Don’t Say That! Family Ties in #historical #fiction #relations #wordplay #amwriting #amediting #mustread #histfic

I’ve been at the RWA national conference this week networking and learning more about all things related to being an author. But I didn’t want to leave you waiting for another quick round of Don’t Say That! In Evelyn’s Promise, family comes first for Evelyn. So today let’s talk about words linked to relationships: fiancé/fiancée, missis/missus, teen/teenager, and sibling.

Today we become engaged and then we introduce our “betrothed person” (the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) definition) as our “fiancé” or “fiancée,” depending on whether the other person is male or female, respectively. However, neither word entered English until 1853, so my characters all become the other person’s betrothed, which has been around since 1540.

Once a woman was married, then the husband might call her “missis” or “missus” as a dialect form of “wife.” But he wouldn’t have done that until 1833. However, if “used by servants…in speaking of their mistresses; spec. used by N. American Negroes and in India and S. Africa of a white employer, and loosely of any (esp. a white) woman,” then it’s possible but still rather unlikely until 1790. My historical romance series, A More Perfect Union, is set in Charleston in 1782-83, so close but not quite…

Once the newly married couple starts their family, the children will grow up to be in their teenage years. But my characters would not call those children between thirteen and nineteen their “teen” until 1818. Interestingly, the OED cites “teen” as short for “teenager” but then states that the first recorded date for the full form isn’t until 1941. Slightly confused, I went to where they say its first recording was in 1935-40, so they basically agree for teenager, but also says “teen” is first recorded in 1940-45 by shortening. That makes more sense, doesn’t it? Either way, my parents wouldn’t be using the term.

Our fictional children today would call each other “siblings” or “one who is of kin to another” but more like “each of two or more children of a common parent.” The first definition originated in 1000, but fell out of usage until revived in 1903 by K. Pearson in Biometrika using the second definition above. So while technically the word existed at the time of my stories in the 18th century, the folks living then didn’t use it. So of course neither could I, thus forced to stick with sister or brother instead.

Next time I’ll talk about weather words like downpour and weather tight. I hope you’re enjoying your week! I know I will be very tired by the time I finally get home again from conference, but I’ll also be highly motivated. Until next time!


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Evelyn's PromiseDetermined to make her own way in the newly independent America and live free of the dictates and demands of another husband, widow Evelyn Hamilton faces soaring post-war inflation as she struggles to provide for herself and her infant son.

Militiaman Nathaniel Williams visits Charlestown, where his heart is ensnared by a smart, beautiful widow, forcing Nathaniel to make the hardest decision of his life.




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