Writing Historical Fiction? Should You Use That Particular Word?

High Resolution Perspective Graphic Of The Word Choices www.123rf.com

High Resolution Perspective Graphic Of The Word Choices

I admit it: I am a bit of a word geek. I am fascinated with how words came into the English language. Some words make sense in their derivation, and others not so much so. Below are some of the more interesting ones I found of late. (The source of the derivations is  the Oxford English Dictionary, unless so noted.) Many times when I am writing, I must stop to look up a word that “feels” too modern for the Regency Era. Here are some of my most recent searches. 

Jam is an early 18th Century word meaning to “squeeze or pack.” The jam used as a condiment (a thick fruit conserve) was first recorded in the mid 18th Century. A “jam session” was first used in the 1920s. 

One meaning of Buffer comes to us from the mid 18th Century. The buffer in old buffer is an elderly man who is thought to be out of fashion or not in touch with present day trends. It likely comes from buff (which is obsolete). It could also come from the dialect verb buff, which came to mean to stutter or to stammer. It late Middle English a buffer was one who stammered. 

Jape is a Middle English word for a practical joke. It likely combines the Old French word japer, which means “to yelp or yap,” with the Old French word gaber, meaning “to mock.”

Prodigy was originally meant to mean “an omen.” It is a late 15th Century word associated with “something extraordinary.” It comes to us from the Latin word prodigium, meaning “portent.” In the mid 17th Century it came to be associated with a person possessing amazing qualities.

Scenario is a late 19th Century word, coming to us from the Latin word scene, meaning “scene.” [This is one I misused until recently.]

Dint is an Old English word, coming to us from dint, meaning “a stroke with a weapon.” There is a related Old Norse word dyntr. The meaning associated with dint or dent is an impression left upon a surface. The idea date to the late 16th century where the word came to mean “effect produced.”

 Word Origin - Wordpandit wordpandit.com

Word Origin – Wordpandit

Penny is an Old English word (penig, penning). It is Germanic in origin. The penny was originally made of silver. Later, copper was used, and after 1860, bronze came into place. Before 15 February 1971, it was abbreviated as d. from denarius, the Latin word for a silver Roman coin. [What I searched for was the phrase penny plain.] Penny plain comes from the mid 19th Century [not a Regency word] to mean “plain and simple.” It refers to prints of characters used for toy theaters. They were sold for one penny if it were a black-and-white print and two pennies for a coloured one. 

Inculcate is a mid 16th Century word, coming to us from the Latin word inculcate, which is the past participle stem of inculcate, meaning to “press in.” The word is made up on in for “into” and calcare for “to tread.” Calx and calc meant “heel.” Inculcate means to “instill, especially an attitude.”

Decry is an early 17th Century word, which originally meant a “decrease in the value of coins by royal proclamation.” It transformed to mean “publicly denounce.”

Acquit comes to us from Middle English. It first was used in the sense of “paying a debt or discharging a liability.” It originates from the Old French word acquirer, from medieval Latin acquitare. Until the 16th Century the word was pronounced with a long “i” sound, similar to requite.

Eaves comes to us from the Old English efes. The word is Germanic in origin. It is related to the word Obsen in German, which became over. We know the meaning to the “overhanging edge of a roof.” Conversely, the word eavesdrop/eavesdropper is an early 17th Century word arriving in English from the Middle English period. It quite literally meant “someone hiding under the eaves to listen to another’s conversation.” The noun eavesdrop once meant the ground upon which water dropped from the eaves.  

Strut is an Old English word derived from strūtian, coming from the German to mean to “protrude stiffly.” Chaucer used the word in his Miller’s Tale to refer to hair sticking up. The use of the word to mean to “walk with a swagger” dates to the late 16th Century.  

Umbrage is a late Middle English word, deriving from the Old French and from the Latin word umbra, meaning “shadow.” Earlier on, it meant a “shadowy outline,” which transformed into something that “gives rise to suspicion.” This led to the current meaning of “offense.” 

Percolate comes from the early 17th Century. It is derived from the Latin word percolate, meaning to “strain through.” Using the word percolator as a synonym for a coffee maker dates from the mid 19th Century. 

Constipation is a word from the late Middle English period. It is from the late Latin word constipatio, which is made up of con for “together” and stipare for “to press or cram.”


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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2 Responses to Writing Historical Fiction? Should You Use That Particular Word?

  1. suzanlauder says:

    I love these, Regina! I run into so many that are post-Regency and I have to find a better choice (which, as a word geek, I find fun!), but in this case, the better choices are really cool words!

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