Don’t Say That! Military Lingo in #historical #fiction #wordplay #amwriting #amediting #mustread #histfic #military

Today I’m going to talk about words related to military operations for which I had to find alternatives for my stories. First, let me wish everyone in the USA a happy and meaningful Memorial Day! I come from and married into a military family. My dad served in WWII in the U.S. Army on Guadalcanal and my brothers and oldest sister all served in various military branches. My husband’s side included officers who served in the army back to WWI and up to the present day. Trust me when I say I appreciate our armed forces and everyone who serves/served, including their spouses and families. Thank you all!

Having been surrounded by military terms for the majority of my life, I was surprised at how many “common” words didn’t exist in English until after the 18th century. I’ll dig into a few of the following since I came across so many in writing my American Revolution era stories: camp followers, camp site, checkpoint, commandeered, communiques, flagpole, footlocker, gunfire, home front, martial law, mess hall, ports of call, saboteur, seagoing, and spoiling for action.

So let’s start with the first one since it really did floor me. I mean, what else would you call someone who follows an army during war? George Washington wrote in his letters about the women who followed the army, providing services like washing and mending clothes in exchange for food and shelter. But they were not actually referred to as “camp-followers” until 1810, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)., and that was in “The proceedings of the General Court Martial, on the trial of Edward Poole, camp follower.” They weren’t even referring to the women and children trailing after the army as I intended, so what’s up with that? So be it, right?

Another one that caught me off guard was “checkpoint.” The OED lists it as a submeaning of “check” as in “(b) a place (entrance, turnstile, barrier, etc.) where the movement of traffic, pedestrians, etc., is checked; a control-point; check-post = check-point.” But there’s no date associated with its usage, so I went to Dictionary.com and they gave the year it was first recorded as 1935-40. Way, way, way after my 1782-3 stories, wouldn’t you say? So I just used something similar to “the sentry stopped them to check their pass” instead of “they were stopped at the checkpoint.” I think usage changes to make the statements more concise and thus take less time to say. Which is why we have such a high frequency of acronyms and text-speak today. Do you agree with me?

“Flagpole” also surprised me. I mean, what else do you call the pole you hang the flag on? While the OED calls “flag-pole” a combining form without a origin date, again I found at Dictionary.com that it was first recorded in 1880-85. A century after my story time. Sigh. But they also suggested a synonym, “flagstaff” which the OED confirms I could use since it was first used in English in 1613 as “flag-staffe” and in 1790 as “flag-staff.” At least I had a similar word to add to my collection, right?

I know, I know. I’m being rather picky about word choices. But again, if the concept behind the word wasn’t common then my characters wouldn’t be thinking about them in those terms. I want my characters to be as real and true to the time period as the historical facts I weave through my tales. Seriously, I think doing so adds to the flavor of the times in my stories to give them the ring of authenticity I’m striving for.

Next time I’ll talk about generic setting words. Happy reading!

Betty

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Amy's ChoiceWhen Amy Abernathy’s childhood sweetheart, Benjamin Hanson, leaves to fight in the American War for Independence without a word of goodbye, Amy picks up the pieces of her heart and chooses independence. When Benjamin returns unexpectedly, Amy flees to the country to help her pregnant sister and protect her heart.

Benjamin Hanson knows he hurt Amy, but he also knows he can make it up to her after he completes his mission. Then he learns that Amy has been captured by renegade soldiers. Now Benjamin faces his own choice: free the sassy yet obstinate woman he’s never stopped loving or protect Charles Town from the vengeful British occupation.

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Don’t Say That! Light and #Lighting in #historical #fiction #wordplay #amwriting #amediting #mustread #histfic

How many times have you seen or read about the man with a long taper lighting the street lamps in some work of fiction? In my humble experience, it’s an uncountable number. The image is just part of the stage setting to suggest times gone by. So I was rather surprised to find that “streetlamp” was anachronistic to my 1780s series.

