more adventures with the OED

Dammit. “Idealist” is an anachronistic word for the period, and in its earliest usage, it referred to a specific philosophy. “Optimist” is also out-of-period. “Utopian” is not, but it doesn’t mean quite the same thing as “idealist,” and that’s the word I really want.

The answer to this, of course, is to say “to hell with the OED” and use the word anyway. I doubt anyone not reading this journal would ever notice the word in the novel and think, that’s anachronistic. But having established this principle in my prose, I’m remarkably unwilling to surrender it.

Maybe this will be the corollary to the use of “medieval” in Midnight Never Come. There just wasn’t a word in use back then that efficiently conveyed the period I was trying to reference, so I finally gave up and used it.

Yes, I do obsess this much. But most of you are not surprised. Those who are, are probably new to this journal.

0 Responses to “more adventures with the OED”

  1. aliettedb

    I do ask myself the question every time I write historical fantasy–and I’ve more or less come to the conclusion that it’s better not to angst too much over it. The problem is that taking this to its logical limit means that you’d end up writing a novel in the language of the period, which I’m not keen on doing (I like reading Shakespeare, but I wouldn’t want my genre novels with the same use of language).
    My rule of thumb is mostly seeing how many readers I bother (though of course, if there’s an easy, non-anachronistic option, I’ll take it).

    • Marie Brennan

      I don’t worry much about the grammar, but I track words because words interconnect with concepts; by policing my vocabulary, I also take steps to make sure my characters aren’t running around with modern ideas.

      • aliettedb

        Hum, good point. I usually run into heaps of trouble with the whole concept thing, though, because when I write in a non-Western culture, most common concepts don’t even have a proper English translation (I guess it’s the reason I more or less gave up on this).

  2. arielstarshadow

    Not surprised – but now I’m curious as to just how much time you spend researching words. Every word other than the most common (in which case, YIPES!!), or only those that you think might not be of the period?

    • Marie Brennan

      It varies. To take my above comment to Aliette, I might look up “police” as a verb — but probably not, because I know London didn’t establish a police force until a century later, so odds are good they didn’t use it as a verb in that sense, either. So I would just try to avoid it. Mostly it’s when I’m in the middle of typing a word and it occurs to me to wonder if it’s out-of-period.

  3. pameladean

    I keep meaning to tell you: my partner and I recently went to northern Minnesota to look at dragonflies at the source of the Mississippi River. On the way home we stopped at a bookstore in Baxter, a town of about 5500 people, but located right next to Brainerd, with 13,000 or so.

    The bookstore had a wildly eccentric sf and fantasy section. But they also had two shelves devoted to “Quality Fiction” (ordinary plain Fiction was right next to it, with ten or twelve shelves). And on that sacred spot was a copy of Midnight Never Come. While I made mental notes of what else was considered Quality Fiction, I’m sorry to say that all I recall now is three of those beautiful trade paperback reprints of Georgette Heyer’s novels — The Black Moth, False Colours, and These Old Shades. Still, I thought it would please or amuse you to hear this.


    • Marie Brennan

      Lovely! For some reason I’ve seen it shelved next to the Heyer reprints a lot, when it’s in a display. Not a bad thing, though — readers of historical fiction are not always sticklers for a particular period, so they might cross over.

      Thanks for letting me know!

  4. sora_blue

    I finished MNC last night. Twas a work of art.

    And no, I didn’t notice “medieval” wasn’t OED.

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