It’s hunting season! But a gun is not my weapon of choice – and neither is that book on the right, although it was the first thing I bought for the job.
When you write historical fiction, it takes a lot of effort to get the details right. And believe me, I try to do my homework, even in the first draft. I tend to focus on plot and setting: Can Verity take a train to Catawissa in 1867? (Yes.) Would doctors coming out of the Civil War understand the importance of washing their hands and instruments in preventing infection? (The open-minded ones were just beginning to realize.) How does one quickly empty the cylinders in a Civil War era revolver? (My brother-in-law Larry is my #1 go-to man for all weapons-related questions.) What books might Nate have on his reading shelf? (Dr. Kane’s Arctic Explorations was a must!)
Harder to pin down is the actual word usage of the time period – phrases, expressions, figures-of-speech.
And, um, I make mistakes.
To carry a torch for someone – that’s safe, right? Torches are old. Caveman old. But the phrase is not. It’s actually a reference from an obscure Broadway song, dated 1927.
To keep track of someone or something – 1883.
To hightail it – 1885.
Once I start looking, they’re everywhere.
When I was first asked by my editor at Clarion to eliminate anachronistic language in THE CAGED GRAVES, I wanted to find a good resource to help me. That book I bought – Eric Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English – weighs 5lbs, 3.75 ounces, is printed in miniscule type, and has a bunch of pages bound out of order. And in spite of its 1400 pages, most of the words and phrases I’ve tried to look up … aren’t in there! No wonder it was ex-libris!
I’ve actually found Dictionary.com to be a fairly helpful resource. It has word history listings for quite a number of phrases. Krystalyn Drown also shared this resource at ipl2.
If all of the resources above fail me and I can’t date something, then I just remove the questionable phrase.
There’s always another way to say it.
Have YOU used any anachronisms today?