Monday, August 15, 2016

Don't Put Yourself Up a Creek Unless You Should

with guest Melissa Jagears.

Unless your story takes place after 1941, you can’t have your characters ‘up a creek.’ I certainly thought that phrase sounded like Appalachia mountain or Ozark Mountain Hillbilly slang from way before the 1940s, but it isn’t.

Sometimes, I wish I wrote contemporary for the freedom to use any vocabulary word and all the slang I wanted!

The day I decided to stop writing my Young Adult romance novel and start writing historicals.....I became paralyzed after only a few paragraphs. I felt as if I was having to look up every single word and phrase. Stopping every five minutes to chase the elusive date of origin was crippling. I wasn’t a good enough writer to get a story out on paper if I was interrupting myself every five minutes. I asked a few historical writers what they did, and they all encouraged me to forget about it, write that first draft, and fix later.

And I did. But boy did I have quite the time weeding out every anachronistic word. Once it’s on paper, it becomes harder to “see” since it’s now part of the story you lovingly created.

I have avoided reading my published novels after the day I read aloud my freebie novella Love by the Letter to my husband on a long drive and he said, “Isn’t saying ‘turn on the stove’ wrong for the time?”

The second he said it, I smacked my head. Of course it was! I had more than ten people read that novella! Thankfully it was still ebook only and I got to fix it for the print collection “With All My Heart” before it went out on shelves!

The more you write historicals, the more you gain “vocabulary you can’t use” awareness. So I thought I’d share some tips and my online sources for looking things up, because will not always be enough. 

Hopefully even a few of these will be new to more accomplished historical writers. And for those of you that write can just sigh in relief that you don’t have to worry about this!

First, any word you use that is beyond the basics probably should be looked up. Especially idiomatic expressions or slang.

If you find that the word was recorded a year or two after your book’s setting, you’ll have to judge whether or not you want to use it. Of course most words didn’t get recorded until people had been using it for awhile, so a few years before could be all right unless the history of that word is tied up with advances in technology or a war, and other things as that. 

That’s why it’s a good thing to look up more than just the date in one source. For if your character is off in the boonies of the frontier and the new word came about because of people interacting with a telegraph, he or she might not even know the word if they were isolated. Or it might have been recorded, but rarely used until later. So how can you figure this out?

1. The easiest resource to check is  I’m pretty sure most historical writers know about it, and it’s the first place I go. But what if it fails? And you should have more than just one source for anything research related unless you have some nice primary records from your actual setting.

2. If it’s a single word, you can check an unabridged dictionary.

3. If you don’t have a cute little hyper kid that you’re using yours to weigh down, or just plain don’t have one, I find that often has Etymology entries available for some words doesn’t have.  Notice that Merriam Webster dates ‘pipe-dream’ 20 years later than

4. Of course the OED online (Oxford English Dictionary) is awesome to check, but expensive. See if your library subscribes, and if not, you can always ask if they could. For not only does the OED tell you the etymology of a word, but it shows you the recorded usage. I’m right now begging my library to get a subscription!

5. If I didn’t find it in those sources, the recorded date is really close to my setting and I want to be assured it’s good, I need to find a phrase, or I need to know how likely it was used throughout the years, I can see at a glance with a chart if that word was in recorded use with Google’s ngram viewer.  Click on an image to enlarge and see details.

Google's ngram viewer
This is a chart Google creates by looking up the words or phrases in all of its books throughout the years and tallies how often the search engine finds it during those years. After seeing this chart, I’m going to feel safer using the 1890 date rather than the 1870 date for pipe-dream. BUT what if I really want to use it for 1870? I have another place to look.

But while we’re here. Ngram viewer can also come in handy for phrases. I searched for “bust a gut.”

Google ngrams "bust a gut"

And it can also help you decide between synonyms, what was likely more used in the years you’re looking at. In this case, I looked up all the different ways people refer to their mothers. Of course, this is only what has been recorded in books, and not actual speech, but it gives you a quick idea on the most likely word that would have been used.

Google ngrams

Be sure to look in the link at the bottom labeled “about ngram viewer” because it shows how to clarify your searches. One particularly useful tutorial is how to differentiate a search for a word that can act as different parts of speech.

Google ngrams parts of speech

6. My other tool is Google’s Advanced Book Search. You’ll want to bookmark this because it is not as easy to find as it used to be.

In the picture below, I’ve highlighted the areas that I use to search:

 First, choose whether you want to enter a word, several words you want in proximity, or choose the exact phrase box for an exact phrase. Choose full view so it only pulls up public domain or Google owned books that you can examine thoroughly so you can see more than just the snippet and check to make sure the date Google claims the books to be from is truly is correct.

