Saturday, 1 November 2014

Anachronism: something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time

My characters are fiction, and how their lives unfold is completely a figment of my imagination. However, they live in a world that was, peppered with people who were, and are influenced by events the actually occurred. I research endlessly and thoroughly, keen to be historically accurate. I also strive to keep those real people as true to their actions and personalities as I can, based on what written accounts of their lives and actions exist.

That is the easy part of writing historical fiction. The harder part is spotting anachronistic language in my writing. Take for example, angst. Visually, it’s an odd word, looks rather old. Yet, it didn’t come into common language until the mid-19th century—one hundred years too late for Raven’s Path. Now, when you spot it, it’s an easy fix. Anxiety hit the streets in the 16th century. That works. Although, tread cautiously if you are writing in an earlier period than mine; anxious and its varied incarnations as adjective, adverb or noun, did not join anxiety until the 17th century.

I’ve gotten quite used to writing a word, getting a nettlesome feeling about it and heading off to the etymology dictionary to confirm its origin. It happened the other day while writing the sequel to Raven’s Path (tentatively titled Crossroads). Ana tripped, smacking down on her knee and I wrote “Ow!” It looked modern, so off I trekked to check. As an expression of surprise, 14th century, as one of pain, not until 1919! Hers was definitely a pain reaction, so that would not do. Ouch? 1837. Where to now?

What does one say when experiencing sudden pain? More precisely, what does one say in 1750? I could write grunted, groaned, screamed, yelled—you get the idea—but I found those too passive for the moment. I actually Googled “expressions for pain” and came across an oddly interesting article, The Language of Pain.

This language of pain has no consonants, but consists only of vowels: ow! aiee! oy! oh! These are the sounds the sufferer makes, each punctuated by grunts, hiccoughs, sobs, moans, gasps. It is a self-absorbed language that might have been the first ever uttered by prehistoric man. Perhaps it was learned from animals. These howled vowels have the eloquence of the wild, the uncivilized, the atavistic. Comprehension is instantaneous, despite the absence of what we call words. It is a mode of expression beyond normal language. Nor could it be made more passionate or revelatory by the most gifted writer. Not even by Shakespeare.

Another anachronistic crisis averted. Get rid of the consonants. Now, if only that simple rule applied to other anachronisms.J


  1. Nifty link! I really think I exhausted my research of the past when I was teaching History. Maybe that's why I write contemporary or SF. It's just easier. ;-)

  2. Zan Marie,

    Ah, easy is a term relative to the person saying it. :o) I think each genre comes with its own set of joys and challenges.

  3. The Language of Pain, how interesting! It's true though, that it has it's own language. Nifty resource.