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When a person is writing about the past, especially fiction, especially dialog, there is a temptation to go one of two ways. Either you find yourself sliding into 'ye olde timey pirate talk, arrg," or you render everything modern and strip the past away. It is hard to get the balance. (At least for me, maybe those of you who have done it more or longer have the trick of it.)

The late 18th century is strange enough. They were more formal in some ways, reserved when it came to first names, for instance. And they were totally willing to be profane, too. It is a strange blend to me. Part of it is the USA. A guy like Archie would have used the c-word, not as a particularly shocking and dreadful  curse, but simply as a noun. To me that is a total shock. (some small quavering part of me is saying 'I thought you were a nice boy!')

So, while staying away from that, I have tried to use their words and constructions as a sort of spice. I hope to give a feeling of the past, without going crazy with it, and making it all feel too far away.

So now I am attempting the exact lifetime of Shakespeare. And trying to do the same thing. As Charlie has said, we are fortunate. Plenty of words that we think of as 'modern' were used by him. The example she uses is 'punk.' I found 'suburb' as well, which amuses me. (Shakespeare and Marlowe were born the same year, and Mr S is a lot easier to find stuff out about.)

I have gotten myself a concordance of Shakespeare's works. I can punch a word in and find out if he used it. If he did, I can justify having Marlowe use it too. I am trying to do the spice thing. I hope it works. They are so strange, at once far and near, modern, and so long-gone. We view them through wavering light.

The C-word, if you are curious, is right there in Marlowe's translation of Ovid. (Kit never promised to be a good boy-- and I have my doubts about Ovid.)


( 54 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 5th, 2012 09:50 pm (UTC)
Archie a good boy? Pffft! ;)

For what it's worth I think you always hit the right note with your dialogue in your AoS writing. I am no shakespeare scholar so I'm looking forward to seeing what words you unearth from your concordance. Words are good, I love words. I remember being very surprised by Donat Henchy O'Brian using the phrase "hearts as cold as asbestos" in his memoir about his escape from Bitche. Amazing.

Kit never promised to be a good boy-- and I have my doubts about Ovid.
I have absolutely no doubts about Ovid ;)
Nov. 5th, 2012 10:29 pm (UTC)
All of this reminds me of the time you sent me those rugby songs, and I was completely astonished that respectable young men we might know of would sing things like that!

I think we are delicate flowers over here in the USA. (I know I am, can you tell??)

With Archie there is that whole upper class going-to-make-your-ears-shrivel profanity thing. It is and was the middle level that was so concerned with being proper.

(no subject) - anteros_lmc - Nov. 5th, 2012 11:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Nov. 6th, 2012 12:42 am (UTC)
Come and spend a while in Scotland. You'll be fully accustomed to the use of unlimited profanities in everyday speech in no time, LOL.

Yup, I do swear a lot in my normal speech, probably unconsciously too, so possibly even more than I realise I'm swearing... It's just standard language for most people here, I guess. I wouldn't be surprised if as a nation, Scottish people swear more than anyone else anywhere. :-D

To go off at a bit of a tangent, I'm currently reading Anthony Burgess's 'A Dead Man In Deptford' and loving the language and style he's found in that novel. I also really enjoyed Elizabeth Bear's writing in her novels 'Ink and Steel' and 'Hell and Earth' (historical fantasy featuring Shakespeare and Marlowe). Although quite different, both of these writers manage to create a sense of period language that works really well for me, although I suppose for some readers it might take a wee while to get into it initially.

Edited at 2012-11-06 12:43 am (UTC)
Nov. 6th, 2012 02:42 am (UTC)
I would love nothing more than to come to Scotland, and hear what you and Anteros and all have to say. I am not offended by sweary language, really.

I love 'A dead man in Deptford.' I finally had to stop reading it, for fear it would leak into my writing.

Another one I love is 'Christopherus, Tom Kyd's Revenge' It is the one and only fiction book I have ever read about Kyd. I think it is hard to find. I got it on Amazon though.

I liked 'Ink and Steel' very much too. I love how everyone sees Marlowe their own way.

(no subject) - anteros_lmc - Nov. 6th, 2012 12:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 7th, 2012 12:17 am (UTC)
Elizabeth Bear also includes Marlowe in The Slaughtered Lamb, a short story in the anthology: The Modern Fae's Guide to Surviving Humanity.
(no subject) - eveiya - Nov. 7th, 2012 01:09 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 6th, 2012 04:17 am (UTC)
The c-word is a REALLY TOUGH one for a modern American writer to use comfortably in historical dialogue. It would just have been anatomical, for them, a tad vulgar, but no more than "cock" or "prick," which I now write without the least blush, after years of Naughty Fanfic. But it's become so hateful, in modern American parlance, that only someone with nerves of steel can do it correctly for the characters.

I can't. My viscount would have used the word easily himself, but I rationalize the fact that he doesn't by deciding that he doesn't want to shock his gently-reared, very young bride, and so it goes to the usual circumlocutions of "inside", and when she only says "there" he echoes it back to her, since it's perfectly obvious to both of them what they're talking about (he's just kissed her there, after all), and so I perpetuate a certain ahistorical delicacy.

Interestingly, neither of the men wound up using "fuck," either, though it would have been unremarkable. The first time it would have come up, the one who ought to have used the word was feeling just a shade too vulnerable to say it, and that set the tone for everything after. Mostly they don't need it, it's understood. And around the young bride... thank goodness for the phrase "lie with."

