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.