The usage of street lamp is documented in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in 1799, so it’s not too much later. Specifically it’s found in C.B. Brown’s Arthur Mervyn in a line which includes “by gleams from a street lamp.”

I could use street light, but not street lamp. Note that the OED defines a street-light as a window onto a street, but also as a street lamp.

What about inside? I wanted a candle to serve as a “night-light” but found I couldn’t do that either. The term existed, mind you, but it referred to ambient light at nighttime. But not when used in conjunction with a candle as “a light which burns or shines during the night” (1839) or as “a small thick candle, or other contrivance, constructed to burn dimly for a long period, and used by night, especially in sick-rooms” (1851).

So I thought I’d change the wording and just refer to the candleholder with its candle burning through the night. But hold up a minute. While the term again existed, the OED says it refers to “One who holds a candle” not an object. The candelabrum or “ornamental branched candlestick holding a number of candles; a chandelier” didn’t appear until 1815. However, “candlestick” is far older, dating from the 1st century, so that was a viable option for my stories.

I stumbled upon this word in relation to another usage. I had a character who did something “out of reflex” but found out that I couldn’t use that word in that way in the 18th century. It was common for this word to mean reflect and reflection but not an instinctual or physical reaction to a stimuli. Or as the OED defines it:

Phys. a. reflex action, involuntary action of a muscle, gland, or other organ, caused by the excitation of a sensory nerve being transmitted to a nerve-centre, and then ‘reflected’ along an efferent nerve to the organ in question”

1833 Proc. Royal Soc. III. 210 He [Dr. M. Hall] distinguishes muscular actions into three kinds: thirdly, those resulting from the reflex action above described…

So of course I had to revise my sentence to use a different word for my purpose. But I also learned something about why a reflex is called one: because it reflects the action similar to light on a mirror. Interesting little factoid, eh?

Finally, I found semidarkness, meaning partial darkness, to be a surprise. The OED doesn’t include it but at Dictionary.com they cite it as first being recorded in 1840-50. I suppose they simply said partial darkness prior to the mid-19th century? Or “as darkness approached” or some such phrasing?

Isn’t it intriguing and amazing to think about how words and phrases have come to pass? How they’ve changed and adapted to suit our needs as those needs also evolve?

Next time I’ll talk about what I think of as “military” words. Happy reading!

Betty

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Emily's Vow Finalist SealEmily Sullivan’s greatest fear is dying in childbirth, as did her twin sister and their mother. Despite her half-hearted protests, her father insists Frank Thomson is the perfect man for both her protection from the vengeful British and as a husband. Frank always loved Emily despite her refusal to return his affections. A patriot spy posing as a loyalist officer, when Frank learns Emily’s been imprisoned for her father’s privateering, he risks his own neck to free his love.

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Don’t Say That! Evolution of Spelling in #historical #fiction #wordplay #vocabularly #amwriting #amediting #mustread #histfic

Did you know that usage of words evolves over time? Not necessarily the letters used but how they are joined together? Compound words today are often evolved from two separate words, then maybe joined by a hyphen, before becoming one continuous string of letters. Let’s take a look at a few to give you an example.

Before I do that, though, let me just say that while the precise spelling of a word—or rather whether a word includes a hyphen or a space—may vary, the meaning is still clear to a modern reader. I know that without any doubt. The only reason I prefer to explore the “current usage” at the time of my stories is to add another layer of realism to the fiction. Since I write in close third person point of view, I try very hard to think like my character. Wouldn’t he or she then envision the spelling of the word using a hyphen, or making it two separate words entirely? Again, while a modern reader wouldn’t notice, I’m striving to create a semblance of the past within a story written today.

