One of the things I learned as an early writer, was to write the books I want to read. I've been reading historical romance since 1975, so I'm no stranger to the genre. Steamy bodice rippers, filled with damsels in distress and the men who rescued them.
From these books, I gained a better understanding of not only history, but the words that were used at that time. Some of these words are obsolete now, or have come to mean different things in this new millenium. I was recently brought to task by a reviewer who claimed that I was using words that didn't make sense. She said --
"It's as if she's trying to show off her vocabulary by using the "big words" but she doesn't know what they mean so it comes off as amateurish."
Uh, no. I do know what they mean. Every single one of those "big" words, and a couple of the small ones too.
I use an etymological dictionary, which shows me EXACTLY when the word was first used, which language it originally came from, when it became an "English" word, and how it was used back then.
For instance, this reviewer claimed in THE LADY'S FATE that I used the term "nanny" in the wrong context, that nanny was not a word back then, and I should have said "governess" or "nurse/nursemaid".
I beg to differ, but the word "nanny" is listed in my etymological dictionary as being in use from 1795, and as my book is set in 1810, I have 15 years for it to be commonplace in the language.
I had also used the word "obloquy" once, and one of my regular readers said it stopped her reading because she had to look the word up in her "reference" dictionary because her regular dictionary didn't have it. The word is considered obsolete. I bowed to her observation, but I didn't like it. Now that I'm in the process of re-editing this novel, I'm putting it back in.
When I was reading historical romance all those many years ago, and I would stumble across one of those words, it was almost like a treasure hunt for me to find out what the word meant, and then to use it in a sentence. People today have no patience for the big words. They want instant gratification an don't want to be plagued by having to use a dictionary.(Or click out of their document to click on the dictionary app. God forbid, if they have to actually find a dictionary BOOK.)
Which I think is very sad. I think reading should get harder as children grow up, not easier. I think books should have some "big" words to stumble over. I think every house should have a big fat dictionary somewhere in the living room or kitchen and I think the next time my daughter asks me, "Mom, what does this word mean?" I am going to tell her, "Look it up in the dictionary."
Anne Gallagher (c) 2013