Don’t Say That! Colorful terms in #historical #fiction #wordplay #amwriting #amediting #mustread #histfic

Color me a tad sad as today I’m wrapping up my Don’t Say That! series with one final post about words related to color: ecru, hue, luminescent, multicolor, and vibrant. Do any of those words surprise you as not entering English until after the 18th century?

I’ll start with one of my favorite words for a soft off-white color, ecru. I imagined Emily wearing an ecru colored night shift. Only, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the word didn’t enter English until 1869. Can you picture the color? The definition is “the name of a color; the color of unbleached linen.” Something lighter than eggshell but not white. It’s of French origin, so it does surprise me that it didn’t get picked up by Americans earlier than the middle of the 19th century.

The next one is a tricky one. The word “hue” has been around almost forever. It’s from Old English and meaning “form, shape, figure; appearance, aspect; species” first cited in 900 A.D. However, meaning “color” it had a bit of an interruption in use. The OED says, “Down to the 16th c. app. exactly synonymous with ‘colour’; but it appears to have become archaic in prose use about 1600.” The citation dates reflect the interruption: 971, 1050, 1225, 1375, 1450, 1576, 1616, 1694, 1791, 1808, etc. Archaic doesn’t mean it was never used, but given my A More Perfect Union series takes place in America in 1782-83, I had to consider whether my characters were likely to have picked up on it. I wrestled with this decision…but finally chose to use a different word. I’m certain beyond a doubt that most readers wouldn’t know the difference, but I would and that was enough of a reason for me to steer clear of “hue.”

But what about “luminescent”? Couldn’t the candlelight be such? Actually, no. Mainly because the OED defines it as “a. Emitting light, or having the property of emitting light, otherwise than as a result of incandescence. b. Pertaining to luminescence.” The citation is dated in 1889, a full century after my stories. And since it’s definition relies up production of light “otherwise than as a result of incandescence”—which by the way didn’t enter our language until 1794—I chose to describe the light in other terms. Keep in mind that my stories took place when light was produced by candles, oil, tallow, etc. No lightbulbs yet!

So what about a “multicolored” quilt? I’ve seen them in historic homes and displays of traditional quilt making. They exist. However, the word did not. The OED doesn’t include this word for some unknown reason, but my Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary does. According to Webster, the word “multicolor” became a word in 1840-50 as a back formation from “multicolored” which entered English in 1835-45. So again, I had to describe the quilt as having many colors, perhaps I even stated what they were.

Couldn’t my characters have a vibrant personality? Or wear vibrant clothing? Not by a long shot! The word has existed since the 16th century but meaning “Agitated with anger or emotion” or even “Brandishing, flourishing.” But as applied to colors that usage of “vivid, exotic. Also applied to other visual attributes, and to objects with an appearance suggestive in some way of vitality or the exotic” not until 1971. After I was born for goodness sake! So again, no to using that word in my historicals.

What all of this word sleuthing has taught me is first and foremost how to better describe what is happening, where it’s happening, and how it’s happening so I don’t rely on a single term to encompass the action or visual. My intent is to write a story that employs all of the senses so the reader can virtually experience the story playing in my imagination.

I’ve come to the end of my Don’t Say That! series, so next week I’ll start another round of Between the Lines posts where I share some interesting tidbits I’ve picked up while researching my stories, whether historical or contemporary. In fact, I’ll start with the research I did for my next paranormal/supernatural romance, Veiled Visions of Love, which will be available next month. More about that book next week. Until then!

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! Weather terms in #historical #fiction #wordplay #weather #amwriting #amediting #mustread #histfic

Ready for a few weather related words that folks in the 18th century didn’t use? Let’s look at four: downpour, seasonal, weather tight, and thunderhead. All four would seem to be natural to use, right? I thought so at least! Until I did a bit of checking. So let’s look at these terms and see when they came to be.

Who hasn’t seen and experienced a “downpour” of rain? Well, back in the 1700s, they didn’t call it that. Meaning “a pouring down; esp. a heavy, continuous fall (of rain, etc.)” didn’t enter English, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), until 1811. I believe I used something along the lines of “drenching rain” instead. I’m sure readers have no problem with the meaning of either, but again, I simply want to create as authentic an experience of the 18th century as I can and still be understood by present-day readers.

What about a “seasonal” display of flowers? I’m thinking of vases containing flowers from specific times of the year appropriate to the season. So, meaning “pertaining to or characteristic of the seasons of the year, or some one of them,” the word didn’t exist until 1838. Five decades after my A More Perfect Union historical romance series of stories. So nope. But of course I could simply say “the flowers in the vases had been picked that morning, new buds of yellow daffodils and pink roses” in order to both describe the colors as well as the time of year. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Not relying upon the single word helps me to paint a clearer picture for my readers. I’ll take it!

