Don’t Say That! Playing Doctor in #historical #fiction #medical #wordplay #amwriting #amediting #mustread #histfic

Sometimes people become ill or have a baby in my stories so there are doctors and midwives involved. The best example is in Samantha’s Secret, where Trent is a new doctor in town and Samantha is a healer and midwife. But some of the conditions and expressions we use today wouldn’t apply to the 18th century. Take, for instance, life force, morning sickness, spasm, stressed, and peaked (as in looked peaked.

Let’s start with the essential element of humankind, the life force that sustains our being. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists it as a “special combination” under the noun Life, meaning “vital energy” which is the definition I had in mind when writing my stories. But the OED doesn’t give an origin date, so I popped over to Dictionary.com and discovered it was first recorded in 1895-1900. That’s a century after my stories take place, so nope to using that one!

In a couple of my stories a woman is having a baby. I would have thought the terms used would be fairly standard, but yet again I was surprised. I think most folks know that “morning sickness” is the “nausea occurring in the morning, one of the earlier symptoms of pregnancy.” However, did you know we didn’t start using that term until 1875, according to Dictionary.com? Nearly a century after my stories time period. Sigh.

Okay, fine. Then when the woman went into labor her insides would surely spasm, right? Well, yes and no. It depends on whether it’s used as a noun, as in “A spasm tightened her stomach” which is fine as early as 1400. But if used as a verb, as in “Her stomach spasmed,” then no. Not until 1900, at least.

So then if this is making you feel a bit “stressed” you may be happy to know that while my characters could be “distressed, afflicted” as early as 1559, they couldn’t be “experiencing physiological, emotional, or psychological stress” until 1973. Whew. What a relief for them! But then how do I explain how they were feeling? Instead of saying they felt stressed, I showed the physiological signs of that stress. A little more difficult but makes for a better story experience.

One of those signs, however, couldn’t have been that they looked “peaked,” or “sharp-featured, thin, pinched, as from illness or want; sickly-looking.” The particular colloquialism wasn’t recorded until 1835. But honestly, the image of the person evoked in that definition is far clearer than if I had merely used the word. So my readers win out in the end and that’s what is most important, right?

Next time I’ll talk about relationship words like fiancé and sibling. I hope you find a shady or air-conditioned spot to stay cool while reading a great book!

Betty

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SamanthsSecretCOVERIn 1782, the fight for independence becomes personal in the port city Charles Town, South Carolina.

Midwife 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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