Saturday, January 19, 2013

Wassup, King Arthur?

Over at io9, Lauren Davis shares some interesting writing advice in her article, "How to make sure the language in your historical fantasy novel is period-accurate." She references The Jane Austen Word List created by fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal to help her weed out period-inaccurate words for her novel, Glamour in Glass, set in the same time period as Jane Austen's books. To build the list MRK assembled "all the words that are in the collected works of Jane Austen to use for my spellcheck dictionary."

While I have to admit I didn't go too crazy about this in Dragonfriend, preferring to come down on the side of middle-grade "readability" rather than being overly concerned about historically accurate Old English vocabulary, I did ask my editor, Darren Robinson, to flag any eye-poking anachronisms.

A few of the words Kowal ended up pulling out of her book "because they either didn’t exist in 1815 or that didn’t mean what they mean now" are: "cliquish," "mannequin," "laundry," "titanium white," and "wastepaper basket" (for which she writes, "Weird note. Trashcans, wastepaper baskets, garbage cans… none of these exist even as a concept. Everything got reused, fed to the pigs, or burned in the fire.")

For me, it was more a case of catching myself wanting to put in modern (American) slang words like "okay" and having Darren flag things like "biz," "Father Christmas," and "halfpenny" which he correctly points out, "only dates back some 700 years, long after Arthurian times." 

How about you? Any vocabulary challenges in your own work of historical fiction (fantasy or otherwise)? Or a case of being derailed by anachronistic word choice in a book you were reading? Let us know in the comments.
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