by Maria Grace
In both reading and writing historical fiction, we’re on the lookout for expressions that do not fit the era. Most often the trouble is modern expressions creeping into a historical work. But here are Regency era (or older) expressions that sound far more modern than they are:
• Barbecue: 1650s, "framework for grilling meat, fish, etc.," from American Spanish barbacoa. About 1730 the term was used for an outdoor feast where a whole animal was roasted and to describe the animal so roasted.
• Chock-full: found about 1400; “Chock” is an alternative spelling of “choke”.
• Croak: A slang verb for “to die”, from the sound of a death rattle.
• Pea-shooter: 1803; quickly generalized to any ineffective weapon.
• Pronto: A musical direction borrowed from Italian in 1744, meaning “quickly”
• Real thing: meaning genuine, was first used in 1818.
• Sell out: An officer who has sold his commission back to the army; the way an officer would retire from an army career.
• Snug as a bug in a rug: A rug was a particularly heavy blanket for sleeping and “bug” refers to a bedbug.
• So-so: mediocre; first recorded use as an adverb was in 1530 and as an adjective (so-so wine) in 1542.
• Son of a gun: the illegitimate son of a militia officer.
• Swagger. To bully, brag, or boast, also to strut.
• Sweet heart: a girl's lover, or a man's mistress; from a sweet cake in the shape of a heart.
• To wet one's whistle: to drink.
• Turned off: a convict would climb a ladder to the gallows. The prisoner would be ‘turned off’ the ladder to be hanged.
• White lie: A harmless lie, one not told with a malicious intent, a lie told to reconcile people at odds with one another.
• Whitewashed: One who has taken the benefit of an act of insolvency, to defraud his creditors, has been whitewashed.
• Wild-goose chase: A tedious uncertain pursuit, like the following a flock of shy, wild geese.
• Word of Mouth: To drink by word of mouth, i.e. out of the bowl or bottle instead, of a glass.
And my personal favorite:
• Kerfuffle: an agitated disturbance; goes back to 1583.
Grose, Captain (Francis). (2004) Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811 ed. Ikon Classics
Online Etymology Dictionary
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