AMPU Covers-4So in Amy’s Choice, I wanted the boat to be “weather tight.” After all, Frank and Benjamin were facing a bad storm in a skiff-like boat on their way to visit the ship’s captain. Only, the OED tells me to hold up… The first citation for “weather-tight” didn’t pop up until 1832. So much for using that phrase. I likely said something along the lines of “the boat had been prepared to face all kinds of weather.” Creating the same impression but with different verbiage.

One last term to contemplate. Surely the storm clouds built into “thunderheads,” right? Well, let’s take a closer look. The OED lists it under “thunder” as the main entry. As a combining form, it means “(a) a rounded mass of cumulus cloud seen near the horizon projecting above the general body of cloud, and portending a thunder-storm; hence thunder-headed a., having, or of the nature of, a thunder-head; (b) nonce-use, a large head, as a whale’s head.” The first citation for the term is from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, which is dated 1851, and is actually referring to the whale heads on the ship. As in, “Throw all these thunder-heads overboard, and then you will float light and right.” In 1861, L.L. Noble used the term in Icebergs: “An iceberg rises…after the figure of a thunderhead.” So am I to assume the term came from the shape of a whale head applied to the clouds? Maybe… Nonetheless, I couldn’t use it in my series, and that was the main concern at the time.

So next week I’ll look at my last class of words, color words such as ecru and multicolor. I hope you’re keeping cool and enjoying a great story! See you next week!

Betty

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Introducing the lives, loves, and dangerous times of the men and women in the A More Perfect Union historical romance series! This prequel novella takes place when Charles Town, South Carolina, is about to face the British enemy during the American Revolution.

Elizabeth's HopeCAUGHT BETWEEN DUTY AND LOVE

Joining the revolutionary army was the honorable thing to do—but Jedediah Thomson hadn’t realized how long he’d be away from the lovely, spirited Miss Elizabeth Sullivan. They’d only begun their courtship when the occupation of Charles Town, South Carolina, trapped her in the city, making it dangerous to get to her.

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; and most of all for Jedediah, the man she loves, who was doing his duty. 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! 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 Dictionary.com where they say its first recording was in 1935-40, so they basically agree for teenager, but Dictionary.com 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!

Betty

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

Let’s talk about fight scenes in fiction and the words used to write them, shall we? I don’t have many scenes where people actually fight one another, it’s not my bailiwick. That said, some of the words used to describe fighting can be employed figuratively in some situations. However, I discovered that the figurative sense usually evolves sometime after the word is used literally. Let’s look at six of them: backhand, jab, sic, slug, swat, and tackle.

I wanted to say that someone hit the other with the back of their hand, i.e., backhanded the other person. The word existed as a noun and adjective as early as the 1650s, but as a verb meaning “to take a backhander” not until 1857, while the meaning I had in mind of “to hit or stroke with the back of one’s hand” not until 1935. Now, I probably simply stated the character hit the other character with the back of their hand instead of using the one word. One other definition of “backhand” is “handwriting with the letters sloped backwards.” Which has nothing to do with the meaning I needed, but I learned something new in reading the definition, so thought I’d share.

So what about a jab? A move used in boxing. Could my character take a jab at something, or someone? Literally or figuratively? Sadly, no. The verb meaning “to thrust with the end or point of something; to poke roughly; to stab” entered English in 1825-27. By the way, there are several related definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), but I won’t belabor the point. For my 1782-83 stories, the word didn’t exist.

In Amy’s Choice, I hoped to have Amy sic the dogs on a threatening person, but the OED definition has more to do with the Scottish word meaning “such” than sending an attack dog after anybody. So I went over to Dictionary.com  and found the verb meaning “to attack (used especially in commanding a dog): Sic ‘em!” which is recorded as originating in 1835-45. Sigh. So much for using that word, then.

Could Frank “slug” somebody to defend Emily? He most definitely was prepared and willing to do so. In fact, he even fights a duel for her honor! I didn’t know there are four definitions of “slug” in verb form. The one I meant, “to strike (also, to drive, throw, etc.) heavily or violently; to slog” is the third definition. Unfortunately, it originated in 1862. So I guess he just punched him instead, which entered the English language in 1530. Whew.

Maybe they could be swatting a fly or swatting away somebody’s unwanted hand on their arm. Surely, they could kill a fly by swatting it. Almost but not quite. In 1615 the verb meant “to sit down, squat” but that’s not I was looking for. The “right” one, meaning “to hit with a smart slap or a violent blow; also, to dash. Now esp., to crush (a fly, etc.) with a blow” came about in 1796, 13 or so years after the stories in my A More Perfect Union series. Close but no cigar, as the saying goes.

