Don’t Say That! Idioms and Sayings in #historical #fiction #wordplay #wordorigins #amwriting #amediting #mustread #histfic

Let’s talk about those colloquialisms we all rely on in everyday conversation. Phrases we don’t necessarily know where they come from, what they actually mean, or how on earth anyone came up with them. I have five of them in mind to discuss today: “butterflies in my stomach,” “by-your-leave,” “get on my nerves,” “up-and-coming,” and “worth his salt.” Ready?

I’ll take them in order, starting with the idea of butterflies in someone’s stomach. I think we all know this is supposed to evoke the sense of a fluttering kind of disturbance one feels inside when nervous, anxious, or extremely curious perhaps. It’s often associated with falling in love, experiencing that initial attraction to someone else. I really love this phrase! However, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) won’t let me use it in my 1780s stories because the first citation of its use is in 1982. Again, that just means I had to be more creative with how I described my character’s reaction to her guy. Not a bad thing at all to be forced to invent something fresh and new rather than rely on pat phrases. But still, I really had wanted to use it! Sigh.

So now, “by-your-leave,” we’ll talk about that phrase. This phrase literally is “asking of permission” or “an expression of apology for not having asked permission.” It even has its own entry in the OED, which a lot of these phrases do not; they’re sub-definitions of another noun (the “butterflies” phrase was found under “butterfly,” for example). Here again, the first citation isn’t until 1914, so I couldn’t use that phrase even though it would likely be easily understood as to my meaning. Again, I’m a contemporary author telling a story about a previous era but using concepts and phrasing as close to what an actual person would use to create the most authentic reading experience I can. Given that I didn’t live in that day and age centuries ago, that is.

Now some of you may be thinking all of this “gets on your nerves,” and trust me, it can! But that phrase also didn’t become a “thing” until 1903 to mean “to (begin to) affect one with irritation, impatience, fear, or the like.” Now the word “nerve” (the main entry in the OED) has been in existence far longer, as in 1538, but not with this particular usage. So of course then I resorted to using “irritated” or “annoyed” instead. Easy enough to switch up to make the story move alone and yet be true to the times.

The next “up-and-coming” phrase has been around since 1889 to mean “active, alert, wide-awake, energetic” but I wanted the definition of “promising, making progress, beginning to achieve success” which didn’t enter the written language until 1926. Note that this phrase also has its own entry, which tells me it’s been used widely, despite being chiefly an Americanism.

Finally, any author “worth his salt” will recognize that understanding the evolution of the use and meaning of words and phrases is important. In this case, the definition I intended was that of “efficient or capable.” The OED includes this under the main noun entry of “salt” and notes that it is “usually with expressed or implied negative.” Either way, the first citation is 1830 in Marryat’s King’s Own with “The captain…is not worth his salt.”

I was curious how this phrase came to be, so I checked in Morris’ Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins. Apparently, the Romans used to pay their soldiers partly in salt. Later, the salt was changed to be a monetary allowance in order buy their own salt, which is where the word salarium or “of salt” came from. Both “salt” and “salary” share the same Latin root, sal, meaning “salt.” Today, of course, this is known as a “salary.”

I hope you’re enjoying these little forays into the usage and the changing of the meanings associated with words and phrases. I totally admit to being a word geek! I love word games and playing with ways to say something mundane in a new way.

What common phrases do you use without understanding the origin? Can you name some? There are many associated with the advent and advances in technology—“hang up the phone” or “roll down the window” in a car being the first two to come to mind. I’m happy to help discover the inspiration for it if I can! Until next time!

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! Common terms in #historical #fiction #wordplay #amwriting #amediting #mustread #histfic

You wouldn’t think there’d be any confusion if I used words like “anyone” or “worthwhile” and you’d be right. But the rub comes when I refer back to my goal of providing the most authentic story experience I can. Words that are compounds today were not in centuries past. In fact, I’m reading Middlemarch by George Eliot, which is a rather humorous look at provincial life in the mid-1800s, written in 1871. Throughout, I’ve noticed that “any one” is two words, just as an example.

So in order for me to give you, my readers, the closest thing I can to how my characters in 1782-83 would have thought, I try my dearndest to even spell the words as close to how they were spelled then as I can, and still make the reading clear and easy to follow.

Today I’m going to talk about a few of these that surprised me and note when they became compounded, just to share a bit about how these words have evolved over time from their use. Specifically, let’s look at “anyone,” “anyway,” worthwhile,” “nonetheless,” “normalcy,” and “prominent.” All words that are fairly commonly used today, right?

Let’s start with “anyone,” since I’ve already mentioned it. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), used to mean “any single or individual” was first recording in 1449, but wasn’t used as a compound in writing until 1958. Five hundred years before we smashed those two together into one word. Of course, we still use them as separate words, but not to mean “any single or individual.”

Okay, so “anyway” is up next. The OED cites it in 1570 to mean “in any way or manner, anyhow” but doesn’t show it as a compound until 1842. Decades after my stories are set. When used to mean “however the case may be; in any case; anyhow” it didn’t appear until 1859, but as a compound in that case. So once “any way” became on word, it stayed that way but developed other meanings.

