Words I couldn’t use in Glamour in Glass

I turned in the line-edits for Glamour in Glass and thought I would share the crazy, crazy thing I did as part of this editing pass.

Glamour in Glass is set in 1815 and I wanted to have the language fairly clean of anachronisms. The challenge came in trying to figure out what words didn’t exist yet. So I decided to create a Jane Austen word list, from the complete works of Jane Austen, and use that as my spellcheck dictionary.  It flagged any word that she didn’t use, which allowed me to look it up to see if it existed.

Sometimes the word did exist, but meant something different. “Blink” for instance, at the time meant to look through half-lidded eyes, or to open the eyes as if upon waking. The action we mean by it… “nictate.” Yeah… Not so much with the “She nictated at him.”

Once the word was flagged, I looked it up in the OED to double-check the meaning and the earliest citation.  If the word didn’t work, then I used the OED’s historical thesaurus to find a period appropriate synonym.

If that wasn’t yielding good results, I would also, sometimes, search in  the complete works of Jane Austen to see how she referred to similar subjects. For instance, if the word was an adjective modifying “temperment” then I’d look up “temperment” to see how she modified it, hoping that I’d find something that would fit.

So, I thought that you might be interested to see the words I am pulling out of Glamour in Glass, because they either didn’t exist in 1815 or that didn’t mean what they mean now.

A star next to a word means that it exists, but the meaning had changed enough that I didn’t feel comfortable using it.

  • manipulate
  • blink* (until around 1850 or so, it appears to mean either “looking with half-open eyes” or “opening eyes, as if from sleep.”)
  • arced
  • looped
  • conversationalist
  • knowledgeable*
  • traipsing*
  • dismissive*
  • silvery* (referring to voice)
  • grumbly
  • condone
  • tensing
  • yanked
  • forthright
  • fixate
  • gotten into trouble
  • leeway*
  • vantage*
  • memorize (I might have been able to get away with this, but the sense seems to mean commemorating on paper)
  • harrumph
  • insensitivity
  • interplay
  • leyline
  • meaningful
  • needlepoint*
  • blatant*
  • available*
  • craning
  • tsk
  • heatedly
  • uncomprehending
  • crisp* (means curly)
  • salt-and-pepper hair
  • appraised
  • redone
  • overstuffed
  • stringent* (maybe could have gotten away with it, but the meaning seemed to have shifted)
  • inkwell
  • belatedly
  • empathy
  • avidly
  • sidetracked
  • reminisces
  • flawlessly
  • selfless
  • coiffed
  • mousey
  • specificity
  • mesmerized
  • interact
  • eerily
  • highlighting
  • pristine*
  • abysmally
  • outing*
  • bunting*
  • lanky* (Meaning hasn’t changed but the references all refer to it as “vulgar slang”)
  • sclera
  • celebratory
  • gist*
  • penalize
  • sketchbook
  • bored*
  • socializing
  • decades*
  • jauntily
  • flick* (As in “flicked her fan open” Interesting, the replacement word from the period is “flirted her fan open.”)
  • steady*
  • flipped* (as in through pages)
  • riffled
  • self-effacing
  • squared* (as in shoulders)
  • skittering*
  • assessing*
  • upholstered
  • cad*
  • cushioned* (Very close. Probably would have been okay.)
  • hairline fracture
  • crunch
  • spindly
  • balled*
  • crux*
  • misdirection*
  • wreckage
  • environment*
  • titanium white
  • evaluate
  • coded*
  • stemmed*
  • bandstand
  • barreled*
  • steadied* (as in, upon one’s feet)
  • storefront
  • stunt*
  • mass hysteria
  • aspect*
  • riding crop
  • crop*
  • belongings
  • bivouac (This appears in 1809. In narration, it would be fine but since it is in dialogue, I thought it likely that my character would use the older word, encamp. Also, Miss Austen used “encamped” so… you know. I went for that.)
  • blankly
  • aplenty
  • envision
  • utilitarian
  • shuttered
  • skittered* (laughable different meaning)
  • clinical*
  • alizaron
  • bunching*
  • laundry (as in articles that need to be washed)
  • crisscrossed
  • blotchy
  • hallway
  • rasped* (as in harsh, grating sound)
  • dot (as in to cover)
  • sanded
  • boredom
  • pose*
  • weal
  • mannequin
  • parked (as in a vehicle)
  • tailgate
  • wastepaper basket — (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.)
  • lurch
  • prop*
  • manhunt
  • spook
  • cresting*
  • oncoming
  • disrupt
  • damply
  • awareness
  • bundled
  • factor*
  • cliquish

Words I kept anyway even though they don’t exist 1814

  • windswept — I am leaving it because it explains a period word
  • scissored — I decided that it was descriptive enough that I could justify saying that it had been coined by this point in a world with magic.
  • amplify — It could mean to increase or expand, but the modern notion of increased sound doesn’t occur until the 1970s. I decided that I could justify that this alternate history coining the modern meaning sooner.
  • outmass — Apparently this isn’t a word at all, but I’m going to use it anyway.

40 Responses

    1. Fragano Ledgister

      Inkwells are a mid-nineteenth century invention, believe it or not. They had them in my school desks (though by then they were archaic, since we weren’t using steel-nibbed pens, also a Victorian invention). As Mary Robinette says, the proper term at the time would have been ink-pot, in which the quill would have been dipped.

    1. Fragano Ledgister

      Your short-cut (and hyphenating it that way would be a start) is Johnson’s dictionary. That establishes usage in the late 18th century. A couple of good books to read for the 1840s-1850s are Carlyle’s French Revolution and Mill’s On Liberty, because they’re good expository prose,and they are quite readable contemporary works. Both will stuff you with the vocabulary of the times. I’ve spent a bit of time reading a ton of Thomas Carlyle (a task I would happily delegate to any willing victim), and observe from that that a tendency to throw out undigested chunks of Latin and Greek was common.

