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.

0 Responses to “gyargh”

  1. shveta_thakrar

    *sends kudos*

    I appreciate it! I’m also impressed that you know about the Thuggees–yes, okay, you’re a linguist and historian, but still. 😉

  2. sora_blue

    Well, we’ll notice now thanks to the power of livejournal.

    • Marie Brennan

      Those examples, yes.

      But there are dozens of others even I don’t remember anymore.

      • Anonymous

        Doesn’t it make you want an appendix? “Appendix A: All the Words Marie Couldn’t Use Because They Weren’t In Use Yet”

        • Marie Brennan

          Appendix B: All The Other Things That Are Painstakingly Researched, So You’d Better Appreciate Them, Or Else.

          Appendix C: No, That Isn’t An Error, I Just Did More Research Than You.

          Appendix D: All The Research I Never Got To Make Use Of, That I Will Now Inflict On Everyone.

          Maybe I’m better off without appendices.

          • mrissa

            Appendix C is the one that will really make you tear your hair out.

          • leahbobet

            Just write out some form rejections for when people e-mail you to complain that it’s an error, no, you really didn’t do more research than them. *g*

          • deedop

            Better that than Book D: All the Plot Jettisoned for All the Research I Will Now Inflict on Everyone for Seven Hundred Pages.

            (aka, the Jean Auel method.)

            My fear with historical research is that I just do not trust my memory AT ALL. For example I could have sworn I read the phrase “it’s all gone pear-shaped” in Boswell, yet every source I can find tells me the expression began with aviators screwing up their loops. And yet I know I ran across “pear-shaped” while doing research for the 1750s. Is my memory that bad or did a historian screw up somewhere, or is the aviator thing wrong? I haven’t a clue, and I’m certain that’s only tip of a very large iceberg where turns of phrase are concerned. (Being a writer with a crappy memory: no fun at all.)

          • Marie Brennan

            I have learned from Midnight Never Come that I should keep much better notes of where I got the info I’m using in the text. I ended up double- and triple-checking things in a very time-consuming fashion, because I kept questioning whether I’d gotten them right in the first place.

  3. tltrent

    Ah the travails of writing historical…(And being a perfectionist about it…);)

    • Marie Brennan

      And yet I have volunteered to do more of these things . . . each one in a different century.

      I am an idiot.

      • tltrent

        Um…been there, done that. I’ve jumped from Reconstruction era to Victorian Scotland/London and now to ancient Egypt. I am insane. Oh yes, I am.

        *bangs head w/you*

  4. shadowhelm

    Yeah, I hear you. I’ve had a couple of anachronistic items worm their way in. Luckily, you caught it before it hit print.

    And hi! I friended you. Another fantasy author; just seemed like the thing to do.

  5. m_stiefvater

    As a history major, I appreciate your efforts . . . as a contemporary fantasy writer, I laugh and say “I don’t have to do that!! Ha ha ha!!!”

  6. kernezelda

    *raises hand and grins* I would have noticed, due to a lifelong, yet sporadic interest in random etymology.

    On the other hand, I did not know that paranoid didn’t originate with Freud.


    • Marie Brennan

      You may notice the words I use, but it’s all but impossible to notice the ones I don’t use.

      The OED had the earliest English usage of “paranoid” some time at the end of the eighteenth century, I think — too lazy to open it up again to see — but it wasn’t common until later, and apparently it wasn’t used in German until 1909.

  7. tezmilleroz

    Ah, knew there was a good reason I don’t write historicals…I’m just not with the times 😉

    You still get to call people wenches and trollops, right? There still is some fun in 19th century England, aye?

    Have a lovely day! 🙂

    • Marie Brennan

      16th century for this book. 19th century for the next one. ^_^

      I used the word “knave” to replace “thug,” so yes, there is fun.

  8. drydem

    I think it’s slightly worse when Walsingham says “w00t” on page 93.

    I remember at one point in a medieval LARP someone referred to a situation as a “powder keg” and then got pissy at me when I stared blankly at them.

  9. desperance

    Oy! We know, and we notice. Never mind the rest of ’em; you’re playing in tune for us. We know…

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