Now go down to the Publication Date section, make sure “Return content published between” is chosen and then put at least the ending year date. So if you’re setting is 1880, put that date as the last date, you can even choose a specific month of 1880 if you’d like. Then up in the top right corner, push Google search to get your results.

Now you can look through your entries and see if any of the dates are before your setting time where the snippet suggests the usage you want was indeed being used in that time period.

I chose to check out the 1862 text to make sure that the word was being used in the context I wished, and I pressed on the cover and went to the front to find a date and verify that it is indeed from 1862. Then you can cut a little snippet of that and keep it in your documentation/research files.
Well look at that. If someone wants to clobber me with the Merriam Webster dictionary telling me I can’t use pipe dream before 1890, I’ve got a snippet from 1862 that says it was indeed in existence and used as I like. Now, this magazine is an Engineering magazine, so it might be more appropriate for an engineer rather than a frontier housewife, so that’s another decision to be made.

7. For the origin of highly idiomatic expressions, the best I’ve got is the UK Phrase finder, which isn’t always the best but sometimes I can get help there when I can’t elsewhere.

8. Print books, I’ve tried to collect cliche and slang dictionaries and other print books that might help, but they are usually not helpful and I only go to them as a last resort. But there is one that I do check fairly often, it’s called English Through the Ages, and you can pick up used copies on Amazon for cheap. It’s nice to have because though it doesn’t always tell you when the word came into use beyond the 50 year space you find it in, when you’re perhaps looking up an insult and you find your insult is no good date wise, you can flip back 50 years and find the insults or slang or emotion words from the previous time period and see if anything will work for you there.

9. In my manuscripts, I use the notes in track changes to keep my snippets proving that the word can be used in the time period because, though I might look it up while writing, invariably in some edit pass I’ll wonder if I verified it and searching my manuscript makes it easy to see if I did indeed look it up instead of doing the whole search all over again. Also, I try to be diligent to keep etymology in mind until the very last editing pass because I’ve had an editor add in an anachronistic word or two.

So, those are the tricks up my sleeve. Does anyone have any other venues to find word and phrase origins? I’d love to have a better place to look up idiomatic expressions than what I have. Please share your sources or the word you wish was used in your writing time period in the comments below! (If you’re a contemporary writer, you could share which archaic word you wished was more in use.)

I’m giving away my new release, A Heart Most Certain, where I certainly attempted to make sure every word is appropriate for the time period, but if you see one that isn’t, just whistle nonchalantly and keep reading for me, all right?
A Heart Most Certain

Melissa Jagears really wished the word ‘jerk’ was an insult used in the late 1800s because really, there just is no good synonym for jerk, and evidently she writes a lot of jerky characters since she’s always searching for a time appropriate alternative that doesn’t sound downright silly. You can find her online, Facebook, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

Please leave a comment if you would like to be entered in this giveaway. Winner announced in the next Weekend Edition.


  1. Welcome back, Melissa.

    I am sticking to strictly contemporary breakfast snacks today. Oh em gee. I am so glad I write contemporary.

    That said, your cover is absolutely gorgeous. Did you have any input on it?

    And thanks for sharing the novella collection. I went and downloaded everyone I didn't already have. #happyreader

  2. I did have input on this cover. First, I gave them a photoshop mockup of the cover I was envisioning and they actually went with the idea. So the idea was mine. And when they gave it to me, the scene was summer and her dress was plain white. The whole entire thing was white and green and black, I asked them to put some color in it and figured just photoshopping her dress to be a stand out color, I was asking for red, would work. Instead they added all the flowers and the sky colors and the belt, I was in love.

    I'm going to show off that first Bethany cover vs. the final Bethany cover on Aug 23rd at

  3. Melissa, I'm so thankful I write contemporary. Rest assured if I win your book I won't Notice a single word out of place. Think of the peace of mind that could provide you. LOL

    I admire all the research historical authors do. I hope other readers do as well.

  4. Great post Melissa. Your diligence in searching out the correct words to use shows in your work. I LOVED A Heart Most Certain whoever wins a copy will truly be blessed. I believe this is your best book yet!

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  5. I was afraid to write historicals for this very reason. I'd read historical author blogs and websites and was totally daunted by what the research they referenced...

    And then I wrote one accidentally via Natasha...

    And I was hooked. I L-O-V-E writing historical novels. I love the old-time feel, the way that romance slips into place between hard times and hard work, the whole work ethic of the time is so much clearer than it is today. I love writing them!!!!

    Great post, Melissa.

    I've never gone to any of these sites (Slacker-Pants Ruthy) but I'm bookmarking them for the future!

    Great reference points.

  6. Good morning, MELISSA! I don't (currently anyway) write historical, but these are fabulous resources you've shared today, so I count this post as a definitely KEEPER. Thank you!

  7. Wow Melissa
    Thanks for all of the great sources and for the example of how hard you work to make things right. BTW that cute little blonde girl holding the gargantuan book looks just like you.