So, one of my favorite discoveries was that the word Thoroughbred did not exist in the 1780s, the time of my A More Perfect Union historical romance series. But one of my sources declared that two thoroughbred horses arrived by ship in December 1782 in Charleston. Since I knew the word hadn’t come to be yet, I needed to see for myself how the secondary source knew they were Thoroughbreds. Thankfully, the secondary source cited the primary source newspaper article. So when I made a second research trip to Charleston (love that city!), I went to the Historical Society and asked to see the newspaper article. I cannot tell you just how anxious I was to see that few inches of newspaper column, either! It took what seemed ages before the librarian came back with the paper and I quickly skimmed the text until I came upon the fact that “two thorough bred horses” had indeed arrived in South Carolina.

A closer look at the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) shows that “thorough-bred” meaning “thoroughly educated or accomplished” has been around at least since 1701. The OED also says that “of a horse” to mean “a race-horse whose pedigree for a given number of generations is recorded in the studbook” didn’t begin until 1796, and then hyphenated as “Thorough-bred.” As I said, I’ve seen the term used with regard to horses as two separate words, lower cased. So there is some doubt as to the exact lineage of the word, including whether to hyphenate it or not. Indeed, the OED definition shows the term hyphenated until the 1880s. Thus it becomes more of a stylistic choice than a matter of correct or incorrect usage. (Something I’ve found to be true of commas quite often, but that’s a debate for another day!)

English Water Spaniel-1
English Water Spaniel

Okay, so I wanted to have a dog in one story. I love dogs, so why shouldn’t my characters, right? Besides, Samantha needed a friend… So I thought about a rather generic description of a terrier dog as a “black-and-tan” but found out in short order that the adjectival phrase didn’t come into use until 1850. There are other definitions in the OED (an alcoholic drink and an armed forces unit), but all dated later, some with hyphens and some as individual words. Why couldn’t I use the colors as I wanted to? I suppose I could have, but then wondered whether it would be outside of the realm of possibilities for my characters. Now, I could have gone round and round debating whether or not I should use it despite what the OED implied, and finally decided to come up with a different dog! It was easier. So I did some research and discovered the English Water Spaniel, a breed now extinct or at least assimilated into other spaniel breeds. From my perspective, it’s a double win. I found a historically accurate pup for Samantha and I learned something about how dog breeds have changed over the centuries.

“Good night” is another interesting term, since the OED cites Chaucer in 1374 as having used it in his Troylus. Note he used it as two separate words, but the OED cites many examples of hyphenated usage. From what I can glean, two words is generally used when wishing someone to have a “good night” but people will say their “good-nights” before going to taking their leave of others. A little mixed usage never confused anyone, right? Looks like another stylistic choice to be made.

I can think of more recent examples of how people change the spelling of words over time. Electronic mail used to be “Email” or “E-mail.” Now I see it frequently as “email.” Same sort of thing happened to being “on-line” or “online.” Can you think of any other recent examples of word evolution?

I’ll let you all ponder word evolution until next week!

Betty

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Elizabeth's HopeThe fight for independence has become personal… Elizabeth Sullivan feared for her brothers, fighting for American freedom; for her father, pretending to be a loyalist; for family and friends, caught between beliefs; but mostly for Jedediah Thomson, the man she loves, who was doing his duty. They’d only begun their courtship when the occupation of Charles Town, South Carolina, trapped her in the city and sent him to fight. She cherished every moment they had together, knowing how swiftly it could be taken away. And that made her willing to risk everything to claim a piece of him forever….

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Don’t Say That! “Highlighting” Word Choices in #historical #fiction #wordplay #amwriting #amediting #mustread #histfic

Let’s talk about words like “accentuate” or “underscore” that evolved from typesetting, or at least that’s my shorthand way of grouping these words together for my purposes.

I enjoy the sound of “accentuate” – meaning emphasize – and really wanted to use it in my 18th-century historicals, but alas it was not to be. Sure, it existed as a word but not to mean what I meant. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) told me I had to wait until the mid-19th century to use it that way:

1. To pronounce, or distinguish with an accent.

1731 Bailey, Accentuate: to pronounce in reading or speaking according to the accent.    1827 Hare Guesses at Truth II. 212 They [the French] never accentuate their words or their feelings: all is in the same key; a cap is charmant, so is Raphael’s Transfiguration.    1880 Paper & Printing Trades Journ. xxx. 7 You will find that he accentuates his words‥quite naturally.