Do you think all this worry about spellings is “worthwhile”? I hope so! As two separate words, “worth while” is listed in the OED as first recorded in 1842, and “worth-while” meaning either the noun “the quality of being, or that which is, worth while” in 1867, or the adjective meaning “that is worth while; of sufficient value or importance” not until 1884. So no matter how I sliced it, I couldn’t use the compounded form.

“Nonetheless,” I kept trying other words to use to tell my stories the best I can. This word first appeared as three separate words, as in “none the less” (I’m translating the Old English) in c900 as a phrase. Used as an adverbial phrase, Dickens used it in 1847 in his book Dombey as three words, but the first citation of the compound isn’t until 1930.

What about returning to some sense of “normalcy” now? Meaning “normality” or what is usual to an individual or entity the word first entered written language in 1857. Now this is not a compounded word, but a variant on “normality” or “normalist” which was cited as chiefly used in the U.S.

One final but “prominent” example of a word that has changed meaning over time. I wanted to use it to mean that Emily’s father was a “prominent” member of society. No such luck. It was a word in the 1780s but it meant either “jutting or standing out above or beyond the adjacent surface; projecting, protuberant” when it was first recorded in 1545, or “standing out so as to strike the eye; conspicuous” in 1759. Both literal, physical uses of the term. But the figurative sense of “standing out so as to strike the attention or notice; conspicuous; distinguished above others” didn’t come about until 1849. Sigh. So Captain Sullivan became an important man in the town instead.

So next time you read an historical fiction story, you’ll have a better appreciation for the language choices your favorite authors had to make. But one important note: not all authors spend the time and energy to research the words origin and evolution, but they still tell a great story! Please don’t be upset if you spot a few errant words here and there. After all, we don’t actually in the time period of the story. Our stories are meant for present day readers and must entertain as well as strive to be true to the time depicted.

Next time I’ll look at some everyday phrases that may surprise you as to their origins.

Have you ever spotted anachronisms in stories you’ve read? How did it make you feel? How important is it to your enjoyment what words are used to tell the story?

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! #Cooking terms in #historical #fiction #wordplay #amwriting #amediting #mustread #histfic

Today’s group of anachronistic terms represent a subject near and dear to my heart: cooking! I love to try new recipes and bake new goodies. Food is a universal need and a pleasure as well. Tastes and textures and aromas all combine to make a unique experience. So imagine my surprise when some of my favorite concepts, like making something “from scratch” or the figurative use of something “sizzling” couldn’t be included in my 18th-century romances. Sigh. What’s an author to do? Be creative, of course. But let’s take a look at a handful of the words I had to avoid.

Let’s start with “from scratch,” which according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), seems to be based on sporting terms as in “the starting-point in a handicap of a competitor who receives no odds” but then figuratively means “from a position of no advantage, knowledge, influence, etc., from nothing.” Thus to be “made from scratch” means to start from basic ingredients, right? That’s my take, anyway! Okay, so given the available definitions, the first appearance in the OED is in 1876 where a bicyclist “won…three races from scratch.” So obviously, if even the sporting lingo is dating from the late 19th century, I couldn’t use it in my 1782-83 stories. But let’s double-check that at www.Dictionary.com, where they do list the idiom of “from scratch” to mean “from the very beginning or starting point” but they don’t list a date of origin for the idiom. So I guess it was safest to steer clear of “made from scratch” in my stories even though from my present-day perspective it means not using mixes and packaged foods, so therefore implies an older method of cooking. Be that as it may, I still couldn’t use it in my story.

Okay, fine. How about having eyes that brimmed with tears? (Note there are three definitions for the verb brim: #1 from the 15th century, means “of swine: to be ‘in heat’, rut, copulate; #2 from the 13th c means “to be fertile, develop fruit, to breed”) But I’m looking to use the figurative sense of the 3rd verb definition from the 17th century (1611 to be exact) which means “to fill (a goblet, etc.) to the brim.” Unfortunately, the figurative usage didn’t enter written language until at least 1844, decades after my stories take place. So again, I had to be creative and describe the tears standing in her eyes using other words.

So let’s stick with the exact meaning of the noun “cookware.” Can there be cookware hanging around the cooking fire? Or perhaps resting on a nearby buffet waiting to be used? Um, short answer? Nope. The OED doesn’t even list it in their database, so I popped over to the online dictionary where it cheerfully informed me that the word didn’t exist until 1950. Really? It seems rather counter-intuitive to me that nobody thought of that word until just a decade or so before I was born.

All right, then. I wanted to have desire sizzle through his veins. Surely stuff sizzled in the 1780s. And that’s true, there was sizzling occurring in the 1600s and 1700s, but not the figurative sense until the mid-1800s. I guess folks were far more literal in the earlier centuries. What fun was that?

