Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pocahontas isn't the bee's knees. . .

Credible characters must live in the correct environment, eat, dress, and most important, SPEAK within the context of their time period. Here's a brief review of the best book I've found to date for making sure what the character says is authentic.

I Hear America Talking: An Illustrated History of American Words and Phrases by Stuart Berg Flexner (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976) is a different kind of "dictionary" which authors can use to make sure that their characters don't speak in terms that weren't even in use in that time and place.
It's a big book (505 pp with index). If you're looking for a specific term, go to the index first. Otherwise, browse by subject matter such as Cowboys, Goin' Courtin', Jails and Jailbirds, Pretty Girls, The Roaring 20s, and The New Woman. 
Each section gives a brief (or lengthy, as necessary) history of the subject and, occasionally, some pithy comments and related songs. Explanations for words and phrases used in the context of the subject, along with the (approximate) year that the word was first used in that context, make interesting reading and imperative research for writers who want to write with creditibility and realism.
So, if you're curious about such terms as dude, dogie, tenderfoot, bill and coo, spark, spoon, lovey-dovey, calaboose, the pokey, two-time loser, the cat's pajamas, the bee's knees, snake's hips, bachelorettes, and bloomers, you'll find it all here. In addition, there's everything you'd like to know but would never ask about less eloquent language. . .um. . .you get my drift. . .
The book is a permanent resource, one that won't stay shelved for long at a time.

Books by the same author:


All available at Amazon

1 comment:

Donna Alice said...

These are super resources!! I'll be getting them asap! Nothing throws me out of a story faster than the writer using a term that didn't exist in the time period.