reply
  17. To speak of someone having an enormous or inflated ego sounds wrong to me. Isn’t that a twentieth century post-Freud thing? Also, I like my characters to speak with proper grammar, unless historically accurate slang is used to delineate characters. If I wanted modern characters, I could read a modern romance.Could they not at least speak like the people in an Agatha Christie novel? That at least is British upper class, if not Regency. I hate it when they use California- speak. God forbid a Regency heroine speaking like Brittany Spears. This has put me off reading more than one author.

    Reply
  18. To speak of someone having an enormous or inflated ego sounds wrong to me. Isn’t that a twentieth century post-Freud thing? Also, I like my characters to speak with proper grammar, unless historically accurate slang is used to delineate characters. If I wanted modern characters, I could read a modern romance.Could they not at least speak like the people in an Agatha Christie novel? That at least is British upper class, if not Regency. I hate it when they use California- speak. God forbid a Regency heroine speaking like Brittany Spears. This has put me off reading more than one author.

    Reply
  19. Language both fascinates and tortures me.
    So many words we use every day were introduced to the vernacular in the 18th or early 19th century. The problem comes when the word I want to use wasn’t in use per the OED. I’m denied the use of lummox (1825), miffed (1824), frazzled (1825), hello (1883), tweak (1966), thug (1810), snob (1911), and plethora of other fabulous words.
    The only word I’ve knowingly abused is “mount” (the colloquial meaning of “a horse for riding” is first recorded in 1856). I just can’t give that one up.
    Every time I look at my manuscript words jump out at me and I find myself thumbing through the OED. I’m sure I’ve missed some. I think it’s probably impossible not to do so. Some words our brains is just going to fly right over . . .
    My favorite thing I’ve come across lately though is that a prize winning race horse in 1788 (I think it was the St. Ledger, but it might have been the Oaks) was named Skyscraper. Now if I named my hero’s horse Skyscraper, you KNOW I’d get letters, but it’s totally period.

    Reply
  20. Language both fascinates and tortures me.
    So many words we use every day were introduced to the vernacular in the 18th or early 19th century. The problem comes when the word I want to use wasn’t in use per the OED. I’m denied the use of lummox (1825), miffed (1824), frazzled (1825), hello (1883), tweak (1966), thug (1810), snob (1911), and plethora of other fabulous words.
    The only word I’ve knowingly abused is “mount” (the colloquial meaning of “a horse for riding” is first recorded in 1856). I just can’t give that one up.
    Every time I look at my manuscript words jump out at me and I find myself thumbing through the OED. I’m sure I’ve missed some. I think it’s probably impossible not to do so. Some words our brains is just going to fly right over . . .
    My favorite thing I’ve come across lately though is that a prize winning race horse in 1788 (I think it was the St. Ledger, but it might have been the Oaks) was named Skyscraper. Now if I named my hero’s horse Skyscraper, you KNOW I’d get letters, but it’s totally period.

    Reply
  21. Language both fascinates and tortures me.
    So many words we use every day were introduced to the vernacular in the 18th or early 19th century. The problem comes when the word I want to use wasn’t in use per the OED. I’m denied the use of lummox (1825), miffed (1824), frazzled (1825), hello (1883), tweak (1966), thug (1810), snob (1911), and plethora of other fabulous words.
    The only word I’ve knowingly abused is “mount” (the colloquial meaning of “a horse for riding” is first recorded in 1856). I just can’t give that one up.
    Every time I look at my manuscript words jump out at me and I find myself thumbing through the OED. I’m sure I’ve missed some. I think it’s probably impossible not to do so. Some words our brains is just going to fly right over . . .
    My favorite thing I’ve come across lately though is that a prize winning race horse in 1788 (I think it was the St. Ledger, but it might have been the Oaks) was named Skyscraper. Now if I named my hero’s horse Skyscraper, you KNOW I’d get letters, but it’s totally period.

    Reply
  22. The reverse of looking for anachronisms in modern books can be fun. I recently started reading Fielding’s Tom Jones. I’m having so much fun picking out words, phrases, and ideas that sound “modern” or contemporary to me. For instance, the characters are always using the word “slut”. I thought that was a more modern word. I was wrong.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  23. The reverse of looking for anachronisms in modern books can be fun. I recently started reading Fielding’s Tom Jones. I’m having so much fun picking out words, phrases, and ideas that sound “modern” or contemporary to me. For instance, the characters are always using the word “slut”. I thought that was a more modern word. I was wrong.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  24. The reverse of looking for anachronisms in modern books can be fun. I recently started reading Fielding’s Tom Jones. I’m having so much fun picking out words, phrases, and ideas that sound “modern” or contemporary to me. For instance, the characters are always using the word “slut”. I thought that was a more modern word. I was wrong.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  25. Jo, here.
    Kalen, fun about Skyscraper!
    And you’re right about the words that are useful and sound right but aren’t recorded in the period we write in. I decided a while back that I’d ruin my creative flow by questioning every single one.
    We have to let go to an extent. Dorothy Dunnett used quite a lot of anachronistic terms, but it never bothered me at first reading and it doesn’t any more.
    So as I said, it’s all a matter of what works for fiction.That’s the only advice I can give to writers here. Don’t obsess. Do what seems right to you. The main thing is always, story, story, story, but at the same time we don’t want to jerk too many readers out of the fictional world. It’s clear that many readers don’t recognize anachronisms of even the most blatant sort — “It was like a lightbulb going off over her head.” No, I’ve never read that one.
    Laura, how interested about looked out/looked out of. Is this generational? (I have no idea how old you are.) It sounds wrong to me. Any more British people want to chime in on that?
    Another I have trouble with is peeped/peaked. (She peeped inside the box.) Copy editors always want to change it to peak and that sounds entirely wrong to me.
    I found funky in an early 19th century document used pretty much the way we would now.
    Jo

    Reply
  26. Jo, here.
    Kalen, fun about Skyscraper!
    And you’re right about the words that are useful and sound right but aren’t recorded in the period we write in. I decided a while back that I’d ruin my creative flow by questioning every single one.
    We have to let go to an extent. Dorothy Dunnett used quite a lot of anachronistic terms, but it never bothered me at first reading and it doesn’t any more.
    So as I said, it’s all a matter of what works for fiction.That’s the only advice I can give to writers here. Don’t obsess. Do what seems right to you. The main thing is always, story, story, story, but at the same time we don’t want to jerk too many readers out of the fictional world. It’s clear that many readers don’t recognize anachronisms of even the most blatant sort — “It was like a lightbulb going off over her head.” No, I’ve never read that one.
    Laura, how interested about looked out/looked out of. Is this generational? (I have no idea how old you are.) It sounds wrong to me. Any more British people want to chime in on that?
    Another I have trouble with is peeped/peaked. (She peeped inside the box.) Copy editors always want to change it to peak and that sounds entirely wrong to me.
    I found funky in an early 19th century document used pretty much the way we would now.
    Jo

    Reply
  27. Jo, here.
    Kalen, fun about Skyscraper!
    And you’re right about the words that are useful and sound right but aren’t recorded in the period we write in. I decided a while back that I’d ruin my creative flow by questioning every single one.
    We have to let go to an extent. Dorothy Dunnett used quite a lot of anachronistic terms, but it never bothered me at first reading and it doesn’t any more.
    So as I said, it’s all a matter of what works for fiction.That’s the only advice I can give to writers here. Don’t obsess. Do what seems right to you. The main thing is always, story, story, story, but at the same time we don’t want to jerk too many readers out of the fictional world. It’s clear that many readers don’t recognize anachronisms of even the most blatant sort — “It was like a lightbulb going off over her head.” No, I’ve never read that one.
    Laura, how interested about looked out/looked out of. Is this generational? (I have no idea how old you are.) It sounds wrong to me. Any more British people want to chime in on that?
    Another I have trouble with is peeped/peaked. (She peeped inside the box.) Copy editors always want to change it to peak and that sounds entirely wrong to me.
    I found funky in an early 19th century document used pretty much the way we would now.
    Jo

