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!
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Determined 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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