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Writer’s Quote Wednesday: eggcorns wrecking havoc

Hawthorne

Words are wild unpredictable tools. That’s why (no matter how slowly the fundraising is going) I love writing a dictionary. The wild unpredictability of words is why I’ve chosen this Nathaniel Hawthorne quote for Writer’s Quote Wednesday.

Hawthorne is right that words are potent in the hands of those who know how to combine them, but people who know how to use words are like lion tamers because words are still a potent force in the mouths of people who have no idea what they are saying. That’s why we sometimes want to take words back after we’ve said them.

Hawthorne knew this. That’s why he wanted to take his first novel back after he published it. As an older more experienced writer, he no longer felt that Fanshawe (1828) reflected his ability, or his brand, as a writer. Hawthorne went so far as to destroy every copy of the book he could get his hands on. After his death, his wife even denied he had ever written a book by that title.

I also have a first novel that I don’t feel entirely comfortable sharing with the world. It’s a politically-charged drama that was the result of my thesis writing as a student. I only want to write historical fiction now, so I empathize with how Hawthorne must have felt.

On a smaller scale, the wild unpredictability of words causes this kind of embarrassment whenever we have to stand helpless watching an unchecked phrase that we’ve unleashed wreak havoc in the world.

wreak havoc: to cause or effect chaos (1817)

On point, wreak is such a weird word, meaning to cause or effect, as in the definition above. A common eggcorn of the idiom “to wreak havoc” is “to wreck havoc.”

eggcorn: a linguistic term for an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase that also bears a phonetic likeness (1844)

I like to imagine that eggcorn sprung from the use of ear horns, but that’s another story.

eggcorn

The notion of wrecking havoc is so far off of what people are meaning to say with “wreaking havoc” that it actually means the opposite. Havoc means chaosWreak means to causeWreck means to break, or otherwise ruin. Consequently, to wreck chaos would be to end/destroy/break chaos, thereby restoring order.

See why it is so important to know how to combine your words?

Have you ever written/published something you were embarrassed by? Know any good examples of an eggcorn? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Happy Valentine’s Day: Victorian Etiquette Manuals Reinforced Performative Gender Roles

heteronormative

Roses are red/Gender is performative/Mass Market Romance/Is heteronormative

This little gem started circulating throughout my social network last night and I couldn’t be happier.

“Roses are red” gives it a fun Valentine’s Day theme.

The nineteenth century illustrates how performative gender is even if they didn’t know it yet. The Victorian’s obsession with etiquette famously fuelled manuals on how to properly be a lady, or a gentleman.

Look up “homosexual in the OED Historical Thesaurus and the words begin in 1892 with Richard von Kraft-Ebbing’s Psychopathia Sexualis. Though they didn’t have the language to express it clearly, Victorian England periodically had homophobic heart attacks, as is evidenced in the case of Fanny and Stella, a pair of flamboyant trans-women.

Cross-dressing was popular in the nineteenth century and naturally part of the LGBT community. Yes, although they didn’t use that term for it, nineteenth-century England had an LGBT community. Women, like Fanny and Stella, were called “Mollies,” by people in the know, and could meet kindred spirits by frequenting “Molly Houses.”

Other words that emerged for homosexuals in the 1890s included: “Uranian” and “invert.” It was more polite to call your gay friend a “confirmed bachelor.” My other blog has more on the sexual orientation of men in the 1890s.

Lesbians were female “companions,” as in the case of the best-selling novelist, Marie Corelli, and her female companian, Bertha Vyver. People didn’t generally start worrying much about what lesbians were doing until the 1920s. Though, “Sapphism” became a thing in the eighteenth century. This term originated with the Greek poet Sappho who lived on Lesbos Island. All the terms related to Sappho can be traced through the Victorian Era and Wonder Woman comics.

Mass-market romance is still heteronormative even if gender-neutral terms of endearment have permeated our language throughout history. I’m happy to say that the digital era is making everything more democratic and entertaining. This Valentine depicts love between the Hulk and the Beast (of Beauty and the Beast). I love this one with Catwoman and Wonder Woman, but who doesn’t love Wonder Woman?

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Ten of the Most Romantic Words You Never Knew

Romantic Words

The Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties celebrates the coming of Valentine’s Day by sharing ten of the most romantic words you never knew… or have I too underestimated your vocabulary?

  1. numinous adj. describing an experience that makes you fearful yet fascinated, awed yet attracted; the powerful, personal feeling of being overwhelmed and inspired.
  2. serein n. a fine rain falling from a cloudless sky.
  3. cordiform adj. heart-shaped.
  4. eudaimonia n. human flourishing; a contented state.
  5. sweven n. a vision seen in a dream.
  6. selcouth adj., adv., n. (to make or be/the state or characteristic of) unfamiliar, unusual, rare; strange, marvellous, wonderful.
  7. trouvaille n. something lovely that was found by accident.
  8. basorexia n. the overwhelming desire to kiss (this is a medical term).
  9. philocaly n. the love of beauty.
  10. redamancy n. the act of loving someone who loves you; a love returned in full.

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A mini-guide for writing Victorian erotica

Ashbee

This post is about the language of sex.

“I loved cunt, but also she who had it; I like the woman I fucked and not simply the cunt I fucked, and therein is a great difference.” Excerpt From: Anonymous. “My Secret Life, Volumes I. to III. / 1888 Edition.