    Reply
  28. Michelle said: For instance, the characters are always using the word “slut”.
    You do realise that it does not mean the same thing in BE (British English) as in AE, don’t you – even now? ‘Slut’ means ‘a dirty, slovenly, woman’: it has NO sexual implications in BE.
    🙂

    Reply
  29. Michelle said: For instance, the characters are always using the word “slut”.
    You do realise that it does not mean the same thing in BE (British English) as in AE, don’t you – even now? ‘Slut’ means ‘a dirty, slovenly, woman’: it has NO sexual implications in BE.
    🙂

    Reply
  30. Michelle said: For instance, the characters are always using the word “slut”.
    You do realise that it does not mean the same thing in BE (British English) as in AE, don’t you – even now? ‘Slut’ means ‘a dirty, slovenly, woman’: it has NO sexual implications in BE.
    🙂

    Reply
  31. Wow, I’ve been trying to sign in here to comment all morning and AOL wouldn’t let me. Had to go to IE to get in! And now the list of things I want to say is too long to remember.
    First thing I remember–“vest” Yes, in the Regency it’s a waistcoat, but “vest” was used for longer garments prior to that, so it may not be anachronistic depending on usage.
    Next thing–“contact”
    As in “I need to contact Susie.” That’s modern usage, not that anyone is going to pay attention.
    And the OED may post when a word was first used in print, but that does not necessarily mean that was the first time the word was used. Just think of all the words we invent today and sling around in daily talk that doesn’t show up in Websters for a decade. Newspapers won’t use it until Websters does, and we invent words rapidly these days. Back then, those invented words might not make it into print for decades.
    So, Kalen, I vote you use those beautiful words because they do sound historically correct and they’re just old enough for a modern reader to understand and old enough for our ears to believe.
    Although Skyscraper might be pushing it. “G” One of the other things I wanted to say was that we ought to avoid the really obvious anachonisms like “one-track mind” and “light bulb going off” since railroads and light bulbs weren’t around during the Regency, if that’s the period we’re writing. Phrases like that are sure to jerk the knowledgeable reader out of the story. I’m afraid Skyscraper would, too, unless some preface was given to it—his head was so tall it scrapes the sky…
    Funky, Jo! Cool. “G” But I think I could see the usage. Now I have to go look it up…

    Reply
  32. Wow, I’ve been trying to sign in here to comment all morning and AOL wouldn’t let me. Had to go to IE to get in! And now the list of things I want to say is too long to remember.
    First thing I remember–“vest” Yes, in the Regency it’s a waistcoat, but “vest” was used for longer garments prior to that, so it may not be anachronistic depending on usage.
    Next thing–“contact”
    As in “I need to contact Susie.” That’s modern usage, not that anyone is going to pay attention.
    And the OED may post when a word was first used in print, but that does not necessarily mean that was the first time the word was used. Just think of all the words we invent today and sling around in daily talk that doesn’t show up in Websters for a decade. Newspapers won’t use it until Websters does, and we invent words rapidly these days. Back then, those invented words might not make it into print for decades.
    So, Kalen, I vote you use those beautiful words because they do sound historically correct and they’re just old enough for a modern reader to understand and old enough for our ears to believe.
    Although Skyscraper might be pushing it. “G” One of the other things I wanted to say was that we ought to avoid the really obvious anachonisms like “one-track mind” and “light bulb going off” since railroads and light bulbs weren’t around during the Regency, if that’s the period we’re writing. Phrases like that are sure to jerk the knowledgeable reader out of the story. I’m afraid Skyscraper would, too, unless some preface was given to it—his head was so tall it scrapes the sky…
    Funky, Jo! Cool. “G” But I think I could see the usage. Now I have to go look it up…

    Reply
  33. Wow, I’ve been trying to sign in here to comment all morning and AOL wouldn’t let me. Had to go to IE to get in! And now the list of things I want to say is too long to remember.
    First thing I remember–“vest” Yes, in the Regency it’s a waistcoat, but “vest” was used for longer garments prior to that, so it may not be anachronistic depending on usage.
    Next thing–“contact”
    As in “I need to contact Susie.” That’s modern usage, not that anyone is going to pay attention.
    And the OED may post when a word was first used in print, but that does not necessarily mean that was the first time the word was used. Just think of all the words we invent today and sling around in daily talk that doesn’t show up in Websters for a decade. Newspapers won’t use it until Websters does, and we invent words rapidly these days. Back then, those invented words might not make it into print for decades.
    So, Kalen, I vote you use those beautiful words because they do sound historically correct and they’re just old enough for a modern reader to understand and old enough for our ears to believe.
    Although Skyscraper might be pushing it. “G” One of the other things I wanted to say was that we ought to avoid the really obvious anachonisms like “one-track mind” and “light bulb going off” since railroads and light bulbs weren’t around during the Regency, if that’s the period we’re writing. Phrases like that are sure to jerk the knowledgeable reader out of the story. I’m afraid Skyscraper would, too, unless some preface was given to it—his head was so tall it scrapes the sky…
    Funky, Jo! Cool. “G” But I think I could see the usage. Now I have to go look it up…

    Reply
  34. I’ve seen this topic around different places, and I think in the end, I want to be able to read it easily, so I don’t mind. But some words or phrases obviously would totally destroy it if they were used. . . like a Regency person saying something I say all the time – “that’s cool!” Ah, definitely not. Well, unless it’s a time travel I guess. LOL 🙂 But if it makes sense, I don’t mind it. 🙂
    Lois

    Reply
  35. I’ve seen this topic around different places, and I think in the end, I want to be able to read it easily, so I don’t mind. But some words or phrases obviously would totally destroy it if they were used. . . like a Regency person saying something I say all the time – “that’s cool!” Ah, definitely not. Well, unless it’s a time travel I guess. LOL 🙂 But if it makes sense, I don’t mind it. 🙂
    Lois

    Reply
  36. I’ve seen this topic around different places, and I think in the end, I want to be able to read it easily, so I don’t mind. But some words or phrases obviously would totally destroy it if they were used. . . like a Regency person saying something I say all the time – “that’s cool!” Ah, definitely not. Well, unless it’s a time travel I guess. LOL 🙂 But if it makes sense, I don’t mind it. 🙂
    Lois

    Reply
  37. Jo: “Laura, how interested about looked out/looked out of. Is this generational? (I have no idea how old you are.) It sounds wrong to me. Any more British people want to chime in on that?”
    Sounds wrong to me, too. I would never say ‘looked out the window’ – to me, it needs the ‘of’. But I am in my 60s: maybe younger BE speakers are more flexible.

    Reply
  38. Jo: “Laura, how interested about looked out/looked out of. Is this generational? (I have no idea how old you are.) It sounds wrong to me. Any more British people want to chime in on that?”
    Sounds wrong to me, too. I would never say ‘looked out the window’ – to me, it needs the ‘of’. But I am in my 60s: maybe younger BE speakers are more flexible.

    Reply
  39. Jo: “Laura, how interested about looked out/looked out of. Is this generational? (I have no idea how old you are.) It sounds wrong to me. Any more British people want to chime in on that?”
    Sounds wrong to me, too. I would never say ‘looked out the window’ – to me, it needs the ‘of’. But I am in my 60s: maybe younger BE speakers are more flexible.

