Thursday, May 29, 2014

Using Appropriate Words When Writing Historical Novels

I’m just getting into the world of historical novels. My first historical mystery, Murder on the Switzerland Trail, is under contract and is set in Boulder, Colorado, in 1919. I have also written a manuscript for another mystery taking place in the Vatican in 1656. One of the challenges in writing historical novels is using appropriate words for the timeframe.

At a recent meeting of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, fellow writer Robin Searle told me about a book titled English Through the Ages, which records when specific words came into common usage. This is a wonderful source book and should be in the library of anyone who writes historical novels.

I looked up a few words that I found interesting. Given our world of social media, I checked on the word twitter. It originated as a verb in 1375 and as a noun in 1680. Author first appeared in 1350 and writer’s block was in use by 1950.

As a mystery writer, I checked on a few other words: Murder-725, mystery (in literature)-1910, snitch-1785, hoosegow-1865, stir-1855, copper-1850, cop-1860, hoodlum-1880.

And, of course, since I write geezer-lit mysteries I had to check on the first use of geezer, which goes back to 1885.

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