Some weeks ago, I wrote about what I have learned from historical romance, focusing on historic events and places of interest. But this is not the only way these books have shaped me: I have also picked a number of words from them. With this I don’t mean technical terms like words for carriages, clothing etc, which only describe items in their historical context and which I understand, but – for obvious reasons – don’t use in daily conversation. What I mean are words that are old-fashioned in present-day English, but which I have picked up from historical romances and that have slipped into my usage of English, sometimes to the astonishment of my listeners. As a non-native speaker, it can be difficult for me to distinguish between words that are commonly used in present-day English, and those that are regarded as unusual by native speakers!
Starting point was the word ‘fortnight’, which I recently used to my fellow reviewers here at AAR as in “this was an incredibly busy fortnight”. Another example of this kind is ‘detestable’. When I first came to England in 1986, I used this word to the amazement of my au pair mother, who wondered why I didn’t just say ‘awful’ instead. Well, in my reading I had not picked up ‘awful’ prior to this, whereas ‘detestable’ must have come from one of the dozens of Georgette Heyer novels I had read.
Here are some examples for words that my collegues at AAR use which they got from romances:
Leigh Davis: “I picked up ‘slothful’ from regencies.”
And Lynn Spencer learned to refer to annoying boys in her class as “horrid” from reading Regency trads.
Lee Brewer: “One day I told an attorney I really liked her ‘frock’. She said, ‘wow, that’s not a word I hear very often.’”
Dabney Grinnan in response to this: “I used the word ‘frock’ in a sentence the other day and my 14 year old daughter told me no one uses that word. I told her I did! ”
Now I also use ‘frock’ now and then; its source are Mary Stewart’s novels – contemporary in the 1950s and 60s, but from a historic period by the time I read them. What words from historical romances have found have slipped into your active vocabulary? Have people remarked about them? And do you think using old-fashioned words a charming or a slightly annoying quirk?
- Rike Horstmann