    Reply
  40. “Laura, how interested about looked out/looked out of. Is this generational? (I have no idea how old you are.) It sounds wrong to me. Any more British people want to chime in on that?”
    I’m in my early 30s. And I checked with my husband and he said the same.
    “Another I have trouble with is peeped/peaked. (She peeped inside the box.) Copy editors always want to change it to peak and that sounds entirely wrong to me.”
    I’d tend to think of ‘peep’ as in ‘peeping round the door’, (the OED gives one meaning of ‘peep’ as ‘To look through a narrow aperture, as through half-shut eyelids or through a crevice, chink, or small opening into a larger space; (hence) to look quickly or furtively from a vantage point; to steal a glance.’
    I’d say ‘peering into the darkness’ (OED says ‘To look narrowly or closely, esp. in order to make out something indistinct or obscured; to look with difficulty or concentration at someone or something’) and
    I’d say ‘peeking into a box’ (OED says ‘To look through a narrow opening; to look into or out of an enclosed or concealed space; (also) to glance or look furtively at, to pry.’)
    Re ‘slut’, I’ve always thought of it with both a messy/dirty and a sexual meaning. Re the second, the OED says as a second meaning ‘A woman of a low or loose character; a bold or impudent girl; a hussy, jade’. It gives some quotations with this meaning: ‘1577-82 BRETON Flourish upon Fancie Wks. (Grosart) I. 6/2 To haunt the Tauernes late,..And swap ech slut vpon the lippes, that in the darke he meetes. […] 1777 SHERIDAN Trip to Scarborough IV. i, These lords have a power of wealth indeed, yet, as I’ve heard say, they give it all to their sluts and their trulls. 1839 DICKENS Nich. Nick. xviii, Never let anybody who is a friend of mine speak to her; a slut, a hussy.’

    Reply
  41. “Laura, how interested about looked out/looked out of. Is this generational? (I have no idea how old you are.) It sounds wrong to me. Any more British people want to chime in on that?”
    I’m in my early 30s. And I checked with my husband and he said the same.
    “Another I have trouble with is peeped/peaked. (She peeped inside the box.) Copy editors always want to change it to peak and that sounds entirely wrong to me.”
    I’d tend to think of ‘peep’ as in ‘peeping round the door’, (the OED gives one meaning of ‘peep’ as ‘To look through a narrow aperture, as through half-shut eyelids or through a crevice, chink, or small opening into a larger space; (hence) to look quickly or furtively from a vantage point; to steal a glance.’
    I’d say ‘peering into the darkness’ (OED says ‘To look narrowly or closely, esp. in order to make out something indistinct or obscured; to look with difficulty or concentration at someone or something’) and
    I’d say ‘peeking into a box’ (OED says ‘To look through a narrow opening; to look into or out of an enclosed or concealed space; (also) to glance or look furtively at, to pry.’)
    Re ‘slut’, I’ve always thought of it with both a messy/dirty and a sexual meaning. Re the second, the OED says as a second meaning ‘A woman of a low or loose character; a bold or impudent girl; a hussy, jade’. It gives some quotations with this meaning: ‘1577-82 BRETON Flourish upon Fancie Wks. (Grosart) I. 6/2 To haunt the Tauernes late,..And swap ech slut vpon the lippes, that in the darke he meetes. […] 1777 SHERIDAN Trip to Scarborough IV. i, These lords have a power of wealth indeed, yet, as I’ve heard say, they give it all to their sluts and their trulls. 1839 DICKENS Nich. Nick. xviii, Never let anybody who is a friend of mine speak to her; a slut, a hussy.’

    Reply
  42. “Laura, how interested about looked out/looked out of. Is this generational? (I have no idea how old you are.) It sounds wrong to me. Any more British people want to chime in on that?”
    I’m in my early 30s. And I checked with my husband and he said the same.
    “Another I have trouble with is peeped/peaked. (She peeped inside the box.) Copy editors always want to change it to peak and that sounds entirely wrong to me.”
    I’d tend to think of ‘peep’ as in ‘peeping round the door’, (the OED gives one meaning of ‘peep’ as ‘To look through a narrow aperture, as through half-shut eyelids or through a crevice, chink, or small opening into a larger space; (hence) to look quickly or furtively from a vantage point; to steal a glance.’
    I’d say ‘peering into the darkness’ (OED says ‘To look narrowly or closely, esp. in order to make out something indistinct or obscured; to look with difficulty or concentration at someone or something’) and
    I’d say ‘peeking into a box’ (OED says ‘To look through a narrow opening; to look into or out of an enclosed or concealed space; (also) to glance or look furtively at, to pry.’)
    Re ‘slut’, I’ve always thought of it with both a messy/dirty and a sexual meaning. Re the second, the OED says as a second meaning ‘A woman of a low or loose character; a bold or impudent girl; a hussy, jade’. It gives some quotations with this meaning: ‘1577-82 BRETON Flourish upon Fancie Wks. (Grosart) I. 6/2 To haunt the Tauernes late,..And swap ech slut vpon the lippes, that in the darke he meetes. […] 1777 SHERIDAN Trip to Scarborough IV. i, These lords have a power of wealth indeed, yet, as I’ve heard say, they give it all to their sluts and their trulls. 1839 DICKENS Nich. Nick. xviii, Never let anybody who is a friend of mine speak to her; a slut, a hussy.’

    Reply
  43. Britney Spears is from Louisiana. She does NOT speak like a Californian (at least not to the ears of this native Californian). And I’m right there with you re not wanting my heroines to sound like her. LOL!
    As far as “slut” goes, everything I’ve read indicates that well before the Regency it had come to have overtones of loose sexuality in BE: ‘Meaning “woman of loose character, bold hussy” is attested from c.1450.’ Though it was a nuanced word, so that when Pepy’s writes of his young daughter: “Our little girl Susan is a most admirable slut, and pleases us mightily.” in 1664 he is just calling her a dirty little moppet.

    Reply
  44. Britney Spears is from Louisiana. She does NOT speak like a Californian (at least not to the ears of this native Californian). And I’m right there with you re not wanting my heroines to sound like her. LOL!
    As far as “slut” goes, everything I’ve read indicates that well before the Regency it had come to have overtones of loose sexuality in BE: ‘Meaning “woman of loose character, bold hussy” is attested from c.1450.’ Though it was a nuanced word, so that when Pepy’s writes of his young daughter: “Our little girl Susan is a most admirable slut, and pleases us mightily.” in 1664 he is just calling her a dirty little moppet.

    Reply
  45. Britney Spears is from Louisiana. She does NOT speak like a Californian (at least not to the ears of this native Californian). And I’m right there with you re not wanting my heroines to sound like her. LOL!
    As far as “slut” goes, everything I’ve read indicates that well before the Regency it had come to have overtones of loose sexuality in BE: ‘Meaning “woman of loose character, bold hussy” is attested from c.1450.’ Though it was a nuanced word, so that when Pepy’s writes of his young daughter: “Our little girl Susan is a most admirable slut, and pleases us mightily.” in 1664 he is just calling her a dirty little moppet.

