Writer’s Quote Wednesday: Love and Corelli


It’s Wednesday again!

Marie Corelli was the best-selling novelist in the UK from 1886 until World War I. Her books sold more copies than Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Rudyard Kipling put together.

Because of her popularity, the literary community dubbed her work as too ‘householdy.’

householdy n. domestic; or feminine (pejorative).

As a person, Corelli was about as unconventional as a Victorian woman could be. She lived with her life-companion, Bertha Vyver, and fancied things like taking a gondola on the Avon, complete with a gondolier that she had brought over from Venice.

Her popularity dropped off quickly during World War I, when she was accused of hoarding rations.

I selected this quote from the preface to Wormwood: A Drama of Paris (1890) because it resonates with how I feel about my life and my own relationship. Falling in love with my husband has made me more me than I have ever been in my life. In my autobiography, everything that happened before will be pre-history.

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Serenity through the ambiguity of language


Serenity‘ is an old word –  even for this dictionary. It dates back to 1525. It’s been spelled ‘serenyte,’ ‘serenitie,’ and ‘serenity.’ Someone once told me that they thought it meant peace. I think of it as a decadent kind of peacefulness, in which you can read and really listen to the words in your head.

“How can one be a quietist in London? I never get a moment’s real quiet. This morning I went to St Barnabas and thought I should be quiet there but carpenters came in and sawed wood until I went away.” – Constance Wilde, quoted in Frany Moyle, “Constance: the Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde,” (2014).

Typical of her time, Constance Wilde explored spirituality and meditation with a passion, she was looking for peace of mind to ease her poor health. Quietism seemed to me the greatest quest for serenity.

Quietism is a form of Christian worship, in which one seeks to become one with the divine. It is a form of meditation, thought to bring you closer to God.

Quietist philosophers view the discipline as broadly therapeutic or remedial, and feel that philosophy’s value is in resolving logical problems in other subjects, including other branches of philosophy. Intellectual quietude can be attained by resolving confusion of thought. Much of this confusion can be resolved through ascertaining the meaning of words, and the use of language. Quietist philosophers sought to attain a state of intellectual enlightenment by resolving thought and language problems.

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.

This lead to Ordinary Language Philosophy, which sought to make language unambiguous. If only language could be clear and straightforward, they thought, then so many philosophical problems would be resolved. To them, philosophical problems were created when we forget what words mean.

This phenomenon of forgetting the meaning of words is one I am familiar with, but it is one of the greatest sources of serenity in my life. I deeply empathize with Constance Wilde’s quest for quiet, and share in many of her physical challenges, but I seek something very different. I adore ambiguous words, like ‘twitterly,’ a mid-nineteenth century synonym for feebly that implies that you have all the strength to offer of a weak little bird. Few people reading that word today will understand what it meant in 1846. It recalls tweets, girlishness, chatter, and fluttering about.

As a reader, I love finding a well-crafted sentence that provides so many layers of meaning. I’ve also spent entirely too much time thinking and writing about the etymology of a dunce to not finish this project.

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Propaedeutic Cyborgs, or Why I Wish James Harbeck Wrote Victorian Fiction

A word isn’t much good if it can only mean one thing at a time. – James Harbeck

James Harbeck is a blogger I admire. We share an interest in language, and I think he’s better at it than I am.

I strive to give words character, but he effortlessly cooks them up, infusing them with flavours, and smells. ‘Propaedeutic‘ tastes like Donna Haraway’s Manifesto of the Cyborg, and smells like the university campus where I first read her. My language is populated with ruffians, like the people in the pub on that campus.

To be propaedeutic is to be very cursory, but, as Harbeck points out, using this word will make you sound professorial in the way my old roommate hated. Use of the word, ‘propaedeutic,’ is for those who have been exercising their use of English words for a very long time. ‘Cursory’ even sounds a little heuty teuty. Use the word ‘superficial’ and you will sound more judgmental, and less worthy of harsh judgement.  Use a string of other words that basically mean the same thing, and you will sound like a noob, or in Victorian:

newie n. (1856) a noob

I wrote about being new to English yesterday. Newie-ness brings fresh eyes on an old conversation. Fresh perspectives make language interesting.

Though he might be a better writer and I admire him so, Harbeck isn’t better than me (I tell myself); we serve different lexicographical purposes. As I’ve been told in my Blogging 101 course, my lexicographical purpose is strange. It’s like I’m building a time machine, so that I can take writers back over 115 years and introduce them to their verbal ancestors.

Old Robot Header

I’ve been treating words like characters because my role is to introduce them to you, so that you (all of you wonderfully talented Harbecks) can reintroduce them to the reading public with all of their multiple meanings and flavours. It is exactly because I admire other people’s writing so much that it is so important to me to finish the Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties.

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English is Strange


English is strange. Communicating through letters on a screen is strange too. Eventually, if my words are lucky, they will make it to the printed page, where readers can be alone with them.

