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  • Writer's pictureHeather Moll

Word Choice Part 2: Is it regency or modern?

I’m back with more modern sounding words that are actually regency-setting appropriate. Check out my first post about the “Tiffany Problem” in historical fiction and see some words I’ve used or come across that might sound modern but were actually in use in Austen’s day.

I use Google’s Ngram and the Online Etymological Dictionary along with primary sources in Google books to determine if a word was in use, and in use in the same way, when I set my books.


In a book I have out next year there’s a pregnant character who has been eating snacks—as she should—but I needed a way to express that. Tiny morsel? Slight repast? A bite between meals? It turns out that 'snack' as a verb and a noun are a-okay for my book set in 1811 since it was as used as a noun by the 1750s. Maria Edgeworth uses the word in The Limerick Gloves (1813) in the context of a character who has been told to eat a snack before dinner because he tends to eat a lot at the table and his wife thinks he'll appear ungentlemanly.


In another book I'll also put next year, Darcy wants to be a little evasive and I needed a synonym for ‘hedge’. It obviously meant a boundary of shrubs in 1812, and it turns out it also meant to insure oneself against a loss, as in a bet, since the 1760s. But it turns out the verb meaning to avoid committing oneself was first recorded in the 1590s.

That means the following exchange could stay:

“Do you enjoy the whirlwind of social activity?” she asked with interest.
“Some of it,” he hedged.

In another book I’m plotting now, I had a scene where Elizabeth is reassuring Georgiana Darcy that she wouldn’t allow anyone to bully her, but I thought that sounded rather modern. I thought that it’s meaning in the context of “bully for you” was the only meaning until recently. But it turns out that Johnson’s Dictionary (1806) defines bully as:


BULLY (v.a) To overbear with noise or menaces and BULLY (v.n) To be noisy and quarrelsome.


I haven’t decided whether or not to keep the word, but at least it’d be understood by my regency characters if I do.


In that same book I’m working on, I needed a mild childhood illness and I first thought of the chicken pox, but did they know what that was in Regency England? Did they mistake it for mild small pox? Well, possibly, but chicken pox was absolutely understood as its own disease and treated at this time. It was known to typically be mild and the sort of thing all children had. Doctor’s even knew that if you got it once, you didn’t get it a second time.


I’m always trying to balance readability with accuracy. Would you believe it if characters talked about their children getting the chicken pox or having a snack? Would you assume the author was right, or would you assume the author made a mistake?



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7 Kommentare


Randi Chance
Randi Chance
13. Juli

I just read this again, and realized that in the same paragraph I told you that (a) many readers will assume a questionable word is wrong and (b) your work is respected so I am sure most readers realize that you do your research! 😂😂 Apparently my brain needs an editor! I do remember being tired when I wrote it.


I suppose in the end, you have to decide whether the word fits better than the alternatives, and if it does, go for it. The words you're bringing up, the ones that sound non-Regency but actually are, are not nearly so jarring as the REAL offenders some authors use, like the infamous "OK." If you know you are right, i…

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mrsmarway
08. Juli

I'd have checked snack for sure. I use the two resources you mentioned all the time when reading arcs or doing an edit for someone. I love the surprises I find. Can't wait to read all these books you are working on!

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Heather Moll
Heather Moll
09. Juli
Antwort an

Snack sounds so modern, doesn't it? But a pregnant Elizabeth deserves to have as many snacks as she wants, right? It's actually been fun to investigate some of these words and see what's very recent versus what is incredibly old.

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lizhart459
08. Juli

I wouldn't question chicken pox because it sounds like an old term to me. Various types of pox are often referred to. Based on context, I've assumed an STD or something like chickenpox, but they're usually referred to as simply "the pox." I might have more problem with snack. If proofreading or reading an ARC, I'd ask about the word snack. As a reader I'd give the author the benefit of the doubt, especially to an author known to research words, and not prone to multiple writing errors.

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Heather Moll
Heather Moll
09. Juli
Antwort an

You're a very thorough ARC reader! I ended up keeping snack in that one manuscript, but I know some readers might assume I messed up. It was such a better word than all the other phrases. Hopefully, my reputation will keep it from getting flagged by readers who think they know better or who won't bother to check!

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Randi Chance
Randi Chance
08. Juli

That's a tough one. If something stops me as I am reading because it doesn't seem Regency accurate, I usually turn to the Internet to find out the earliest use. Usually, I discover that the author was justified in using the word. But of course, a lot of other readers won't take the trouble to do that and will just assume the author is wrong, unfortunately. I think "chicken pox" would have me checking. It's news to me that it isn't a modern diagnosis! Snack -- I am not sure. I might wonder and then give you the benefit of the doubt. Good luck deciding! Your work is respected, so I am sure most readers realize you do your research.

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Heather Moll
Heather Moll
09. Juli
Antwort an

It's a tough balance. If there are things I'm debating on using, I'll usually google search too to see what the top hits are to know what a reader would find if they didn't believe it and searched. But you're right that some readers would just assume I was an idiot and not give me the benefit of the doubt! 😂

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