    Reply
  46. Jo here.
    See, I said it was complicated! We can probably agree on technological anachronisms — no playback in the 19th century, for example, and no burning rubber for speeding away.
    But general language is very difficult and while a word may have been in use it’s usage and even meaning might not be quite what we think.
    So I say again, we need to be alert to the feel of what we write, but not get our knickers in a twist. Not Georgian, alas, though I have used guts for garters. If it isn’t
    Georgian, it should be.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  47. Jo here.
    See, I said it was complicated! We can probably agree on technological anachronisms — no playback in the 19th century, for example, and no burning rubber for speeding away.
    But general language is very difficult and while a word may have been in use it’s usage and even meaning might not be quite what we think.
    So I say again, we need to be alert to the feel of what we write, but not get our knickers in a twist. Not Georgian, alas, though I have used guts for garters. If it isn’t
    Georgian, it should be.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  48. Jo here.
    See, I said it was complicated! We can probably agree on technological anachronisms — no playback in the 19th century, for example, and no burning rubber for speeding away.
    But general language is very difficult and while a word may have been in use it’s usage and even meaning might not be quite what we think.
    So I say again, we need to be alert to the feel of what we write, but not get our knickers in a twist. Not Georgian, alas, though I have used guts for garters. If it isn’t
    Georgian, it should be.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  49. Jo, thank you for the fabulous and thoughtful post! Not being a writer myself,it is intriguing to me to visit the writer’s mind and the writer’s perspective–and how I wish every historical writer was attentive to detail and really cared about language as you and the other wenches do. (Including the wenches who comment regularly on this blog!)
    Reading everyone’s thoughts has really put me in my place, however–my judgmental English major’s soul is really shocked by how many anachronistic words I wouldn’t have blinked an eye at (particularly the words Kalen listed in her post!). And “hello” dates from 1883–I’m amazed and chastened!
    I will say that when I do run across a word (like “contact”) which jerks me out of my reading reverie I am not only disappointed to be distracted from the “world” of the novel but it also gives me trust issues about the book in general–I start second-guessing other words, historical details, plot points. Like the book Gretchen F mentioned that had the “inflated ego” phrase (hmmm. . .I’m sure it was the same author I mentioned above who wrote “that’s your problem”. . .)
    How I would love to be a guest at a “Word Wench” dinner party. (Maybe you could auction off dinner with all of you for some charity or other–the Happy Home for Retired Romance Writers or some such?)
    Melinda

    Reply
  50. Jo, thank you for the fabulous and thoughtful post! Not being a writer myself,it is intriguing to me to visit the writer’s mind and the writer’s perspective–and how I wish every historical writer was attentive to detail and really cared about language as you and the other wenches do. (Including the wenches who comment regularly on this blog!)
    Reading everyone’s thoughts has really put me in my place, however–my judgmental English major’s soul is really shocked by how many anachronistic words I wouldn’t have blinked an eye at (particularly the words Kalen listed in her post!). And “hello” dates from 1883–I’m amazed and chastened!
    I will say that when I do run across a word (like “contact”) which jerks me out of my reading reverie I am not only disappointed to be distracted from the “world” of the novel but it also gives me trust issues about the book in general–I start second-guessing other words, historical details, plot points. Like the book Gretchen F mentioned that had the “inflated ego” phrase (hmmm. . .I’m sure it was the same author I mentioned above who wrote “that’s your problem”. . .)
    How I would love to be a guest at a “Word Wench” dinner party. (Maybe you could auction off dinner with all of you for some charity or other–the Happy Home for Retired Romance Writers or some such?)
    Melinda

    Reply
  51. Jo, thank you for the fabulous and thoughtful post! Not being a writer myself,it is intriguing to me to visit the writer’s mind and the writer’s perspective–and how I wish every historical writer was attentive to detail and really cared about language as you and the other wenches do. (Including the wenches who comment regularly on this blog!)
    Reading everyone’s thoughts has really put me in my place, however–my judgmental English major’s soul is really shocked by how many anachronistic words I wouldn’t have blinked an eye at (particularly the words Kalen listed in her post!). And “hello” dates from 1883–I’m amazed and chastened!
    I will say that when I do run across a word (like “contact”) which jerks me out of my reading reverie I am not only disappointed to be distracted from the “world” of the novel but it also gives me trust issues about the book in general–I start second-guessing other words, historical details, plot points. Like the book Gretchen F mentioned that had the “inflated ego” phrase (hmmm. . .I’m sure it was the same author I mentioned above who wrote “that’s your problem”. . .)
    How I would love to be a guest at a “Word Wench” dinner party. (Maybe you could auction off dinner with all of you for some charity or other–the Happy Home for Retired Romance Writers or some such?)
    Melinda

    Reply
  52. RevMelinda said… “How I would love to be a guest at a “Word Wench” dinner party. (Maybe you could auction off dinner with all of you for some charity or other–the Happy Home for Retired Romance Writers or some such?)”
    What a wonderful idea! I volunteer my house and will toss in my well liveried staff. Three of the Wenches live no more than two hours from me.

    Reply
  53. RevMelinda said… “How I would love to be a guest at a “Word Wench” dinner party. (Maybe you could auction off dinner with all of you for some charity or other–the Happy Home for Retired Romance Writers or some such?)”
    What a wonderful idea! I volunteer my house and will toss in my well liveried staff. Three of the Wenches live no more than two hours from me.

    Reply
  54. RevMelinda said… “How I would love to be a guest at a “Word Wench” dinner party. (Maybe you could auction off dinner with all of you for some charity or other–the Happy Home for Retired Romance Writers or some such?)”
    What a wonderful idea! I volunteer my house and will toss in my well liveried staff. Three of the Wenches live no more than two hours from me.

    Reply
  55. Haha! Since I write books set in the 1890s and 1900s, I have a plethora of words(and inventions) to use. *G* But I feel that getting the TONE correctly is most important in historical romances. It seems that it’s the so-called light and humorous historicals that are light also on the tone, which is why I can no longer read 80% of historical romances out today(Word Wenches in the other 20%!).

    Reply
  56. Haha! Since I write books set in the 1890s and 1900s, I have a plethora of words(and inventions) to use. *G* But I feel that getting the TONE correctly is most important in historical romances. It seems that it’s the so-called light and humorous historicals that are light also on the tone, which is why I can no longer read 80% of historical romances out today(Word Wenches in the other 20%!).

    Reply
  57. Haha! Since I write books set in the 1890s and 1900s, I have a plethora of words(and inventions) to use. *G* But I feel that getting the TONE correctly is most important in historical romances. It seems that it’s the so-called light and humorous historicals that are light also on the tone, which is why I can no longer read 80% of historical romances out today(Word Wenches in the other 20%!).

    Reply
  58. Returning to ‘slut’, while this may well have had sexual meanings in early Modern English – 16th and perhaps even 17th century – it had certainly lost that nuance later in British English. I should be very surprised indeed to hear that Fielding’s use of it means anything other than ‘sloven’. And how are we to suppose Pepys intended it? Pepys’s use of vocabulary was, in any case, idiosyncratic, and in the diaries, which were written in his own code, he appears often to have selected words on the basis of their suitability for transcription into his shorthand, rather than the precision of their definition.
    There are, of course, many examples of American English which retain spellings, forms, idioms and definitions that died out in British English after the 17th century: the participle ‘gotten’ is a very obvious example. The fact that an American usage may be etymologically justified by a Medieval or early Modern English usage does NOT necessarily mean that it was current in 18th-century or later British English.
    The problems of ‘earliest usage’ dates in dictionaries has already been highlighted: we have to bear in mind that they do not necessarily record the introduction or earliest currency of a word/meaning, but its first RECORDED use in print, which may be anything up to half-a century after it became common in spoken English. And dictionaries do not, and probably cannot, document ‘latest recorded usage’.
    All of us tend to speak the English that was current when we were young. Generational differences become increasingly obvious after one passes the age of about 50. There are many, many words and usages in modern BE, both written and colloquial, that I understand, but would never use myself, and I am sure I use expressions that sound old-fashioned to those in their teens and twenties.
    The problem of dialogue in historical novels is a very tricky one, which, naturally, becomes more difficult the earlier the setting, until one reaches a period when the language spoken was sufficiently different for dialogue to be ‘translated’ rather than ‘transcribed’. But modern Americans and Brits can read the English of the late 18th/early 19th century without undue difficulty, so I see no reason why those who set their books in that period should not represent conversation quite accurately.
    I think that the very occasional slip is almost inevitable, and unimportant; what makes a book unbearable is if characters inhabiting London in 1817 are repeatedly using 20th-century Americanisms. And these are likely to be the same books in which the author thinks that Cornwall is in northern England, or that it took only a couple of hours to travel from London to Liverpool. It betrays a lack, not only of research, but of natural sympathy and ‘feel’ for the setting.
    🙂