Reading other people’s words on this screen leads me to the bottom of the virtual page, where little white boxes tempt me to tell other writers what I think of their words. Today’s assignment was to give into temptation four times.

leave a thoughtful comment

This assignment took much longer than I expected.

I fell in love with a phrase:

the lexically luxuriant luminary – sesquiotica

In the end, I remembered that just because a comment is long and well-written doesn’t mean it was well-considered. My last comment was probably the most thoughtful, and it was only three sentences long. The original post reminded me of the members of my family who still struggle to conjugate sentences in English, though it was beautifully written.

My Dutch grandmother reads faster than I do and recreationally more often, but is reluctant to write a letter in English. Yet, she has uttered some of the wisest most beautiful strings of English words I have ever heard – all in an accent.

Past versions of English are strange, but I want them to be fun. That is why I write about making up your own Victorian colloquialisms. There’s playfulness in the art of writing Victorian dialogue in the twenty-first century. That’s why I am writing the dictionary. The more we understand the words, the stranger they become.

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Dear Historical Fiction Author


We write historical fiction because it is easy to relate to situations from the past. Stories set in the past, whether closely related to something that actually happened, or not, speak to the present. Moreover, we tell our stories from the present. Feelings are timeless.

The human experience is timeless. In writing my novel, I related to my protagonist’s frustration with her love interest’s refusal to show as much interest in her as he had previously. The feeling I thought my readers could relate to was akin to waiting for a text message. The post was the 1890s equivalent to contemporary text messages. To convey the feeling correctly, I transposed that sense of frustration from repeatedly checking your iPhone to repeatedly checking the mail. The post came more frequently in 1890s London, so it was easier than I imagined, and I was happy with the result.

I want to help you tell your story. I don’t think I am better at telling stories than you are. You may have written more than I have, but I’ve been researching the Victorian era for over two years now.

My dictionary is much more than a collection of words. Words have contexts. The word ‘anthropoid’ carried different connotations in the latter part of the nineteenth century than it had in the first. ‘Deadlily’ sounds like a dead flower, but conveyed the sense of something more like a zombie to Victorians. These words provide layers of meaning. Some (not al) of your readers will get that and it will add richness to your text.

These words can also be fun and very specific.

I’m not creating this dictionary to make money. I would like to give it away for free as much as I possibly can. I would like to find ways for relevant historical society’s to use it as a fundraising tool. I want to help you write your stories. I want to hear your questions and feedback. If I can’t answer your questions, I will probably be able to find someone who can.

As I’ve been blogging about my research, and asking the internet my own questions, I’ve found support from academics and researchers all over the world, who have shared source material with me that I wouldn’t have been able to find anywhere else. I want to give back. If you are anything like me, you are my ideal reader.

Find me on Twitter @TinyApplePress

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Falling in Love with Words


Generally speaking, the word shows up in print after it is coined, not before, though we cannot discount the existence of a band of time-traveling linguistic trolls who have an inexplicable love of Lionel Barrymore. – Kory Stamper

I’m browsing other blogs today, as per the instructions of Blogging 101, while I wait for texts from my beloved 21 year-old only child, who is travelling back to Vancouver by air. It’s a pleasant way to pass the time, while I excessively worry about someone who is old enough and responsible enough to take care of themselves. The writers on WordPress have some wonderful things to say about words, and I think harm-less drudg-ery will quickly become one of my favourites. Stamper has a concise way of saying things I’ve been thinking about for a while.

But language is not a political system you can overthrow; it’s personal. Slur reclamation is risky business for both the oppressed, the oppressor, and the lexicographer. – Kory Stamper

That is exactly why I won’t be able to leave the offensive words out of the Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties, though I’ve always thought of myself as more of a lexophile. After I began my other blog, I quickly realized that I wasn’t the only one obsessed with Writers in London in the 1890s. I feel that is finally beginning to happen with the Dictionary Project.

Look at the blog. Sequiotica. I love what she has to say about thimbles.

The word thimble is also useful for making puns; in particular, thimble-minded suggests itself readily, though you probably won’t get to use it too often. It also has a taste of nimble (thimble-fingered?) and humble (thimblebrag?) and of course symbol (sex thimble?). – Sequiotica

And people who love words like talking about bad words because, in that context, we get to use them without the terrible consequences. Just look at the video for the Dictionary Project. Now look at this post on so long as it’s words.

At that time fuck was a word used to describe sex. It wasn’t used as a swearword as we’d use it today. So the ‘fucking’ here is probably being used literally: ‘Oh, that abbot who fucks a lot’. (Someone has tried to find evidence of this but the worst they could find was one pregnant nun nearby who may, or may not, have been shagged by the Abbot. If he WAS trying for Casanova’s record, he kept it quiet). – Kate Wiles

I love the naughty playful tone lexophiles take when discussing dirty words, love, love, love, love it!

So I’ve followed at least five of these today. I’ll be checking my Reader more often now. Thank you Blogging 101.

