We were watching a western on dvd last night (I cannot resist Robert Duvall in a western. I can’t see anybody but Gus McCrae when he’s on the screen, and Gus is one of my all time favorite fictional men.
/cue quote/: I met a wonderful new man yesterday. He’s fictional, but you can’t have everything/end quote.
Where was I. Oh yes, lexical choice. If you write historical fiction you’re always on the alert about getting simple vocabulary right. They didn’t use the term ‘strep throat’ in the early 1800s, because the strep bacillus hadn’t been isolated or identified. So your character does have strep (and thank dog, because back then strep killed a lot of people); your character has a putrid sore throat.
Some lexical anachronisms are bound to slip through, no matter how hard you (or your editor) look for them. Most of the time you won’t even realize it’s an anachronism until a reader who happens to be an expert in sleigh bells or trapping or kitchen implements of 1820 gets in touch and let’s you know where you messed up.
Maybe five people who read the book will catch that kind of error, but most of us who write historical fiction would prefer not to make the mistake in the first place.
So when a historical term comes to my attention that is new to me, I always look it up and think about it for a while.
Yesterday evening Robert Duvall requested that his nephew bring him some convenience paper from town. The Mathematician and I looked at each other and shrugged. A few scenes later it turned out that convenience paper was an early term for commercially made toilet paper. I haven’t had time yet, but I’ve got this on my list of words to check and sooner or later I’ll go on a quest. There may even be a website about the history of toilet paper, or a Wikipedia article. There are millions of people out there with all kinds of interests, and they are happy to share their knowledge with you. Usually.
Are there any historical lexical items which you learned about through a novel or a movie?