    Reply
  59. Returning to ‘slut’, while this may well have had sexual meanings in early Modern English – 16th and perhaps even 17th century – it had certainly lost that nuance later in British English. I should be very surprised indeed to hear that Fielding’s use of it means anything other than ‘sloven’. And how are we to suppose Pepys intended it? Pepys’s use of vocabulary was, in any case, idiosyncratic, and in the diaries, which were written in his own code, he appears often to have selected words on the basis of their suitability for transcription into his shorthand, rather than the precision of their definition.
    There are, of course, many examples of American English which retain spellings, forms, idioms and definitions that died out in British English after the 17th century: the participle ‘gotten’ is a very obvious example. The fact that an American usage may be etymologically justified by a Medieval or early Modern English usage does NOT necessarily mean that it was current in 18th-century or later British English.
    The problems of ‘earliest usage’ dates in dictionaries has already been highlighted: we have to bear in mind that they do not necessarily record the introduction or earliest currency of a word/meaning, but its first RECORDED use in print, which may be anything up to half-a century after it became common in spoken English. And dictionaries do not, and probably cannot, document ‘latest recorded usage’.
    All of us tend to speak the English that was current when we were young. Generational differences become increasingly obvious after one passes the age of about 50. There are many, many words and usages in modern BE, both written and colloquial, that I understand, but would never use myself, and I am sure I use expressions that sound old-fashioned to those in their teens and twenties.
    The problem of dialogue in historical novels is a very tricky one, which, naturally, becomes more difficult the earlier the setting, until one reaches a period when the language spoken was sufficiently different for dialogue to be ‘translated’ rather than ‘transcribed’. But modern Americans and Brits can read the English of the late 18th/early 19th century without undue difficulty, so I see no reason why those who set their books in that period should not represent conversation quite accurately.
    I think that the very occasional slip is almost inevitable, and unimportant; what makes a book unbearable is if characters inhabiting London in 1817 are repeatedly using 20th-century Americanisms. And these are likely to be the same books in which the author thinks that Cornwall is in northern England, or that it took only a couple of hours to travel from London to Liverpool. It betrays a lack, not only of research, but of natural sympathy and ‘feel’ for the setting.
    🙂

    Reply
  60. Returning to ‘slut’, while this may well have had sexual meanings in early Modern English – 16th and perhaps even 17th century – it had certainly lost that nuance later in British English. I should be very surprised indeed to hear that Fielding’s use of it means anything other than ‘sloven’. And how are we to suppose Pepys intended it? Pepys’s use of vocabulary was, in any case, idiosyncratic, and in the diaries, which were written in his own code, he appears often to have selected words on the basis of their suitability for transcription into his shorthand, rather than the precision of their definition.
    There are, of course, many examples of American English which retain spellings, forms, idioms and definitions that died out in British English after the 17th century: the participle ‘gotten’ is a very obvious example. The fact that an American usage may be etymologically justified by a Medieval or early Modern English usage does NOT necessarily mean that it was current in 18th-century or later British English.
    The problems of ‘earliest usage’ dates in dictionaries has already been highlighted: we have to bear in mind that they do not necessarily record the introduction or earliest currency of a word/meaning, but its first RECORDED use in print, which may be anything up to half-a century after it became common in spoken English. And dictionaries do not, and probably cannot, document ‘latest recorded usage’.
    All of us tend to speak the English that was current when we were young. Generational differences become increasingly obvious after one passes the age of about 50. There are many, many words and usages in modern BE, both written and colloquial, that I understand, but would never use myself, and I am sure I use expressions that sound old-fashioned to those in their teens and twenties.
    The problem of dialogue in historical novels is a very tricky one, which, naturally, becomes more difficult the earlier the setting, until one reaches a period when the language spoken was sufficiently different for dialogue to be ‘translated’ rather than ‘transcribed’. But modern Americans and Brits can read the English of the late 18th/early 19th century without undue difficulty, so I see no reason why those who set their books in that period should not represent conversation quite accurately.
    I think that the very occasional slip is almost inevitable, and unimportant; what makes a book unbearable is if characters inhabiting London in 1817 are repeatedly using 20th-century Americanisms. And these are likely to be the same books in which the author thinks that Cornwall is in northern England, or that it took only a couple of hours to travel from London to Liverpool. It betrays a lack, not only of research, but of natural sympathy and ‘feel’ for the setting.
    🙂

    Reply
  61. ‘Peek’ as a near-synonym for ‘peep’ simply sounds American to me. Yes, it is used and understood in British English, but ‘peep’ is Standard English, whereas ‘peek’ in BE is very colloquial and also rather twee.

    Reply
  62. ‘Peek’ as a near-synonym for ‘peep’ simply sounds American to me. Yes, it is used and understood in British English, but ‘peep’ is Standard English, whereas ‘peek’ in BE is very colloquial and also rather twee.

    Reply
  63. ‘Peek’ as a near-synonym for ‘peep’ simply sounds American to me. Yes, it is used and understood in British English, but ‘peep’ is Standard English, whereas ‘peek’ in BE is very colloquial and also rather twee.

    Reply
  64. “Hello,” didn’t come into use until the 1880’s!!!
    Dear Lord, I would have never thought to look that up and my heroine says it in the first 15 pages of my manuscript!!!
    Cathy (off to fix her error).
    I’d used miffed though. I’d ignore its year of birth. It’s a small and useful word.

    Reply
  65. “Hello,” didn’t come into use until the 1880’s!!!
    Dear Lord, I would have never thought to look that up and my heroine says it in the first 15 pages of my manuscript!!!
    Cathy (off to fix her error).
    I’d used miffed though. I’d ignore its year of birth. It’s a small and useful word.

    Reply
  66. “Hello,” didn’t come into use until the 1880’s!!!
    Dear Lord, I would have never thought to look that up and my heroine says it in the first 15 pages of my manuscript!!!
    Cathy (off to fix her error).
    I’d used miffed though. I’d ignore its year of birth. It’s a small and useful word.

    Reply
  67. AgTigress, you rock (to use my NorCal girl slanglish). I’m always amazed when I hear people talk about how hard it is to read Austen, or Fielding, let alone Heyer (and yes, I’ve heard numerous people say they found Heyer too dense!).
    I’m with you on the “light and frothy” historicals. They just don’t do it for me. So many of them tend to be “light and frothy” in too many ways (historic facts gone awry, impossible—not implausible!—plots, etc.).
    Some writers can pull off a light, comedy of manners historicals, but most of them, IMO, are/were (sadly) publishing Traditional Regencies, not short/long historicals.

    Reply
  68. AgTigress, you rock (to use my NorCal girl slanglish). I’m always amazed when I hear people talk about how hard it is to read Austen, or Fielding, let alone Heyer (and yes, I’ve heard numerous people say they found Heyer too dense!).
    I’m with you on the “light and frothy” historicals. They just don’t do it for me. So many of them tend to be “light and frothy” in too many ways (historic facts gone awry, impossible—not implausible!—plots, etc.).
    Some writers can pull off a light, comedy of manners historicals, but most of them, IMO, are/were (sadly) publishing Traditional Regencies, not short/long historicals.

