Guest Chick: Dianne Freeman

The Chicks are thrilled to welcome back Dianne Freeman, author of the award-winning Countess of Harleigh mysteries! Dianne gives us a fascinating glimpse into one of the challenges of writing historical fiction. Bonus: she is very kindly offering a giveaway too…read on for more.


Watching My Words

I’ve always loved history, and writing the Countess of Harleigh mystery series is one of my greatest pleasures. For the past few years, I’ve been able to escape reality and create adventures in 1899 London or the British countryside. But every now and then, a word choice will jar me out of that daydream and remind me that I don’t live in the UK or 1899.

They’re called anachronisms and I hate them. The last thing I want is to knock my readers out of that fictional world they’re reading about by using too modern a word. Usually I have a pretty good ear for the language of the upper crust of the Victorian era, but sometimes I can’t go three sentences without stopping to make sure a word or phrase was in use during that time. I’ll turn to Google N-Gram, or the online etymology dictionary, or Phrase Finder—fortunately I do live in the 21st century where those resources are available. I also have a British to American English dictionary so my characters don’t accidentally say yard instead of garden, sidewalk instead of pavement, or fall instead of autumn. (I actually did that last one, which is why I bought the dictionary.)

As members if the British aristocracy, my characters rarely use slang or colloquialisms, but sometimes they’re necessary and that’s when I can really get into trouble. Most recently I needed a phrase that meant ‘I think you’re lying.’ Something like ‘humbug’ but that didn’t sound quite rude enough to me. When I entered ‘humbug’ in the Phrase Finder thesaurus, it came back with ‘humbug.’ That was no help, so I tried ‘nonsense’ and got some good results. My first choice was codswollop. What a great word! It’s fun to say and it has a Victorian feel to it. However, after further research, I learned it didn’t come into use until 1958. So much for my ear for Victorian language.

Moving on. Rot and rubbish were boring. Horse feathers? Nope—it’s from the late 1920s and definitely American.

Poppycock? Hokum? Bunkum? Nope, nope, and nope!

After several hours down that rabbit hole, I ended up with balderdash. It appeared sometime around the Elizabethan era, but came back into common use in the 1870s and again around 1900, and I liked the sound of it.  Balderdash! It isn’t codswollop, but if I want to avoid an anachronism, it will have to do. Hopefully, the remaining 84,999 words won’t take up quite so much time!

Do you have any favorite vintage words you think should make a come-back? Tell me about it in the comments and you’ll be entered to win a copy of the latest Countess of Harleigh mystery, A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder (US addresses only).


Dianne Freeman is the acclaimed author of the Countess of Harleigh Mystery series. She is an Agatha Award and Lefty Award winner, as well as a finalist for the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark Award from Mystery Writers of America.

After thirty years of working in corporate accounting and finance, she now writes full-time. Born and raised in Michigan, she and her husband split their time between Michigan and Arizona. Visit her at www.DiFreeman.com.

31 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Dianne Freeman

  1. Love the term codswollop! I don’t think I’d ever heard it before this post, but it definitely needs to make a comeback. There are other old terms I’m fond of, too, but I can’t think of any at the moment.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Dianne, I know exactly what you mean. I’ll be merrily writing away, living in 1942, and all of a sudden think, “Wait, did they *say* that back then?” I use many of the same resources you do.

    And I think balderdash is a great word.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. What a fun post. I love the Countess of Harleigh series and look forward to each new book. I like “bees knees.” It conjures up visions of fringed dresses, champagne, bright music and dancing into the wee hours. It always makes me smile.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. That’s something I had never thought about. And it’s one reason why I don’t think I could handle writing historical fiction – having to worry about whether every word was in use during the time period. My hat is off to those who do it because I do enjoy reading it.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I am “amused” by the words used today that make absolutely no sense to most people. For example, phones have not had dials for generations (except in old movies) and yet we “dial” numbers all the time.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you so much for visiting us today and for this delightful post.

    “Balderdash” is a most excellent word!

    I like the sound of “preposterous” too but it doesn’t pack the same punch.

    Congratulations on your new book–wishing you much success, Dianne!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. “It isn’t codswollop, but…it will have to do.” I think that might have to become my new mantra, lol.

    I’ve always been quite fond of “inasmuch as.” Something about shmooshing all those words together seems so fun!

    Thanks so much for visiting the Chicks today, Dianne–the new book sounds extraordinary! (See how I worked in that British word?)

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks, Dianne! I thought of you this morning because a text popped up that I sent my husband a while back that said, “We have to add ‘jammy bastard’ to our ‘dozy sod.'” To which he responded, “As long as this pillock doesn’t get all shirty bertie.”

        These are the kinds of conversations you have when you’ve been together for 40 years.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Welcome, Diane! It’s always such a pleasure to have you here.

    This is fascinating. I didn’t know about these linguist resources, either, but now I’m convinced that I need them even though I write contemporary fiction.

    I grew up on old movies and find myself constantly using (slightly) anachronous terms like pocketbook and “far out.” (I like to skip around!) Now I’m inspired to incorporate language from the Victorian era.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Dianne, I am SO sorry for the delayed response. I loved this! AND I love your series. In fact, I’m going to the library tomorrow to pick up my copy of this very book. I know I have a favorite word I keep trying to bring back and I can’t remember it. Darn it! I’ll throw it in if it comes back to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Dianne, I’m so sorry to be late to the party! Love your books, and this post. I vote for “the willies” (1896 – “a spell of nervousness”). My mom used it all the time. I just use it to mean “the creeps.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, I didn’t know that phrase was so old! I’ve heard it before too, and in the same way you used it, but nerves and the creeps aren’t that far apart. Maybe it went out of fashion and came back in around the 1940s.

      Like

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