Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Historical words

I’ve spoken before about historical anachronisms, which ought to be avoided in your books,

but this is also true of romantic-type words to be used in historical stories. I have just finished reading a really good historical romance. The characters are lively and engaging yet completely true to the time period, which is wonderful. But the author used twentieth century words like “sexy” to describe her heroine.

I have no doubt women have been “sexy” for thousands of years, but that word didn’t come into use until the twentieth century. Even the word “sex” only meant gender, nothing else, back then.

However, anyone who read Chaucer in school knows that even in the Middle Ages there were plenty of words used to describe a pretty woman, a handsome man and human anatomy as well. There’s even a book from the seventeenth century that lists 552 synonyms for the f word. People who use that word in every second sentence today should be forced to read it.

Meanwhile, go to the online etymology dictionary ( and check that those words you are about to use were in common use back then. And please note, “bloody” as a swear word was NEVER used, even in England, between 1750 and 1920.
Happy researching.

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

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