  8. Terri Weldon is right. We contemporary peeps are your friend. We don't notice that stuff. Although I do notice it when it's really obvious. Early on in my career, I critiqued a historical in a critique group and I have to say the writer stumped me. What the heck was CHAIN MAIL? In the middle ages, they wrote chain mail.hahahahahaha

  9. Great post, Melissa! I was unaware of several of these resources and look forward to using them. I was so glad to see you used Ngram. It is one of my favorite resources. The reminder that speech vs. written is key, especially if you are searching a taboo word of the time. I didn't know you could be speech type specific, so I will have check it out. Keeping track and evidence of the words you have researched are a great idea! Have a great day! The kids start school in two days, so we're are growing to squeeze in cuddle time today. :-)

  10. MELISSA, what a helpful post. I do historicals, so I always have to be on my etymological guard. My most recent find: did you know there were no "teenagers" before the 1940s? I had to go through both my historical series and change the wording to "young girl" or "young people." And I just got reined in by a contest judge who noticed two (TWO!) phrases that she didn't think fit Oregon Trail times. She was right and I reworked them. We have to be so careful not to let our own century slip in. I wish I could do contemporaries, but right now this is what God laid on my heart. Oh, well, it's a good discipline.
    Have a great day Seekers if I don't check in again.
    Kathy Bailey

  11. TINA, chain mail is when you get a letter and they ask you to send it on to six other people with a lock of your hair or some dumb thing and at the end you get money.
    RUTHY, I love historicals too which is a good thing since that's what I write. What I love is that an historical setting gives instant gravitas, for example, Caroline in my Oregon Trail story not only has to deal with forgiveness and her feelings toward Michael, but she has to do it under extraordinarily difficult conditions. Violet, the heroine in my post-world-war-I story, not only has to deal with her feelings of inferiority and growing feelings for Karl, but she does it in a settlement house in Hell's Kitchen, New York, when the poor were REALLY POOR. BTW, it's amazing what people could accomplish WITHOUT the Internet. Just sayin'.
    Off for now to work, will try to get back on later.

  12. Melissa, what a great post. I love that your husband picked up on "turning on the stove." Guys have such a different way of thinking.

    Thanks for sharing, and have a great day!

  13. First of all, that little girl of yours has a smile a mile wide! SO cute. :)

    Secondly, I always wondered how historical authors checked their word choice accuracy. Wow! There's a lot to think about, and, thankfully, a lot of resources as well. :)

    I'm thankful I'm a contemporary writer. There's so much more to consider when it comes to writing historical. You, however, do it beautifully!

  14. Melissa, looking up words/phrases can be very time consuming and is the kind o stuff that kind derail good progress. I agree it's easier to get the first draft written before looking words up. It might all change anyway.

    Love your cover.

    KAYBEE, I didn't realize "teenager" was a newer word. Learn something every day.

  15. I have the greatest respect for historical writers. Greatest. And I love historical romance, though I'm glad I write contemporary. :)

  16. Melissa your daughter is adorable.

    Thank you for this timely post I'm hoping to begin a historical novel in November. I've printed off this post. My story will be about Cherokee Indians so I suddenly realized this morning that I will not only need to be sure a phrase was used in the time period but also whether or not it is one that the Cherokees would use.

    Please don't enter me for a copy of your book. I am reading my influencer copy now. It is an awesome book and I am enjoying it so much.

  17. Well, Ms. Cover designer. You did an amazing job. That is one of the prettiest historical covers ever.

  18. Wow, Melissa, what a great list of resources! I've bookmarked this post so I can refer to it often!

    Yes, over the course of writing six historical novels, plus a couple of historical novellas, I've become very much aware of etymology. One example that stands out in memory is the use of the word "teenager." As best I could determine, that wasn't a common term for referring to young people in their teen years until sometime in the 1920s. My story was set very early in the '20s, so I was careful about how I referred to my heroine's teenage sister.

  19. Oh, I see KB found an even later first usage for "teenager"! I may be mistaken about the 1920s date. I just recall it was later than my story was set.

  20. MELISSA, I'm blown away by how far you go to ensure your word is in use during the time period of your story! I check the date of words in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. If I'm still unsure since several meanings are listed under the time period, I will likely change the word. LOL But you've given me some great resources. Thank you! My go to book to date idioms is The American Heritage of IDIOMS BY Christine Ammer. Love it!

    Also love you cover! Thanks for being in Seekerville post side today!


  21. My question: how many of you contemporary writers check the date of words or expressions? With the way language is changing, I'd think you'd have to check a few.


  22. Hi Melissa Welcome back to Seekerville. What an informative post and what fun.

    I'm laughing because you said "And for those of you that write can just sigh in relief that you don’t have to worry about this!"