Yet MORE interestingly, the young bride, in my head, has started using "fuck" in her OWN internal monologue describing some of the things they get up to. Stuff I haven't written yet. But, as she's grown in confidence, she's become willing to use such a direct word. Because it's not a BAD word for her, because what they're doing isn't bad at ALL. (Though the MPAA would faint!)
Nov. 6th, 2012 07:46 am (UTC)
I particularly noticed the way you handled that moment with them. I thought it was very realistic and sweet, and hot.

And of course, there are many moods of sexual interaction. The speechless vulnerability is perfectly historical if it is right for the person.

I was kidding with Anteros about being a delicate flower. I am no such thing of course. I grew up artificially inseminating goats in our kitchen. My mother had a chest freezer full of frozen Dunkin' Donuts, bits of our own butchered goats, and thermoses of semen.

I once delivered a friends baby.(Not planned, total accident,) Bodies don't scare me. But words... I had to practice saying 'penis' in the mirror, when my son was a tot. i wanted to teach him the right word, and I had never actually said it. Circumlocation, as you say.
(no subject) - julian_griffith - Nov. 6th, 2012 10:57 am (UTC) - Expand
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Nov. 6th, 2012 08:30 am (UTC)
hahaha It took me a while to think which word beginning with 'c' you were talking about!
having sung rugger songs with the 'nice young men' from a leading Public School (capitals because they are hyper private in the UK) when I was at school with them (oh the joys of being a pioneer girl in one of those establishments!) I've never done anything but call a spade a spade (except to refer to a 'person of color' ;) )
It seems to me that in the recent half century a kind of prurient prissiness has taken over the correct use of the English language; words that are inoffensive are deemed 'obscene' by the vocabulary-challenged (no-one here I hasten to add) and so the phrase 'this man is holding a teeny weeny pussy cat' was deemed by the 'mother of a christian household' - her words - on one website as to contain 2 obscenities!

A penis is a penis - that is the anatomical label - why have difficulty with it. By extension (oops!) the word 'chest' could give real problems (especially if you are writing about the C18 when suitcases didn't exist!)if you use it to convey the breasts.

My message is - read the genuine speech of the time (and there are plenty of boooks as you have discovered) not the ones bowlderized in C19 or the prissy euphemistic language that the dictats of the self-appointed guardians of our morality have inflicted on our language.

and be reassured 'eveiya'....it isn't just Scotland - it is the remnants of the British population that has a vocabulary of more than 250 words (texting-abbreviated) that uses the language as it was is and always should be!

PS - I'll remember the our reaction to the possible essay title one of our history teachers set (he read the list) "England's success was due to the strength of Elizabethan seamen" (you have to read it aloud to appreciate it!) Even he collapsed in giggles when he realized what he had said.

Edited at 2012-11-06 08:41 am (UTC)
Nov. 6th, 2012 12:26 pm (UTC)
If I couldn't make double entendres about pussy cats, the world would be a bleaker place indeed.

re: chest - no suitcases, as such, but surely there were sea-chests, and blanket chests? Though I am still sorting out the difference, in historical context, between a "chest" and a "press".

Books of the time - I certainly have read them. Part of my difficulty is that, at the turn of the 19th century, the shift to more delicate language was already taking place. I'd have a much easier time making a modern reader believe in a character of Chaucer's or Shakespeare's day saying "cunt" than one of Jane Austen's era.

And, oh dear, the way people giggle over "seamen." It's easy enough to make a historical character say it. A modern one? "Sailors" is MUCH easier without provoking giggles.
(no subject) - eglantine_br - Nov. 6th, 2012 02:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - vespican - Nov. 7th, 2012 12:28 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - eglantine_br - Nov. 7th, 2012 10:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 6th, 2012 11:19 am (UTC)
"...It is hard to get the balance..."

Charlton Heston once wrote about that, regarding 1959's "Ben-Hur".
Nov. 6th, 2012 03:49 pm (UTC)
and gore Vidal (who wrote the script) had to stop the director from having Mrs Hur (sic) from making her son a BLT before he went to the races!
(no subject) - serge_lj - Nov. 6th, 2012 04:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - provencepuss - Nov. 6th, 2012 09:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rikibeth - Nov. 8th, 2012 06:24 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 6th, 2012 12:04 pm (UTC)
And, of course, there's the c-word joke in Hamlet and the similar one in 12th Night.
Nov. 6th, 2012 12:28 pm (UTC)
But Shakespeare was deliberately being rude about that. He was playing on it being naughty to entertain the audience!

angevin2, who has a PhD in Shakespeare, swears that the way to maintain young people's interest in Shakespeare in a classroom is to emphasize the dick jokes.
(no subject) - charliecochrane - Nov. 6th, 2012 12:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Nov. 6th, 2012 03:50 pm (UTC)
never forget - what Uk English calls a 'bum' in the US it is a 'fanny' - and to us that is almost a rude word!
Nov. 6th, 2012 05:14 pm (UTC)
Definitely. Just as, to you, "cunt" is a fairly ordinary insult to be used regardless of gender (at least if I'm to judge by such sources as Withnail and I), whereas, in the US, "dick" is the word we'd use in a similar situation, and "cunt" is very nearly unspeakable.
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( 54 comments — Leave a comment )