  1. To mark with the written accent.

1846 T. Wright Ess. on Mid. Ages I. i. 9 The [Anglo-Saxon] scribes not only omitted accents, but they often accentuated words wrongly.

  1. fig. To mark strongly, emphasize.

1865 Lecky Rationalism I. 371 To accentuate strongly the antagonism by which human nature is convulsed.    1875 Hamerton Intellect. Life vii. v. 254 His marriage would strongly accentuate the amateur character of his position.

Okay, fine. How about “stressed”? You know, “she stressed how important his next words would be…” Well, no. That’s even later in the 19th century!

1. Distressed, afflicted. Also absol. Obs.

1559 J. Aylmer Harborowe B 3 b, With a certain choise and judgement to giue passage and safetie to the stressed.    1590 Spenser F.Q. ii. x. 37 Stird with pitty of the stressed plight Of this sad realme.    c 1590 J. Stewart Poems (S.T.S.) II. 88 The stressit knycht all stupefact did stand.    1632 Lithgow Trav. vii. 328 Stress’d Saylers.

2. Marked with a stress, emphasized.

1885 Meredith Diana i, The stressed repetition of calculated brevity while a fiery scandal was abroad concerning the lady.    1913 A. C. Clark Prose Rhythm in English 18 Rhythm in poetry depends upon the recurrence of longs and shorts, or stressed and unstressed syllables, in a regular order.

So, then what if I used “underscore”? Would that work? Hardly… The figurative sense of “emphasize” is even later than “stressed” in entry to English written language. And if you look closely at the figurative 1891 usage its really reflecting the act of putting a line under the words moreso than the true figurative sense of emphasize, which isn’t reflected in the OED until 1939. So to be safe, I chose to not use it in my 18th-century historicals.

Verb. a. trans. To draw a score or line beneath; to underline.

1771 Luckombe Hist. Print. 249 [They] either underscore the word, or make some other token, which may inform the Compositor of the Author’s intention.    1838 Lytton Alice xi. v, The notice to Howard, with the name of Vargrave underscored, was still on the panels.    1874 Blackie Self-Cult. 35 Underscore these distinctly with pen or pencil.

b. fig. To point up, to emphasize, to reinforce; = underline v.2 1 b.

1891 W. S. Gilbert Rosencrantz & G. iii, He who doth so mark, label, and underscore his antic speeches.  1939 Sun (Baltimore) 17 Apr. 8/2 A look at the gold statistics underscores the fears which are so often expressed on this score.

A couple of other words surprised me that I had wanted to use but found couldn’t without being anachronistic. Typeset and typesetter, for example. These show up in the OED but without a date of origin, so I bounced over to Dictionary.com and looked them up. “Typesetter” didn’t become a thing until 1825-1835, and “typesetting” was first recorded in 1855. Mind blown that it took that long for those seemingly basic words to enter English.

One last one that surprised me. “Showcase.” I admit I do not remember specifically how I wanted to use this word, whether as an actual case for displaying stuff or the figurative sense, but it didn’t much matter once I checked it in the OED. No form or usage of it entered English until 1835. This is a good example of one of the kinds of words I’ll talk more about next time, since it’s original usage included a hyphen, as in “show-case” or even “show~case”.

Until next week when I’ll talk more about how two words slowly evolve into one! Happy reading!

Betty

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Evelyn's PromiseDetermined to fend for herself in an independent America, widow Evelyn Hamilton faces soaring post-Revolutionary-war inflation as she struggles to provide for herself and her infant son. Militiaman Nathaniel Williams finds his heart ensnared by the smart, beautiful widow, forcing him to make the hardest decision of his life.

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