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I am a Crutcha Crackerjack

10612638_10154527398360574_6075079706575648719_nMy 2015 New Year’s Resolution is to finish the Dictionary Project. With my novel, I’ve found blogging to be a supportive tool for the process, and am participating in Blogging 101 to bring the some of the success that I’ve had with Writers in London in the 1890s to my Dictionary Project. That’s what I’m doing, not who I am.

I am a disabled scholar and writer. Doctors recommend that I don’t drive or go anywhere by myself because I have memory lapses and get lost. Some days are harder than others. I get bored easily. Boredom is my biggest fear, and memory lapses contribute to boredom by making it harder for me to read a novel. It was, at one time, difficult for me to admit that I was having trouble reading stories. My educational background is in history and literature, so reading stories used to be one of the things that I did best. Now, I often get bored going backwards through books to find the last thing I remember reading.

Some days are harder than others. I had a particularly bad spell some time ago. It wasn’t just difficult to read; it was difficult to write. I couldn’t hold on to complex ideas long enough to capture them in words. Thankfully, I’m married to the best man in the world, and only had to worry about being bored at this time. Even in the fog of my own brain, I know he is there for me.

To keep from going mad with boredom, I decided to read and write about individual words that could help me with my larger project later. My work at that time was crutcha

crutcha adj. (1834), imperfect and put together quickly

I was developing a long list of useful words, and was visiting message boards, where writers were asking about Victorian slang, and I began to realize that I was building something bigger than the little pieces of time that my memory could cobble together. What I was doing was crackerjack and so was I

crackerjack n. and v. (1895) something that is exceptionally fine or splendid. Also, a person who is exceptionally skillful or expert.

I wanted to know if this was something I should share with the world. @rshepherd1964 took time out of his busy far away life to proofread everything, and encouraged me to proceed with the project. He had lots of suggestions. I still have lots of work to do. With help, I will I finish in 2015.

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Politically Correct Words in History, Historical Fiction, and the Dictionary Project

From a Duke University 2012 Campaign.

From a Duke University 2012 Campaign.

I’ve been thinking of political correctness and historical fiction for some time now. My other major project is a novel set in 1890s London. But the problems presented by the words of the past present more of a conflict of interest for me in this project, creating and sharing a historical dictionary with other writers of historical fiction.

I believe that when someone complains about political correctness, what they are actually complaining about is how they are being forced to think about the needs of marginalized groups and how their reluctance to do so makes them look like an asshole. But I am not writing to discuss the state of our language today so much as I am writing to talk about the ways in which our perception of language has changed, and how that impacts the perception of a collection of words from a less-enlightened time.

I do not feel that removing offensive language from the Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties is an option for me. Yes, those words caused pain. I do not wish to preserve them so that they can cause further pain; I want to present them in a way that helps readers better understand the history of our language, so that my readers can better understand the contexts their characters are speaking in.

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 7.22.14 PMYet, there is a case to be made for removing offensive words. Last year, Hasbro removed a number of racial slurs from the Scrabble Dictionary.

“In its previous dictionary, Hasbro was literally playing games with hate,” said [Anti-Defamation League] ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman, “by supplying legitimacy to demeaning and hurtful stereotypes. Families play Scrabble together, and there should be no room on the board for prejudice.” [Source]

I support Hasbro’s decision, and the difference that I see between my dictionary and theirs is that mine records words that were used in the past, whereas the Scrabble Dictionary advocates for continued usage in game play.

As author’s of historical fiction, we have a responsibility to portray the past at least somewhat accurately. My characters are almost all historical persons. To eliminate the challenges they faced would be detrimental to the story and would diminish the hardships that they faced in real life. Some of my characters are gay; many are women. Life wasn’t easy for homosexuals and women in the 1890s, and I admire these historical people for living the lives that they lead – not in spite of the challenges they faced, but because the challenges they faced made everything so much more difficult for them.

Politically correct history prioritizes making its audience happy over presenting accurate representations of the past. It’s a kind of fiction in and of itself. I think it’s like the first cousin of propaganda, and can only distantly be related to art. Art, like history, sometimes makes people very uncomfortable. It would be a big stretch to call my dictionary art. I see it more as a box of paints for painters, only its words for writers. Omitting the politically incorrect words of the past, would be like expecting someone to paint a landscape without the colour blue.

Just like the use of the colour blue in a landscape, there are right and wrong ways to use historically accurate, but politically incorrect, language in historical fiction. The painter has an advantage over the writer in this case because its fairly obvious what’s blue. To help my readers, I intend to use this blog and the pages of my dictionary to demonstrate the correct usage of offensive old words. If a word is both offensive and obsolete, you may not want to use it because no one will understand what you mean. Though obsolete words can work well in some situations. I used to keep a dictionary blog that used lots of them.

In creating a historical dictionary for writers, I have taken on the responsibility of making it evident that a grandmother in 1863 London wouldn’t call anyone a ‘pie-biter,’ if only because the term was new and American. I will also make it my responsibility to make it clear that more offensive words are understood by the writers reading my dictionary so that it will be as uncomfortable to write them as it is to read them.

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