    NOT! I was reading a rough of something I wrote earlier to use and the heroine was dialing the phone. Then I had changed it to a flip phone. Now I need to swipe the phone. LOL

    Times are changing so rapidly that even contemporary writers have to keep up. Its tough enough keeping up with the technology to use, let alone the vocabulary for it. l

    But great tips on the research for words. I didn't know all those things even existed. Yay for you. l

    Have fun today.

  23. Melissa,

    Thank you so much for your wonderful resources!! My WIP begins in the 1970s and It's hard to not use phrases (and technology) from the present!


  24. Hi Melissa:

    I really enjoyed your post. I've always been interested in words and word origins. I keep a eagle-eye out for anachronistic words in historical fiction.

    One hint I have, if you write historicals in the same general time period, is to do what Louis L'Amour often recommended: read newspapers, letters to the editor, diaries, and personal letters from the time period. He said that many libraries have private collections of these items that you can ask to see.

    If you read enough everyday personal-type material from your time period, you can begin to think like the person of that time. After a time, you'll find you are actually using the words and phrases that were in use at that time. (It will be like the first time you speak directly in a foreign language without having to translate your thoughts.)

    Letters to the editor are a great source for learning what was of concern to the average citizen at the time. These often contain what was bothering the people at the time. (Such topics can make authentic dinner table talk.) I've bought actual newspapers from the early 1800's for under 10 dollars on Ebay. These are not expensive if you do not pick an important historical date. Read the whole paper, front to back, like a citizen of the time. That newspaper is a time machine.

    One thing to look out for is the word or phrase which is very popular as current slang but which is also a very old phrase. These slang words still pull me out of a story. I checked one of these phrases a while back that is used in computer terminology today only to find the phrase had been in use since the 1300's! But, bottom-line, I was still pulled out of the story!

    This reminds me of the advice: "Just because it really happened that way does not mean you can have it happen that way in fiction."

    After reading your post I can't wait to read your new book with an eye to finding anachronisms and non-anachronisms (which many readers may still think are anachronisms). Please enter me in the drawing for an ebook copy of "A Heart Most Certain" -- (just reading the title brings back warm feelings from reading "A Passion Most Pure". I'm totally predisposed to enjoy your book!)


    What about the old saying which is currently tied to or coupled with a new slang term that when people today hear the old saying will automatically think of the current slang? Would this be like creating a phantom anachronism?

  25. Sandra, you are right. When I go back to revise manuscripts that are on my hard drive from simply a few years ago, I have to always update technology.

    I created a technology for one of my books, it was a big deal in the book..well, now it is available. So I have to create a new future-istic technology for the hero to create.

    I've been watching Criminal Minds for research. They use the term PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) back in 2006. No one uses that anymore. A smart phone or tablet does it all.

  26. WOW, girl, we're talkin' thorough here, and I thought I was anal when it came to things like this, but you make me look like an amateur!!

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU for all of the excellent links -- I have favorited them all and will definitely use them.

    The one I used nonstop is, which you have a pic of, but the link you gave takes me to, which is a totally different and totally wonderful site, so THANK YOU again!

    I'm afraid I'm not quite the stickler you are on exact dates. If a word's been used within a few years of my date, I will generally go with it, something our very own Vince caught me on in A Light in the Window, which takes place in 1895. I used the word "hooligan," and he said it wasn't used till 1898. Oh well. :| It's an Indie, so I can fudge like that because it SOUNDS old, right? ;)

    My favorite misused phrase in a historical is "he couldn't wrap his/her brain/mind around it." I can't tell you HOW many Westerns, prairie romance, etc. I've seen that phrase in and I shake my head every time. :)


  27. TINA SAID: "What the heck was CHAIN MAIL? In the middle ages, they wrote chain mail.hahahahahaha"

    LOL ... too cute!!

    KAYBEE SAID: " My most recent find: did you know there were no "teenagers" before the 1940s? I had to go through both my historical series and change the wording to "young girl" or "young people."

    Ah, yes, but did you know you can use the word "teen" instead? Here's what Etymology Online says: TEEN: "teen-aged person," 1818 (but rare before 20c.), from -teen. As an adjective meaning "of or for teen-agers," from 1947."

    SO ... THIS author uses "teen" in my historicals and doesn't feel a bit bad about it. :)

    RUTHY SAID: "I was afraid to write historicals for this very reason."

    HA! I was afraid to write contemporaries for a similar reason. Here I am, an old broad trying to write the language/habits of today's young people, so talk about daunting! But it did teach me about words like "cray cray," "merked," and "derp." ;)


  28. Melissa, thank you for these great sites! I have that book, "English Through The Ages", and I use the Merriam-Webster site but the others were unknown to me. And I *love* your gorgeous cover! I have no idea how to photo-shop anything so wouldn't be able to mock up anything for the art department whenever I'm published so I hope that's not a prerequisite to being published. :) Please enter me in to your draw but for an e-book as I'm an international fan of Seekerville.

    have a blessed day!