    Reply
  69. AgTigress, you rock (to use my NorCal girl slanglish). I’m always amazed when I hear people talk about how hard it is to read Austen, or Fielding, let alone Heyer (and yes, I’ve heard numerous people say they found Heyer too dense!).
    I’m with you on the “light and frothy” historicals. They just don’t do it for me. So many of them tend to be “light and frothy” in too many ways (historic facts gone awry, impossible—not implausible!—plots, etc.).
    Some writers can pull off a light, comedy of manners historicals, but most of them, IMO, are/were (sadly) publishing Traditional Regencies, not short/long historicals.

    Reply
  70. AgTigress,
    My interpretation of Fielding’s use of “slut” is that the word definitely has sexual implications. So far in the novel, two women have been called sluts – both at the time when it’s discovered that they have fornicated – and had or were going to have a child out of wedlock. The first woman would not be called slovely.
    If anybody is interested, I can post a couple of the references from Fielding. My copy is at home.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  71. AgTigress,
    My interpretation of Fielding’s use of “slut” is that the word definitely has sexual implications. So far in the novel, two women have been called sluts – both at the time when it’s discovered that they have fornicated – and had or were going to have a child out of wedlock. The first woman would not be called slovely.
    If anybody is interested, I can post a couple of the references from Fielding. My copy is at home.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  72. AgTigress,
    My interpretation of Fielding’s use of “slut” is that the word definitely has sexual implications. So far in the novel, two women have been called sluts – both at the time when it’s discovered that they have fornicated – and had or were going to have a child out of wedlock. The first woman would not be called slovely.
    If anybody is interested, I can post a couple of the references from Fielding. My copy is at home.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  73. Michelle: it is a long time since I read any Fielding, I have to admit, but if you have looked at the context recently, then I must accept your judgement.
    The interesting question then becomes when British English LOST the sexual meaning of ‘slut’, and that is a question on which dictionaries cannot help.
    🙂

    Reply
  74. Michelle: it is a long time since I read any Fielding, I have to admit, but if you have looked at the context recently, then I must accept your judgement.
    The interesting question then becomes when British English LOST the sexual meaning of ‘slut’, and that is a question on which dictionaries cannot help.
    🙂

    Reply
  75. Michelle: it is a long time since I read any Fielding, I have to admit, but if you have looked at the context recently, then I must accept your judgement.
    The interesting question then becomes when British English LOST the sexual meaning of ‘slut’, and that is a question on which dictionaries cannot help.
    🙂

    Reply
  76. I am an interpretive guide at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Nova Scotia – Bell’s home for 37 years and the site of his grave. I just wanted to tell you that Bell’s actual choice of a telephone greeting was “Hoy! Hoy!” not “Ahoy!”
    :o)

    Reply
  77. I am an interpretive guide at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Nova Scotia – Bell’s home for 37 years and the site of his grave. I just wanted to tell you that Bell’s actual choice of a telephone greeting was “Hoy! Hoy!” not “Ahoy!”
    :o)

    Reply
  78. I am an interpretive guide at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Nova Scotia – Bell’s home for 37 years and the site of his grave. I just wanted to tell you that Bell’s actual choice of a telephone greeting was “Hoy! Hoy!” not “Ahoy!”
    :o)

    Reply
  79. “The interesting question then becomes when British English LOST the sexual meaning of ‘slut’, and that is a question on which dictionaries cannot help.”
    I don’t think it has lost that meaning. The short, online, free version of the OED says slut means ‘• noun a slovenly or promiscuous woman’. http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/slut?view=uk
    That’s in the UK view, and it’s the concise version, so it doesn’t show obsolete meanings. I’ve always thought of slut as having a sexual meaning.
    There might possibly be regional differences to factor in too. Which part of the UK are you from, AgTigress? I’m in Scotland.

    Reply
  80. “The interesting question then becomes when British English LOST the sexual meaning of ‘slut’, and that is a question on which dictionaries cannot help.”
    I don’t think it has lost that meaning. The short, online, free version of the OED says slut means ‘• noun a slovenly or promiscuous woman’. http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/slut?view=uk
    That’s in the UK view, and it’s the concise version, so it doesn’t show obsolete meanings. I’ve always thought of slut as having a sexual meaning.
    There might possibly be regional differences to factor in too. Which part of the UK are you from, AgTigress? I’m in Scotland.

    Reply
  81. “The interesting question then becomes when British English LOST the sexual meaning of ‘slut’, and that is a question on which dictionaries cannot help.”
    I don’t think it has lost that meaning. The short, online, free version of the OED says slut means ‘• noun a slovenly or promiscuous woman’. http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/slut?view=uk
    That’s in the UK view, and it’s the concise version, so it doesn’t show obsolete meanings. I’ve always thought of slut as having a sexual meaning.
    There might possibly be regional differences to factor in too. Which part of the UK are you from, AgTigress? I’m in Scotland.

    Reply
  82. Laura – I have lived and worked in South-east England for the last 60 years: I was born in Wales, and retain close links with both Welsh- and English-speaking areas there.
    I think the difference HAS to be regional, and Scottish English has many, many usages and idioms that are markedly different from those of even northern England, let alone the south-east.
    I was intrigued when I first picked up the sexual nuance of ‘slut’ in American novels, precisely because the word has no such colour in the English I have heard and spoken all my life: it refers solely and exclusively to untidiness and dirtiness. Honestly; it really does. I have heard friends say, ‘oh, dear, I must get the house cleaned up before the weekend – I am such a slut to leave it so long!’. I have said it myself. I should not do so if I felt the word held any tinge of sexual promiscuity.
    The current New Oxford dictionary (2000 edn.) gives ‘a slovenly or promiscuous woman’, but until we had this discussion, I had simply assumed that the latter usage was due to the re-introduction of the second meaning from American English, because AE usages are often included. Are you sure that you are not influenced by the American nuance beginning to return, via TV and novels? Just asking.
    I am absolutely sure that the sexual meaning was absent in ‘Standard English’ (south-eastern) for the best part of 200 years, if not more, but proving this would require more research time than I have available.
    It is an interesting matter, and as is so often the case, when one gets into the detail, regional, and sometimes class, differences begin to emerge. But if you asked a Londoner, for example, at any time in the last 100-200 years what they thought ‘slut’ meant, I guarantee they would have said, ‘a dirty, slovenly woman’.
    🙂

    Reply
  83. Laura – I have lived and worked in South-east England for the last 60 years: I was born in Wales, and retain close links with both Welsh- and English-speaking areas there.
    I think the difference HAS to be regional, and Scottish English has many, many usages and idioms that are markedly different from those of even northern England, let alone the south-east.
    I was intrigued when I first picked up the sexual nuance of ‘slut’ in American novels, precisely because the word has no such colour in the English I have heard and spoken all my life: it refers solely and exclusively to untidiness and dirtiness. Honestly; it really does. I have heard friends say, ‘oh, dear, I must get the house cleaned up before the weekend – I am such a slut to leave it so long!’. I have said it myself. I should not do so if I felt the word held any tinge of sexual promiscuity.
    The current New Oxford dictionary (2000 edn.) gives ‘a slovenly or promiscuous woman’, but until we had this discussion, I had simply assumed that the latter usage was due to the re-introduction of the second meaning from American English, because AE usages are often included. Are you sure that you are not influenced by the American nuance beginning to return, via TV and novels? Just asking.
    I am absolutely sure that the sexual meaning was absent in ‘Standard English’ (south-eastern) for the best part of 200 years, if not more, but proving this would require more research time than I have available.
    It is an interesting matter, and as is so often the case, when one gets into the detail, regional, and sometimes class, differences begin to emerge. But if you asked a Londoner, for example, at any time in the last 100-200 years what they thought ‘slut’ meant, I guarantee they would have said, ‘a dirty, slovenly woman’.
    🙂