Then let me “tackle” one last word I had originally written into one of the stories but found out upon revisions and editing I couldn’t leave in place. This verb existed since 1400 when used to mean “to furnish (a ship) with tackle; to equip with the necessary furnishings,” which is cool to know but not helpful for my story. I could have used it if they wanted “to harness (a horse) for riding or draught.” However, meaning “to grip, lay hold of, take in hand, deal with; to fasten upon, attack, encounter (a person or animal) physically” didn’t come about until 1828. The more figurative sense of “to ‘come to grips with’, to enter into a discussion or argument with; to attack; to approach or question on some subject” not until 1840. So, out of luck on that one, also.

Next time I’ll talk about medical words like spasm and stressed. 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! Emotions in #historical #fiction #wordplay #wordorigins #amwriting #amediting #mustread #histfic

What would any story be without describing, or showing, how the characters feel? Whether some flavor of happy or sad, in love or hating an enemy, emotions drive actions and thus propel the story through the highs and lows. Yet some ways of saying how a character feels just weren’t used in the past. Let’s look at six I came across while writing my A More Perfect Union historical romances as well as another 18th-century story about Martha Washington. They are: happy-go-lucky, ambivalent, antsy, cantankerous, edgy, and excited.

First, “happy-go-lucky” in this instance is applied to people not events. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) it was an adverb meaning “just as it may happen; as luck will have it; haphazard” as early as 1672. However, it didn’t become a noun meaning “a happy-go-lucky person” or “happy-go-lucky quality or character” until 1851 and then even later an adjective meaning “Of persons or their actions: Taking things as they happen to come; easy-going” until 1856. Sadly, I couldn’t use it to describe the personality or emotional state of my 1780s characters. I say sadly because it’s such an upbeat description and applied so well to Frank, in Emily’s Vow, at least his younger self.

Let’s look at “ambivalent” next. I was looking to describe one of my characters as not having a strong opinion between several options. I really thought ambivalent nailed it, but the OED informed me that I was off by a couple centuries. Specifically meaning “entertaining contradictory emotions (as love and hatred) towards the same person or thing; acting on or arguing for sometimes one and sometimes the other of two opposites,” “ambivalent” didn’t enter English until 1916. So I had to be creative with my word choices to show the character feeling both ways toward the situation.

All of this might make a writer a bit “antsy” when having to dig a bit deeper for the proper words to string together. However, my characters wouldn’t have ever described themselves using this term because it isn’t cited until 1838 to mean “agitated, impatient, restless; also, sexually eager.” A bit closer to my 1780s stories but not close enough.

I will admit that rarely the first citation date in the OED is a few years—within 10, say—after my stories time period, but I figure it’s close enough for my purposes. Especially if I use it in dialogue since words are created verbally long before they are put into writing and then into a dictionary of some kind. It’s rare that I found this to be the case, but I can think of a couple instances.

Next is a fun-to-say description of a person’s emotional state: “cantankerous.” I had wanted to use this word in my Martha Washington story, but her story stretched over 50 years, 1750s-1800. At the point in the story it was too early to use it. Meaning “showing an ill-natured disposition; ill-conditioned and quarrelsome, perverse, cross-grained” it entered written English in 1772. So it was fine to use in my A More Perfect Union series, but not in the early chapters of Martha’s story (which by the way, my agent is shopping around for a publisher; stay tuned!). In fact that was one of the “fun” challenges of writing, or rather revising, her story: ensuring that the word usage evolved over the decades of the story to incorporate other words and meanings of previous words. Yeah, that took some time…

What about a favorite word of today, “edgy” to mean unsettled or nervous? Well, it was a word as early as 1775, but it meant “having an edge or edges; sharp, cutting” so that wouldn’t do for what I had in mind. By 1825 it had started being applied to describe a painting, as in “having the outlines too hard.” The usage meaning “having one’s nerves on edge; irritable; testy” wasn’t in the lexicon until 1837, so again decades after my stories’ time periods.

Finally, everybody gets “excited,” right? Nowadays, sure, but not so much in the 18th century. People didn’t get excited, but electricity and magnets did as early as 1660. For people to be “stirred by strong emotion, disturbed, agitated” they’d have to wait until 1855. Well, not really, of course. I’m sure they felt excited as we think of it whether they called it that or not.

I enjoy researching the origins of words, whether for my stories or out of sheer curiosity. I’ve said it before, we use words and phrases every day that stem from obsolete technology and situations. Think “rolling down the window” in a car or “hanging up” the phone. There are many other examples out there!

Next week I’m going to “tackle” a few fighting words. Until next time!

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!

Visit my Website for more on my books and upcoming events.

Amy's ChoiceIn 1782, the fight for independence has become personal…

When 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! 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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