  29. Whew...I'm glad I'm a reader. And not like Vince. A word or phrase may temporarily pull me out of the story, but if it's just one or two, I hop right back in where I was pulled out and go on. Never would I go check it out! But that's because my authors do all that work for me of checking things out. Again, yeah for Seekerville, where all authors should come for lessons!
    Thank you, Melissa

  30. GOOD MORNING MELISSA and Seekerville! MELISSA, congratulations on your release. The cover is GORGEOUS! While reading I have come across words that didn't seem to fit the time period. I didn't allow this slight interruption to deter me from enjoying the story. There is GRACE for those imperfections.

    Please enter me in the drawing for a copy of A Heart Most Certain.

    Have a wonderful day!

  31. Whew! That sounds like a lot of work. I am so glad that I don't write historical fiction... yet (did that sound ominous to anyone else?). At the present moment I am sticking to fantasies which while I have to be careful with their speech I don't have to worry about the whole etymology thing (though I did make a HUGE mistake in one of my fantasy series when I decided it would be cool to have people talk using thees and thines instead of yous and yours- big mistake, now I'm stuck with everyone walking around talking like a KJV Bible).

    I do plan on writing a book with a historical setting in the near future, but because I am a big ol' chicken I decided to make it a book that takes place in the future, but still with a historical setting because the humans backtracked and now history is repeating itself (nothing new under the sun and all that) kind of like what Sharon Cameron did in her book Rook (such a good book, if you haven't read it then you haven't lived).

    BTW I love the cover of your book! My mom read it and really liked it, so I guess you did something right in the book :)

  32. Melissa, I haven't tried my hand at an historical, but I've bookmarked your sources, just in case! I love reading historicals so just my write one someday. Thank you!

    The examples you shared are so interesting!

  33. That should've said...just MAY write one someday.

  34. hi Melissa
    I love reading your books. Historicals are not my first go-to reading in general, so I'm not a word snob that will get upset at words in a story that are a bit off on their timing. If it sounds germane, hey... works for me. I guess that makes me a lazy reader. I tend to be more interested on whether or not the STORY grips me.

    I do like all the reference stuff you've shared. I'm bookmarking this post just 'cuz I know I'll need it in the future if I don't. Murphy's Law and all that.

    I would love a shot at winning your A Heart Most Certain, as I said before, I love reading your books. Thanks for sharing all your research links - that is so cool. And I do so love the picture of your little one with the door stopper/child restraint on her lap.

  35. What an incredibly helpful post this is, Melissa. Thank you for taking the time to do this for us. I'm bookmarking this in case I ever return to historicals.

    Writing my first historical was a different experience for me. I was such a fanatic, living and breathing the Revolutionary War period, that my voice just fell naturally into that time period. I had more trouble avoiding too much "colonial speak" rather than the other way around. I credit all the diaries and other primary source documents I read just for fun before I ever considered writing.

    I was looking at that first manuscript recently. I still love the story even though my writing skills were pretty scary. Can we talk head-hopping? Dizzying. I don't think I even realized there was such a thing as writer's craft back then. I figured you either were a writer or you weren't. So grateful for learning curves.

    I love the book covers! The anthology was on the shelf in our B&N this week and it caught my eye because of how beautiful it is!

  36. Cindy W, I'm so glad you loved the book.

    Ruthy, I feel like a "slacker" when I think that I'm not doing historical historicals. I can't imagine the ones that choose to actually base books on real people and real historical events that play major roles in their books, that has to be so so very time consuming.

    Barbara Fox, there's a reason she looks just like me. :)

    kaybee, yes, teens. Another word like jerk that I wonder what took them so long to come up with a term for it. Of course, teen is sort of a construct we made with the advent of more schooling since once you were done being a child you were supposed to be a productive member of society from then on for so much of history.

  37. Tina, this made me laugh -
    I've been watching Criminal Minds for research. They use the term PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) back in 2006. No one uses that anymore. A smart phone or tablet does it all."

    The directions for the NYS tests in reading and math include a long list of devices. We have to read the list to the students to make sure they don't have any such devices on them. It includes BlackBerries and PDAs. The next thing is to ask if they have any questions. They always do. What's a BlackBerry? What's a PDA?

  38. Jeanne, I do think she's rather cute myself. :) Sometimes I wish I was a contemporary gal!

    Connie Queen, yes, when I was beginning, it was definitely something that could very well change. My first book I had to cut off 12 chapters off the front! I'm better at not doing that now. :)

    Wilani, good luck with your historical, I'm not even sure what I'd do to look up Native American etymology!