    Reply
  84. Laura – I have lived and worked in South-east England for the last 60 years: I was born in Wales, and retain close links with both Welsh- and English-speaking areas there.
    I think the difference HAS to be regional, and Scottish English has many, many usages and idioms that are markedly different from those of even northern England, let alone the south-east.
    I was intrigued when I first picked up the sexual nuance of ‘slut’ in American novels, precisely because the word has no such colour in the English I have heard and spoken all my life: it refers solely and exclusively to untidiness and dirtiness. Honestly; it really does. I have heard friends say, ‘oh, dear, I must get the house cleaned up before the weekend – I am such a slut to leave it so long!’. I have said it myself. I should not do so if I felt the word held any tinge of sexual promiscuity.
    The current New Oxford dictionary (2000 edn.) gives ‘a slovenly or promiscuous woman’, but until we had this discussion, I had simply assumed that the latter usage was due to the re-introduction of the second meaning from American English, because AE usages are often included. Are you sure that you are not influenced by the American nuance beginning to return, via TV and novels? Just asking.
    I am absolutely sure that the sexual meaning was absent in ‘Standard English’ (south-eastern) for the best part of 200 years, if not more, but proving this would require more research time than I have available.
    It is an interesting matter, and as is so often the case, when one gets into the detail, regional, and sometimes class, differences begin to emerge. But if you asked a Londoner, for example, at any time in the last 100-200 years what they thought ‘slut’ meant, I guarantee they would have said, ‘a dirty, slovenly woman’.
    🙂

    Reply
  85. My husband’s from the north of England, and when I asked him what ‘slut’ meant he came up with the sexual meaning. As we don’t have a TV, and he hasn’t been reading any American websites or books (at least, not ones that would be likely to be discussing sluts), I think it’s not very likely that he’s picked that meaning from those sources. I suppose we may have done, but in most cases it’s impossible to remember exactly when one first heard a word. I certainly don’t remember reading it/hearing it and being surprised that it was being used to describe a promiscuous woman. As far as I can remember, the word ‘slut’ has always made me think of a raddled woman, the sort in a Hogarth cartoon whose flesh is just beginning to sag, with all her rouge pots, clothes etc scattered round her rather squalid room.
    OK, I’ve just found this example from 1701, which I’m sure must have a sexual meaning:
    “Although you seem a haughty Man ;
    Who would reap that you ne’re did sow,
    You may drive Cart, or herd a Cow.
    And with a Slut take as much pleasure,
    As those have Ladies and great Treasure.”
    http://www.nls.uk/broadsides/broadside.cfm/id/15895/criteria/slut
    and here’s something from 1830-1850 which seems similarly sexual in meaning (there seem to be some words missing, but the meaning is still clear:
    “The servant maid a girl though chaste,
    Began to swell about the
    The mist ess often looked and smiled,
    Indeed, 1 think the girl’s with
    But, I’ll ask the forward jade,
    By whom, and how, and whence ’twas made,
    The time and place, and then I’ll say,
    Pack up you slut and go away”
    http://www.nls.uk/broadsides/broadside.cfm/id/15937/criteria/slut
    They are Scottish examples, though.
    We have run up against some regional differences, for example I talk about ‘pots’ when he would say ‘pans’.

    Reply
  86. My husband’s from the north of England, and when I asked him what ‘slut’ meant he came up with the sexual meaning. As we don’t have a TV, and he hasn’t been reading any American websites or books (at least, not ones that would be likely to be discussing sluts), I think it’s not very likely that he’s picked that meaning from those sources. I suppose we may have done, but in most cases it’s impossible to remember exactly when one first heard a word. I certainly don’t remember reading it/hearing it and being surprised that it was being used to describe a promiscuous woman. As far as I can remember, the word ‘slut’ has always made me think of a raddled woman, the sort in a Hogarth cartoon whose flesh is just beginning to sag, with all her rouge pots, clothes etc scattered round her rather squalid room.
    OK, I’ve just found this example from 1701, which I’m sure must have a sexual meaning:
    “Although you seem a haughty Man ;
    Who would reap that you ne’re did sow,
    You may drive Cart, or herd a Cow.
    And with a Slut take as much pleasure,
    As those have Ladies and great Treasure.”
    http://www.nls.uk/broadsides/broadside.cfm/id/15895/criteria/slut
    and here’s something from 1830-1850 which seems similarly sexual in meaning (there seem to be some words missing, but the meaning is still clear:
    “The servant maid a girl though chaste,
    Began to swell about the
    The mist ess often looked and smiled,
    Indeed, 1 think the girl’s with
    But, I’ll ask the forward jade,
    By whom, and how, and whence ’twas made,
    The time and place, and then I’ll say,
    Pack up you slut and go away”
    http://www.nls.uk/broadsides/broadside.cfm/id/15937/criteria/slut
    They are Scottish examples, though.
    We have run up against some regional differences, for example I talk about ‘pots’ when he would say ‘pans’.

    Reply
  87. My husband’s from the north of England, and when I asked him what ‘slut’ meant he came up with the sexual meaning. As we don’t have a TV, and he hasn’t been reading any American websites or books (at least, not ones that would be likely to be discussing sluts), I think it’s not very likely that he’s picked that meaning from those sources. I suppose we may have done, but in most cases it’s impossible to remember exactly when one first heard a word. I certainly don’t remember reading it/hearing it and being surprised that it was being used to describe a promiscuous woman. As far as I can remember, the word ‘slut’ has always made me think of a raddled woman, the sort in a Hogarth cartoon whose flesh is just beginning to sag, with all her rouge pots, clothes etc scattered round her rather squalid room.
    OK, I’ve just found this example from 1701, which I’m sure must have a sexual meaning:
    “Although you seem a haughty Man ;
    Who would reap that you ne’re did sow,
    You may drive Cart, or herd a Cow.
    And with a Slut take as much pleasure,
    As those have Ladies and great Treasure.”
    http://www.nls.uk/broadsides/broadside.cfm/id/15895/criteria/slut
    and here’s something from 1830-1850 which seems similarly sexual in meaning (there seem to be some words missing, but the meaning is still clear:
    “The servant maid a girl though chaste,
    Began to swell about the
    The mist ess often looked and smiled,
    Indeed, 1 think the girl’s with
    But, I’ll ask the forward jade,
    By whom, and how, and whence ’twas made,
    The time and place, and then I’ll say,
    Pack up you slut and go away”
    http://www.nls.uk/broadsides/broadside.cfm/id/15937/criteria/slut
    They are Scottish examples, though.
    We have run up against some regional differences, for example I talk about ‘pots’ when he would say ‘pans’.

