Friday, January 14, 2011

Say What??

Recently, I've started working on a new story, set in 1905. Previously, my books have been set in the 1870s, a time which was very familiar to me. I'd spent years researching that era to develop a living history character and knew it intimately. But, 1905 brought a whole new set of slang to the plate.

I promptly secured the Dictionary of American Slang for my reference library and dove in. And discovered several surprises!

The first concerned the word "okay." As a writer of historical romance, I've always been told that "okay" is an anachronism and advised to use "all right" instead. Critique partners, contest judges, and editors were all in agreement on this.

Now, though, I was in 1905. It seemed to me that my characters might very well say "okay." Just to be sure, I opened up the dictionary and checked only to discover "okay" (both as a form of agreement and as an adjective meaning "acceptable") has been in general usage since 1839! New York and Boston area writers began using "OK" in the early 1800s to mock local bumpkins who said "all korrect."

The new book has a child and it seemed natural for other characters to refer to her as a "kid." Yet, critique partners weren't sure so it was back to the dictionary. "Kid" has been used as a noun meaning "child" since 1599 and as an adjective for "younger" since 1884.

My partners also questioned "confetti." Of course, this isn't a slang word, so I had to refer to a different dictionary. The word comes from the Italian word "confetto" which was a small candy traditionally tossed at Italian carnivals. The custom was adopted into the throwing of symbolic paper at weddings in England. Another website revealed the candy represented fertility.

Yet another area of concern centered around "con". My trusty disctionary revealed "con game" has been used to mean "swindle" since the 1880s and "con" meaning "scam" since the early 1900s. "Confidence man" began usage by 1889 and "con man" by the early 1900s.

My dictionary revealed a host of other surprising slang use dates, noted as I paged through looking for other words. I've been surprised and delighted by many of them. Some old terms, no longer in use, have brought smiles to my face. Some terms I have always thought of as having originated post-1950 have actually been around for much longer.

I invite you to take a look yourselves. See The Dictionary of American Slang, the Online Etymology Dictionary, or The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. If you have your own favorites, let me know so I can add them to my library. I'd also love to hear about any surprises you've encountered.


Terry Odell said...

I recall hearing a NYT best-selling author talking about one of her early books, which was an historical. She'd used the term 'technology' and could back up that it was in use at the time. However, her advice was that if it would cause problems for readers, regardless of whether it was correct or not, it was better to avoid it.

Me - I'm so historically naive that I'll take just about everything without a second glance.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Pam,

Dictionaries of etymology and slang are the best references. I used to have a huge Oxford Dictionary of Etymology that I consulted often when writing TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS since I wanted accuracy in my Regency terminlogy. I also used a dictionary of Regency slang expressions. Now, of course, all of this is available online. Much easier!

Anonymous said...

Really interesting, Pam--I love to learn about words. Thanks for sharing a valuable resource.

Genxsoft said... is online medical store pharmacy in laxmi nagar Delhi. You can Order prescription/OTC medicines online.
Cash on Delivery available. Free Home Delivery

Online Pharmacy in Delhi
Buy Online medicine in Delhi
Online Pharmacy in laxmi nagar
Buy Online medicine in laxmi nagar
Onine Medical Store in Delhi
Online Medical store in laxmi nagar
Online medicine store in delhi
online medicine store in laxmi nagar
Purchase Medicine Online
Online Pharmacy India
Online Medical Store

Unknown said...

We are uhe solid first platform for modeling newcomers to achieve there new dreams. The first to train and promote out models at our expense to avoid burden on them. Join the most popular agency if you modelling jobs in Delhi for female freshers, models, students, housewives aiming to start there modeling career. We are top modelling agency in Delhi offering modelling jobs in Delhi for upcoming female freshers or experienced models who want to join lingerie modeling agencies.

modeling agencies in Delhi
modeling agencies
modeling jobs
modeling auditions
model coordinators
modeling jobs in Delhi

Unknown said...

We are specialized in Mechanised cleaning of Underground and Overhead Water Tanks of all sizes. Door Step services across Delhi, Noida and Ghaziabad.

Water tank cleaning services in Noida
Water tank cleaning services in Ghaziabad
Water tank cleaning services in Delhi

Drain cleaning services in Noida

Drain cleaning services in Ghaziabad
Drain cleaning services in Delhi
Pipeline Cleaning Service in Noida

Pipeline cleaning services in Ghaziabad
Pipeline cleaning services in Delhi

Tank cleaning services in Noida

Tank cleaning services in Ghaziabad
Tank cleaning services in Delhi