Erotica is a growing field of literature, especially in eBooks. Erotica is also a growing branch of historical fiction. My Secret Life by Walter is a great place to go for tips on how to make your nineteenth-century characters talk dirty to each other, until I am able to give you a copy of the Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties of course!

My Secret Life is the memoir of a nineteenth-century gentleman’s sex life. It was first published over the course of about seven years, beginning in 1888. It’s long and repetitive, but offers a frank discussion of hidden aspects of nineteenth-century life.

Although the work is attributed to Herbert Spencer Ashbee, he doesn’t look like the kind of guy who would talk about ‘fucking a cunt,’ but ‘cunt’ and ‘fuck’ were commonly used in Victorian pornographic literature. The words, ‘cunt’ and ‘fuck’ predate Victorian literature by hundreds of years. That means it wasn’t just Victorians, who used those words, their grandparents used those words!

NaughtyWords

Other old words for female genitals include: ‘chose,’ ‘privy chose’ (the vulva), ‘honour,’ ‘muff,’ ‘pussy,’ ‘cunny,’ ‘bearing place,’ ‘lap,’ twat,’ and my personal favourite ‘crinkum-crankum.’ ‘Shell’ and words related to shells could also be related to female genitalia, like ‘conch’ and ‘cunnus.’

Male genitalia could be referred to as: ‘jock,’ ‘arrow,’ ‘loom,’ ‘member’ or ‘virile member,’ ‘virility,’ ‘needle’ (though if you used that now, it would sound like you were diminishing its size), ‘cock,’ ‘other thing,’ manhood,’ propagator,’’handle,’ ‘shaft,’ and ‘Roger.’ There are more specifically Victorian words for penises though, like ‘organ,’ ‘intromittent apparatus,’ ‘root,’ ‘middle leg,’ ‘pisser,’ and words that sound like names, including: ‘Dick,’ ‘Mickey,’ ’Johnson,’ ‘Peter,’ and ‘John Thomas.’ I’m sorry to anyone actually named ‘John Thomas.’

‘John Thomas canoodled her honour’ is a very Victorian sounding sentenced, but it doesn’t sound very sexy, like: ‘His middle leg was now in her lap.’

There are fewer words that are anachronistic to Victorian erotica. ‘Pecker,’ ‘willy,’ ‘dong,’ ‘wang,’ and ‘schlong’ have no place in nineteenth-century bawdy talk, whereas ‘cock’ is perfectly acceptable. If you are talking about lady parts, don’t say ‘snatch,’ or ‘beaver,’ but ‘cunt’ is fine, as Ashbee demonstrates (I think it was Ashbee, who wrote or compiled My Secret Life).

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A Victorian Dictionary

Victorian Dictionaries are all about the words they used that make modern readers feel like Inigo Montoya – “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The Victorianachronists

In the back of my Harper Collins E-book version of North and South, there’s an appendix called “Classic Literature: Words and Phrases, adapted from the Collins English Dictionary.”  Skimming through, I noted that there were a number of words that have modern meanings quite different from the definition listed.  Some of these have confused me in the past when I’ve come across them in novels, so I thought I’d share a few with you.

The following text is from “Gaskell, Elizabeth.  North and South, Harper Press Collins Classics, London 2012.”

Artificially ADJ artfully or cleverly

bait VERB to stop on a journey to take refreshment, “They stopped to bait the horse…”

basin NOUN a cup without a handle “who is drinking his tea out of a basin” (this one could be a bit confusing – someone is moon-shining in the tub?)

by hand PHRASE a common expression meaning that…

View original post 247 more words

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Home… Soil… Rain…

b41e68d2146a0afcf43f5be337941dcc

This is not exactly free association, but I’ve been inspired by the daily prompt to riff on home, soil, and rain with some Victorian words for you, as I look out my window and see nothing but snow.

Home played an integral role in Victorian culture. Victorian morality was built and maintained at home, and the home was presided over by those domestic angels, the wife and mother. ‘Householdy’ and ‘householdness’ were used the way millennials use ‘random’ and ‘addicting’ to describe things that aren’t random, or addictive, at all. (On a side note, ‘addictive’ is an adjective; if you put the suffix ‘ing’ on a word, it’s a verb.)

Boarding_house

In mid-nineteenth century American slang, a ‘drum’ was a house that was not a home, like a boarding house, or some other place that you slept regularly, but didn’t feel at home.

‘Home,’ in the larger sense of the word, isn’t just your house, but your town. ‘Ham’ was a Victorian abbreviation of ‘hamlet,’ and was recognized as meaning such as the suffix of popular surnames, like ‘Billingham.’ Around the time of the Boer War, the term ‘stad,’ with its Dutch roots, also increasingly referred to the town someone was from in English.

‘Soil’ also has feminine connotations because things grow inside Mother Earth. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the oldest recorded use of the term ‘Mother Earth’ refers to ‘her’ reproductive qualities.

“And all the while in bellie of His mother Earth it lies, The want of humour in the seede The moistie soile supplies.” – Mancinus & Dominicus, “The Plaine Path to Perfect Vertue,” 1568.

Doesn’t the Earth have enough problems without us throwing gender on it and debating its reproductive rights? Sometimes soil is just dirt.

It needs rain, which the Victorians enjoyed referring to as ‘waterworks,’ as in “The fireworks were put out by the waterworks.” Though, colloquially, that just makes us think of tears. When miserable people love company, our fireworks are extinguished by their waterworks.

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Serenity through the ambiguity of language

serenity

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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