  39. Hi Melissa:

    What is your view on word use when the narrator is speaking? For example, a description paragraph used to set up a scene. Also see Julie's comment below:

    Julie wrote: "My favorite misused phrase in a historical is 'he couldn't wrap his/her brain/mind around it.' I can't tell you HOW many Westerns, prairie romance, etc. I've seen that phrase in and I shake my head every time. :)"

    I've read this phrase myself several times in the last year. However, what if it is clearly the narrator who is giving this information and not one of the time-bound characters?

    Along these lines, phrases I've noticed as really standing out in historical fiction are: 'Bottom line' and 'garbage in garbage out'. GIGO is even text talk. The point here is that I've only heard the term GIGO about computer data. Of course, now the term can apply to non-computer situations when you refer to research data. It could also have been used in the 14th century!

    Opinion requested: Should readers let authors know about their anachronisms? My wife says to never, ever, ever, do this!!!

    I don't write authors every time I find an anachronism. I only write on something of importance to the story so the author won't get embarrassed at a talk or make the same mistake again in a sequel.

    Examples: having Realtor®s before there were Realtor®s or using coinage long before that coinage was in use. I mentioned 'Hooligans' because Julie wrote an Irish family saga. Her Irish Catholic time-period facts are spot-on and I find that a key element of my enjoyment of all seven books. Also me and my brothers were called Hooligans more times growing up than I want to remember!


  40. Tina, if only I had the photoshop skills to actually design things!

    Janet, I did forget the option of just simply find another word. I do that a lot too!

    Sandra, that's probably one reason I'm not going to write contemporaries, I don't even know phone jargon since I am an old dinosaur and have an actual landline and that's it, except a pay as you go when I'm traveling since you can't find pay phones anymore. Not that we always remember our pay as you gos. Once, we needed to call because our car was in trouble, but I find that I can stop almost anywhere if it's an emergency and ask the gas station attendant if I can use their phone for an emergency. At least it worked the one time I did it.

  41. Julie, I don't know what link you found that was wonderful, but I pressed it to find it and it went to a very bad adware site!!!!!!! Gah! is the right place. I just told Tina to fix it!!! But now I'm curious what link you got since I went to a blue screen of death and I had to force stop the browser to get the woman to stop shouting at me to call about the viruses I just put on my computer!

  42. Vince, Please don't look for anachronisms in my book I can't fix them anyway! Hopefully you just love the story. But yes, your things are great for getting into the time frame and a "groove" for the sound.

    Laurie Woods - Totally not a prerequisite for getting published. But I can play in photoshop and I had an idea. I actually was worried they'd think I was too big for my britches for sending in a mockup but it worked!

    Marianne, you're right, seekerville's lessons are a definite treasure trove for writers.

    Caryl, thank you for the grace. And though I try to be quite the stickler in my work, I'm ALL for grace. Like one contest judge told me that I was wrong in a yet to be published book, that there could not be that many African Americans in my poor farm in the real city I set it in because demographics didn't support it.....little did she know I had the actual record books of that poor farm in front of me. I even knew the real names of everyone there at that year, their race, their ages, the length of time they'd been there. I could see where she could think that with some quick googling or even knowledge of the area, but historically I was completely right. Since then, if I think something's wrong in a historical I just offer the benefit of the doubt that they found research I don't have access to and just keep on enjoying the story. (Unless they say WWII was in 1810 or something :)

  43. Nicky your book sounds like fun, I really want to write a steampunk story just for the fun of playing with history but having some language flexibility because it will be "the future"

    DebH that's much more important than word choice, a gripping story trumps most all of that.



  45. Cate, your school story makes me laugh. When I taught my first class (9th and 12th graders) I decided to tell everyone that you say my name like Mick Jagger but with an S....I only had one kid who knew who Jagger was.....though now that the song "Moves like Jagger" came out, perhaps I could use that line if I taught High school again! :)

  46. Yeah, Tina, if screamed at me too. JULIE LESSMAN don't go to the wonderful site you found anymore!!!! You got lucky and got something wonderful, but every time I clicked on it, I got different spammy sites!

  47. Vince, if I had something totally off, like I said "derp" in an 1880 novel I could see a nice email saying "you might want to not use that anymore" all right since it's so atrociously wrong. However, I'd imagine if I wrote Derp in an 1880s novel, I'm likely an atrocious writer anyway and will lose you with my atrocious writing elsewhere.

