Sunday, September 16, 2012

Anachronisms or Flashback to Something that Never Happened

Did you know the word, “Hello” wasn’t part of the English language until after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone? It’s true. Developed from the old sailor’s call “halloo” (or a derivative), the typical greeting we use today won out over Bell’s own preference to use when answering the phone: “Ahoy.” Imagine that. We might have answered our phones with “Ahoy” all these years. I just might want to try that for fun. (Yeah, I’m a geek. Wanna make something of it?)

Now imagine you’re writing an Elizabethan romance. Your heroine is wearing the corset, the Spanish farthingale, a kirtle, and a sarcenet overskirt complete with low, square neckline. Her sleeves are appropriately puffy and her ruff is in place around her neck. She enters the magnificent Hardwick Hall and spots the queen. “I’ll just pop over and say hello,” she tells her escort.

That quickly, you’ve lost the loyalty of your reader. I hear those grumbles—those of you thinking, Oh, come on! What are the odds my readers know that? In ReaderLand, pretty danged good! Never underestimate your reader’s intelligence. Now is not the time to do the Time Warp.

No doubt a smaller percentage of you are thinking, So what? That’s what an editor’s for. Nope.

Editors are not the folks you see in television shows and movies who take your work, fix all the typos, and book you on Oprah next week. They’re overworked, underpaid, and juggling far too many projects to focus on just you. Your editor is your advocate in the publishing world. (S)he’ll help you make your manuscript better, but the work, my friends, falls into your lap. (Or laptop, if you will.)

So be careful with those anachronisms! Just as you wouldn’t have George Washington commanding the troops in Trenton from the driver’s seat of a Corvette because it obviously didn’t happen that way, you have to watch your word choices and be sure sayings and colloquialisms were in use in the old days. How? How else? Look it up!

A terrific website for etymology (word origins) is the Online Etymology Dictionary. Bookmark it. There are lots of others, but this is my go-to-first site. And be sure to double-check any info you clarify online. **NOTE: I called this my “go-to-first” site, meaning I have others.

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