  1. DavidK44

    Wow, a complete lack of both empathy and awareness…. I never would have guessed it.
    (okay, bad joke, but I couldn’t resist.)

    1. Jen

      I have always “known” that Dickens invented the modern meaning of the word in Bleak House, but I’m not certain that’s true.

  2. Gregory Bossert

    I was compelled to look up “skittered” in my OED. Heh, I would not have guessed. Fascinating that “boredom” and our sense of “bored” is both a relatively recent usage and of unknown derivation. “Forthright”, “mousey”, and “harrumph” are other surprises. Ah, darn it, I’ve got too much to do to be looking up words. Maybe just one more…

  3. Anne Lyle

    Now that’s what I call devotion to the cause! I try hard to avoid blatant anachronisms in my 16th-century setting, but not at the expense of confusing the reader. I wouldn’t blink twice at using “blink”, for example, at least in narrative. And I’ll happily use words that have written citations up to a century later, on the grounds that the writer didn’t just pluck them out of thin air, as a rule – unless he was Shakespeare, who liked to play with and invent words. A lot.

    On the other hand I do like to use contemporary (as in “contemporary to Shakespeare”, not “modern”) phrases where possible. So, my characters go to hear a play, not see one (there’s a reason the playgoers are called an “audience”, you know!). And I never use the f-bomb except in its literal meaning, as a verb or noun :)

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      You’re absolutely right. The challenge is to avoid confusing the reader. This meant that there were words I also couldn’t use because they would confuse a modern reader… Hm. I didn’t think about making a list of those. What this did do, on the other hand, was force me to think about how and why I use words.

      Take “blink.” I realized that I tend to use it as shorthand for variations of “She looked at him in surprise.” Naturally,doing a find replace and having a load of “She looked at him in surprise” wasn’t an option. By going through the manuscript and pulling the word out, it forced me to come up with different and more specific body language throughout.

        1. Ann

          Me again, sorry, I just saw half of what I posted was lost in electronic nirvana.

          What I meant to say is that “blinken”, the origin of the word, already means most of what the modern-day “blink” wants to describe.

          Also, the Johnson (published on 15 April 1755)  gives for “blink”:

          1. to wink or twinkle with the eyes
          2. to see obscurely

          #1 is – to me – quite synonymous with modern blinking.

        2. Ann

          That’s not what the Johnson says, which was written prior (1755) to your sources and your time period, I believe. The version I used is from 1766, thus even closer to your aspired time period.

          I checked up on “twinkle” and “wink” as well, the terms by which “blink” was explained. Both again refer to fairly RAPID eye/lid movements, one details a blinking owl, the other a girl in a way that clearly is not about anyone coming out of sleep. A blinking owl and its general expression, however, comes mighty close to what you were using the word “blink” for and thought you couldn’t.

          It’s also not what the original Danish and Germanic meanings of the
          original non-English word stem are about. “Blinken” or “blincken” mean
          fairly rapid on-off movements or glittering (in the sun). 

          You obviously were only catching the secondary meaning which refers to someone almost blinded/not seeing well.

          I’m not here to criticise the enormous workload that you have undertaken, just to point out that at least 2, or better yet 3 sources are advisable when dealing with something as minute as a single word and its meaning.

  4. Dale Favier

    Oh, that’s wonderful! I can’t tell you how often a supposedly historical novel has lost me in the first couple pages by serving up some glaringly anachronistic vocabulary. “The lifestyle of the young lord…” — Horrid. I’m gone.

  5. Hal O'Brien

    Anyway, one other suggestion… I’d recommend adding someone else to the dictionary, simply a single source is perhaps too thin a reed. Charles Lamb, maybe?

  6. rootlesscosmo

    I got here via Language Hat. When I saw your comment on “wastepaper basket” I remembered the Golden Dustman in Our Mutual Friend; there seems to have been a change in people’s ways of treating rubbish between Austen’s time and the mid-1860′s.

  7. Julianna H

    I applaud your efforts to ensure your language is appropriate for the period. I’m just thankful my stories take place long ago in a dead language so I don’t have to deal with such limitations. :-)

  8. John Cowan

    I think this is an interesting idea, but it doesn’t make much sense to me. After all, if you were writing a novel set in 21st century Russia, you wouldn’t write the dialogue in Russian (still less the narration), though that would be much more authentic.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Well, no. You wouldn’t, because that would make it impossible for an English-speaking reader to comprehend. You would, however, make it as Russian in flavour as possible with idioms and sentence rhythm in order to capture the flavour of the place. The same is true with writing something setting in 1815 but one has much more leeway in how “authentic” one can get before it becomes incomprehensible. For instance, I wouldn’t write, “She staid back,” even though that is more period accurate than “She stayed back” because the word “staid” has taken on new meaning in modern English. It would confuse the readers.

      The challenge is to find the balance between comprehensibility and anachronism. If readers are thinking, “My! That’s an authentic word” it will take them out of the story every bit as much as an obviously modern word would.

      The Regency and the Napoleonic era in general have very staunch fans who know the language. Now I do think that one can be much more relaxed in the narrative than in dialogue, but even so– why not take the trouble? As long as I don’t make reading it harder, it seems to me that it can serve the story.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Thank you. I had not found an earlier source for windswept. I’m relieved that my decision to use it anyway is not unfounded.

      The other two words were in use, but not in the way I was using them in the manuscript. Alas.

  9. Diane Farr Golling

    Excellent research. Thank you for taking such pains. I’m amazed more writers of historical fiction don’t even know that “hello” was not a word prior to the invention of the telephone … I see it constantly in books that are otherwise pretty convincing!