    And if the book is self published, I could see someone all right with pointing those things out because if it bothers them enough, they can fix it (You better believe when I self pub something I'll fix it). But when we came across "turn on the stove" UGH that bothered me and it bothered me that there was nothing I could do to fix it. I'm glad I got to fix it for print, but Bethany isn't fixing it for the e-novel unfortunately. :(

  48. They have products to sell!

  49. Melissa, I've often thought, as I read historical fiction, how hard it must be for the author to only use the words that were used at that time! I would think i's hard enough just to WRITE the novel, let alone think about every word you are writing and make sure it's a word that would be used in the time period! The stress!!!!! Very interesting post! I thank you as a reader for the care you use and the appropriate words!
    I'd love to win your book!

  50. Waving to Tina and Mary Cate...

    I thought PDA was a Personal Display of Affection. At least, that's what it was called in my high the principal. LOL!

    I'm dating myself, and that doesn't mean that I'm taking myself out on a date. :)

  51. Melissa,

    I'm so glad I don't write historicals! WHEW! What you have to do to check your vocabulary!!!

    Thanks for providing such great references. Hopefully, I won't have to use them...although never say never, right?


  52. Your cover, Melissa, is so, so pretty! It takes me back in time...and makes me want to read all the stories.


  53. Okay, yes, Debby. The first time they said PDA I thought it was public display of affection.

    One FBI agent explained what it meant to another OLDER FBI agent, SSA Dave Rossi.

  54. Melissa, what's next for you.

    And as always we ask...are you a desktop writer or a roaming laptop or tablet writer?

    Do you still do all your writing at night?

    How many years will it be until you get some sleep?

  55. Tina, I messed up PDA! Smack me in the head!!! Not too hard though.

    You're right. You're always right. It's PUBLIC (not personal) DISPLAY OF AFFECTION. How could I forget. I got the prinipal's evil eye a time or two...for hand holding. Back in the day, that was much too "affectionate" for high school!

    Attended my reunion this past June and PDA came up. We had a little tribute to the principal, and of course, PDA had to be mentioned. Guess I'd be aghast at what goes on in the high school hallways these days.

  56. I have a story set in the nineteen twenties and had no idea what to do. I avoided slang like the plague (which was surprisingly hard to do even though I usually try to avoid it when speaking), but even still my grandma, who proof read it for me, asked me if one particular term that kept popping up was twenties slang. I had no idea (I think it was just me slang, which is ironic). As for what slang I should put into my book, I skimmed The Great Gatsby, but all that I really got from that was 'Old Sport.' So these resources will be very useful, thank you.

    Also, a good late-eighteen-hundreds synonym for 'jerk' I'd say is 'rake.'

  57. Valri, you're right, the writing of the book is hard enough!

    Ha, Tina. I'm a desktop writer. I have an ergonomic keyboard and a 45 inch screen tv set up as a monitor so I can have two documents open side by side. (was cheaper than two monitors). I still write late at night and I have no idea when I'll get to start sleeping again.

    Boo, it is really hard to do, you don't even realize what is "slang" when some of it doesn't even sound slangy anymore!

  58. I LOVE this post! I'm a linguist at heart, so I could very easily lose myself down rabbit trails chasing words and phrases and origins. I have a couple of historical ideas in a file for future projects, so I'm bookmarking these resources and reminding myself to do the research - but then stop and just write!

    Thanks for sharing all of this great info!

  59. Wow, Melissa, there's some great stuff here.
    And......oops, I think I used the word Creek all the time.
    There were Creek Indians. Doesn't mean that was the name of a small stream of water.


  60. I'm with Megan, I am always looking for solid sources for word history. I love this post!

  61. MYRA, maybe you're right. The only thing I know for sure is that it WASN'T a term used on the Oregon Trail.
    DEBBY, are you serious? Historicals are easier to write than military thrillers with Amish people! Or maybe it's just me.
    JULIE, it's good to know about "teen." I have an escape clause.
    MELISSA, I am a desktop writer too. I use a laptop etc. for other things, but I want to be in one place when I do my "real" writing.
    See you all tomorrow,

  62. YES!!!!!! I have the same set up.

    Ergonomic keyboard. I'm on my third one. And a giant screen for the same purpose. I want two monitors but this computer won't let me. When I make a fortune and can upgrade I am getting two of them. I got used to having two monitors at both my last pharmacy jobs and I love it.

  63. Although my monitor is not THAT big. Yikes. I am going to have to speak to my IT guy about upgrading mine. #jealous.

  64. Kathy Bailey,

    Your ribs? What was the verdict??

  65. Kaybee, I'm laughing at your comment! :)


  66. I need an ergonomic keyboard. My aching hands need one too!

    I'd also like a large monitor. I'm always hovering over my laptop. Not good body mechanics.

  67. Great stuff here, Melissa...thanks! I'm so happy there are writers like yourself who write historical, and do it so well. It would take me ten years to write one book...I'm easily distracted. Thanks for sharing your tips!

  68. Well done, Melissa! I love your sense of humor.

    Please enter me in the drawing for "A Heart Most Certain."

    May God bless you and all of Seekerville!