So if I couldn’t use sizzle, what about “simmer”? You know, the idea of the beginnings of desire and perhaps even love that is bubbling just below the surface? This one proved to be close but the definition and examples cited gave me pause as to whether or not to use it. When meaning “of feelings, tendencies, etc.: to be in a state of gentle activity; to be on the verge of becoming active or breaking out” which is dated as 1764 might suit my intended meaning, I think the 1840 definition of “of persons, etc.: to be in a state of suppressed excitement or agitation” comes closer to my intent. Which just means I needed a different word to express the emotion my character was feeling.

The nuances and subtleties of language always amaze me. Recently I delved into the fine distinctions between “clinch” and “clench” when meaning embracing or gripping. I believe they are nearly but not quite interchangeable depending on the situation being described in the story. And that’s a present-day example! When thinking about concepts and the words used to describe them from previous centuries, the mentality of the people using them also needs to be considered if we can figure it out. From reading and understanding works from those distant times, we at least can see a glimmer of the ways in which people perceived the world around them.

I hope you enjoyed my cooking terminology sleuthing! Next time I’ll look at some generic, everyday words like “anyone.” Until next time, I hope you find a great book to read in the shade!

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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Don’t Say That! Setting Words in #historical #fiction #wordplay #amwriting #amediting #mustread #histfic

Let’s talk about some broad words related to the environment or setting of my 18th-century stories. And I do mean broad because the terms are “atmosphere,” “landscape,” “surroundings,” “low-lying,” and “shoreline.” Pretty broad, wouldn’t you say?

I’ll begin with “atmosphere,” which according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), existed from the 17th century as a word but not in the figurative sense I wanted to use. Nope. It literally meant “the spheroidal gaseous envelope surrounding any of the heavenly bodies.” The actual air and gases. The figurative sense, the one I wanted to use, meaning “surrounding mental or moral element, environment. Also, prevailing psychological climate; pervading tone or mood; characteristic mental or moral environment; fascinating or beguiling associations or effects” didn’t enter English until 1797. Close but, um, no. So I couldn’t say the “atmosphere in the room was tense” but could have said something like “the air crackled with tension” I suppose. At this point, it’s been several years since I first thought to use that word and I don’t remember what I ended up writing instead.

Another surprise was “landscape.” This is another word that existed but in a precise definition related to a painting. The OED says it’s “a picture representing natural inland scenery, as distinguished from a sea picture, a portrait, etc.” In the early 1700s, it could also mean, “A view or prospect of natural inland scenery, such as can be taken in at a glance from one point of view; a piece of country scenery.” But there couldn’t be any landscaping around the house, the usage I recall wanting to employ, until 1886. That’s when it appears in a book on geology to mean “a tract of land with its distinguishing characteristics and features, esp. considered as a product of modifying or shaping processes and agents (usually natural).” And in fact, the use of “landscape” as a verb, didn’t actually become valid until 1927! So I think I probably simply described the setting as having flowering trees or bushes around the foundation and left it at that.

So what about “surroundings”? As in, “she stopped to investigate her surroundings.” Originally, back in the 1400s, a surrounding meant “overflowing, inundation,” according to the OED. By 1775 it also meant “the fact of being around or encompassing.” But the usage I had in mind, “that which surrounds,” and the plural form of “surroundings” to mean “those things which surround a person or thing, or in the midst of which he or it (habitually) is; things around (collectively); environment” didn’t become a thing until 1861. So perhaps when I write a Civil War era story I can use this word.

Okay, so since my A More Perfect Union series is set in and around Charleston, South Carolina, I wanted to describe the “low-lying” areas. Ahem. Not so fast. The OED is rather fuzzy as to when this word came into being, citing it’s usage in 1691 in the following passage: “The low-lying of the Head-springs of..this River.” So that’s the river lying low, not the land in general. So I went over to Dictionary.com which pinpoints the origin as 1855-60, meaning “lying near sea level or the ground surface.” So no-go for my Charleston stories. Sigh. That just means I have to be more creative with my word choices, right?

Finally, I wanted the guys to have to confront the “shoreline,” but yet again I was thwarted. The OED defines “shore-line” as “the line where shore and water meet” and cite a passage from 1852 as “The shore-line along the edge of the hilly ridges.” The Dictionary.com site claims the origin dates from 1850-55. So rather than argue, with myself or anyone else, I chose to use a different description. Keep it simple, right?

I will say yet again that all my sleuthing as to the origins of words has taught me a bit about the evolution of the English language in general. I believe it’s also made me a better writer because I can employ a wider variety of vocabulary to paint a clearer picture for my readers.

Next time I’ll look at some cooking-related words. Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I only send out when there is news to share. News like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers. Thanks and happy reading!

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SamanthsSecretCOVERMidwife and healer, Samantha McAlester returns from the front lines to find Charles Town under British siege and the town’s new doctor at war with its citizens.

Dr. Trent Cunningham intends to build a hospital staffed solely with educated doctors. What he doesn’t need is a raven-haired charlatan spooning out herbs and false promises to his patients, while tempting him at every turn.

Then a mutual friend develops a mysterious infection. Trenton is stumped. Samantha suspects the cure but knows treatment will expose her long-guarded secret, risking all she holds dear… including Trenton.

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