    Reply
  88. Sorry to have been absent. I had drops in my eyes this afternoon at the optometrist and I’m still not focussing right.
    DJ, how interesting about Bell. Why “Hoy, hoy?” Do you know?
    As to slut, I’d say it has both meanings. Definitely slovenly, but that can carry over in the “cleanliness is next to godliness” sense. But I’ve always understood the sexual meaning, too. IOW, it would depend on the situation.
    If a woman was rolling home drunk with two eager sailors, someone could well call her a slut even if her house was pristine.
    If her home was filthy, someone could describe her as a slut without impuning her sexual behaviour.
    In my opinion, as always. Fascinating differences. Fascinating discussion. It’s all so complicated we’d freeze if we paid too, too much attention to it, wouldn’t we?
    Jo

    Reply
  89. Sorry to have been absent. I had drops in my eyes this afternoon at the optometrist and I’m still not focussing right.
    DJ, how interesting about Bell. Why “Hoy, hoy?” Do you know?
    As to slut, I’d say it has both meanings. Definitely slovenly, but that can carry over in the “cleanliness is next to godliness” sense. But I’ve always understood the sexual meaning, too. IOW, it would depend on the situation.
    If a woman was rolling home drunk with two eager sailors, someone could well call her a slut even if her house was pristine.
    If her home was filthy, someone could describe her as a slut without impuning her sexual behaviour.
    In my opinion, as always. Fascinating differences. Fascinating discussion. It’s all so complicated we’d freeze if we paid too, too much attention to it, wouldn’t we?
    Jo

    Reply
  90. Sorry to have been absent. I had drops in my eyes this afternoon at the optometrist and I’m still not focussing right.
    DJ, how interesting about Bell. Why “Hoy, hoy?” Do you know?
    As to slut, I’d say it has both meanings. Definitely slovenly, but that can carry over in the “cleanliness is next to godliness” sense. But I’ve always understood the sexual meaning, too. IOW, it would depend on the situation.
    If a woman was rolling home drunk with two eager sailors, someone could well call her a slut even if her house was pristine.
    If her home was filthy, someone could describe her as a slut without impuning her sexual behaviour.
    In my opinion, as always. Fascinating differences. Fascinating discussion. It’s all so complicated we’d freeze if we paid too, too much attention to it, wouldn’t we?
    Jo

    Reply
  91. I am not disputing that ‘slut’ had both meanings in the medieval and early modern period. My contention is that, in SE England at least, the sexual meaning was in abeyance from some time in the 19th century, and throughout most of the 20th century. My husband (Londoner born and bred, in his 70s) when asked what he would mean by it mentioned only the ‘dirty/slovenly/slatternly’ meaning. He conceded that he had seen the word with the ‘loose woman’ meaning, but only in American novels!
    For interest, I checked in two popular British dictionaries of the mid-20th century:
    (1) The Little Oxford, a pocket-size dictionary, which for space reasons tends to give only *primary* meanings of words, published 1930, 3rd edn, 1941, the 1949 reprint:
    ‘slovenly woman; (joc.) girl’. (That second is the Pepys meaning).
    (2) Everyman’s Dictionary, a slightly larger and quite authoritative work, published 1942, 1950 edn.:
    ‘slovenly woman, slattern; (joc.) girl’
    One might expect the ‘loose woman’ meaning to rate somewhat higher than the ‘jocular’ meaning (also found in expressions like ‘dog-pup and slut-pup’), which seems to me pretty rare and archaic. And it is not due to any mid-20th-century prudery, since both these dictionaries have words like ‘whore’ and ‘harlot’.
    So, perhaps it is only those of us born in the early-to-mid-20th century and speaking the south-eastern form of BE that regard ‘slut’ as meaning only a slattern, but I assure everyone that for us, that is THE meaning, and the sexual definition is archaic/American.
    🙂

    Reply
  92. I am not disputing that ‘slut’ had both meanings in the medieval and early modern period. My contention is that, in SE England at least, the sexual meaning was in abeyance from some time in the 19th century, and throughout most of the 20th century. My husband (Londoner born and bred, in his 70s) when asked what he would mean by it mentioned only the ‘dirty/slovenly/slatternly’ meaning. He conceded that he had seen the word with the ‘loose woman’ meaning, but only in American novels!
    For interest, I checked in two popular British dictionaries of the mid-20th century:
    (1) The Little Oxford, a pocket-size dictionary, which for space reasons tends to give only *primary* meanings of words, published 1930, 3rd edn, 1941, the 1949 reprint:
    ‘slovenly woman; (joc.) girl’. (That second is the Pepys meaning).
    (2) Everyman’s Dictionary, a slightly larger and quite authoritative work, published 1942, 1950 edn.:
    ‘slovenly woman, slattern; (joc.) girl’
    One might expect the ‘loose woman’ meaning to rate somewhat higher than the ‘jocular’ meaning (also found in expressions like ‘dog-pup and slut-pup’), which seems to me pretty rare and archaic. And it is not due to any mid-20th-century prudery, since both these dictionaries have words like ‘whore’ and ‘harlot’.
    So, perhaps it is only those of us born in the early-to-mid-20th century and speaking the south-eastern form of BE that regard ‘slut’ as meaning only a slattern, but I assure everyone that for us, that is THE meaning, and the sexual definition is archaic/American.
    🙂

    Reply
  93. I am not disputing that ‘slut’ had both meanings in the medieval and early modern period. My contention is that, in SE England at least, the sexual meaning was in abeyance from some time in the 19th century, and throughout most of the 20th century. My husband (Londoner born and bred, in his 70s) when asked what he would mean by it mentioned only the ‘dirty/slovenly/slatternly’ meaning. He conceded that he had seen the word with the ‘loose woman’ meaning, but only in American novels!
    For interest, I checked in two popular British dictionaries of the mid-20th century:
    (1) The Little Oxford, a pocket-size dictionary, which for space reasons tends to give only *primary* meanings of words, published 1930, 3rd edn, 1941, the 1949 reprint:
    ‘slovenly woman; (joc.) girl’. (That second is the Pepys meaning).
    (2) Everyman’s Dictionary, a slightly larger and quite authoritative work, published 1942, 1950 edn.:
    ‘slovenly woman, slattern; (joc.) girl’
    One might expect the ‘loose woman’ meaning to rate somewhat higher than the ‘jocular’ meaning (also found in expressions like ‘dog-pup and slut-pup’), which seems to me pretty rare and archaic. And it is not due to any mid-20th-century prudery, since both these dictionaries have words like ‘whore’ and ‘harlot’.
    So, perhaps it is only those of us born in the early-to-mid-20th century and speaking the south-eastern form of BE that regard ‘slut’ as meaning only a slattern, but I assure everyone that for us, that is THE meaning, and the sexual definition is archaic/American.
    🙂

    Reply
  94. “In the slattern meaning of “slut”, would it ever be used to refer to a man?”
    Some romance readers complain about their being too many Dukes of Slut.
    It’s even in Wikipedia.
    “duke of slut – a promiscuous male aristocrat, usually seen in historical romances.
    fake rake – a man whom everybody presumes to be promiscuous (a rake), but who is not.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_novel
    On the Great Slut Debate, my small Oxford Dict. gives the slovenly meaning, as does Dr. Johnson’s dictionary.
    But a word ends up meaning what most people agree it means. Like nice, for example.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  95. “In the slattern meaning of “slut”, would it ever be used to refer to a man?”
    Some romance readers complain about their being too many Dukes of Slut.
    It’s even in Wikipedia.
    “duke of slut – a promiscuous male aristocrat, usually seen in historical romances.
    fake rake – a man whom everybody presumes to be promiscuous (a rake), but who is not.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_novel
    On the Great Slut Debate, my small Oxford Dict. gives the slovenly meaning, as does Dr. Johnson’s dictionary.
    But a word ends up meaning what most people agree it means. Like nice, for example.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  96. “In the slattern meaning of “slut”, would it ever be used to refer to a man?”
    Some romance readers complain about their being too many Dukes of Slut.
    It’s even in Wikipedia.
    “duke of slut – a promiscuous male aristocrat, usually seen in historical romances.
    fake rake – a man whom everybody presumes to be promiscuous (a rake), but who is not.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_novel
    On the Great Slut Debate, my small Oxford Dict. gives the slovenly meaning, as does Dr. Johnson’s dictionary.
    But a word ends up meaning what most people agree it means. Like nice, for example.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply

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