And then sometimes, even though you read your copy-edited manuscript out loud, even though you had the online OED open in a tab almost the entire time you were writing your book, you get to the page proofs — the stage when alterations can have expensive consequences — and you realize your Elizabethan novel has the word “thug” in it.
Which comes from the Thuggee cult in India, and didn’t enter English until the nineteenth century.
Here’s the thing about this kind of work, the obsessive checking of word histories to root out any glaring anachronisms. It’s like being the CIA. Nobody will notice when you do your job right. Nobody will look at a paragraph and say, “Good on her! She didn’t refer to this character as paranoid, because we didn’t have that word until Sigmund Freud* came along!” Success is utterly invisible. They’ll only notice when you screw up, when you call someone a thug two hundred and twenty-five years too soon.
This is one heck of a thankless job.
*Yes, I know the word didn’t actually originate with him. Remember, I have the OED. It just sounded better that way.