  69. Weighting own hyper kids with a dictionary...why didn't I think of that? Bwahahaha! What an awesome post!!!!! Full of valuable information. Makes my head spin. I'm officially in awe of you historical writers. What a lot of work to get it just right and I sure appreciate it. I'm not a historian so I probably wouldn't notice unless you had the heroine whip out a cell phone. LOL

    Don't enter me in the draw -- I have a copy on its way to me thanks to a Canadian blogger review group. Woot. Can't wait to read it now and be dazzled by your historical prowess.

  70. This was a fun post, Melissa. I have not written anything historical, but living along the Oregon Trail in Nebraska, I certainly have lots of ideas for historical writing. We'll see if that ever happens.

    I loved the Google Ngram viewer. I may use it for fun. I love the etymology of words. I use a similar type of website for names. I love to look at that for fun, but I use it when naming characters. In my book, I decided I was giving characters names that were too old for them.

    I find it most interesting to read books written in those old time periods and realize that certain words must have been used then. I am currently re-reading Pride and Prejudice on a page-a-day calendar and was surprised to see the word "flirted." For some reason, I thought that was a more modern terminology.

    Please enter me in the drawing. The cover is beautiful.

  71. I steal phrasing.

    Louisa May Alcott. Jane Austen. Laura Ingalls.

    They lived then.

    If they can say it and it pre-dates my setting, I'm all over it.

    I think if we're too fastidious, the story can sound static. Or "stuttery".

    I made that one up.

    And I'm willing to bet that somewhere on Lewis & Clark's momentous expedition (there was an amazing pictorial display of their expedition in Scottsdale, AZ when I was there a few months ago, absolutely mind-catching, the artist's attention to detail)...

    Wait, I'm off-track, I love, love, love Western museums. They plant seeds in my head.

    But back to Lewis and Clark... I'm going to bet that someone in that crew at some point over that long, long trip mentioned being up-creek... Just like being "up-river" or "down-river" and I can make the leap from that to up the creek. Clearly I am easily contented, Melissa.

    But Julie, you know why I think "wrap my head around it" is a common mistake? Because I think Mr. Edwards said that several times in Little House on the Prairie, the TV show. I'm almost 100% sure I can hear him saying it a couple of different times and ways, and now we assume he was right, of course, even if he was wrong!

    That moving picture image is a powerful tool!!!

  72. Mary Connealy, "creek" is fine "Up a creek" is not.

    Tina, I just got the cheap walmart tv and Whoops, it's just a 40" I am really bad with estimation, I knew it was forty..... Telling me how big something is in yards just makes my head go blank, tell me it's the size of a 747 and then I get it. Visual person here. $179 is cheaper than when I got it!Perfect fit for two word docs and no straining to see anything or hunching over.

    Debby I think I go through a keyboard a year. I don't like the super duper ergonomic ones that would take relearning how to type, just ones that are a wavy type pattern (no learning curve) and tilt up at the front! So many tilt up toward the back, but the front is WONDERFUL! this one lets you choose either, it's the one I keep rebuying. $35 bucks is not bad at all. (I order wired keyboards because wireless keyboards rarely keep up with my typing)

  73. Kav, so glad you snagged it from somewhere. Oh Canadian post offices, how greedy they be.

    Sandy Smith, is the name website you use this one? I LOVE this one.

    Ruthy, I wouldn't bat an eye at someone saying up a creek in a historical really, it is fiction after all. :) But I try to be good. And once I've seen or been told I can't use it, I just can't make myself use it. But yes, if I see it in a primary source, I snippet that baby and ignore everything else.

  74. Still it's twice mine. Mine is 21 inch.

  75. It guy says it's 24"

  76. Hi Melissa,
    I love your new cover and can't wait to read it! I am saving your post for reference, because you make me ashamed at my lack of 'word' research! I will have to keep this handy as I continue to write historicals!
    So happy to see another series starting! Best of luck!
    Sue :)

  77. Great post, MELISSA! I started writing a historical romance a few months ago and was going along fine until I wrote the word nickle. For some reason that stopped me in my tracks. Did they even have nickles back then? You said: "I became paralyzed after only a few paragraphs." That describes it perfectly. Thank you so much for such wonderful resources. Congratulations on your new release - love, love that cover!

  78. Susan, no shame, I feel like a slacker in the historical research department most times.

    Laura, I remember that paralysis well! Good luck with your historical.

  79. Great, helpful post, Melissa - - thank you!! (Your "cute, hyper kid" is adorable, by the way!). :)
    My first love is historical (although I'm writing contemporaries at the moment). So I am saving this post for future reference. Thanks again!

    Hugs, (yes, I know you don't like hugs, LOL, but I hug automatically) ;)
    Patti Jo

    p.s. GREAT cover on your newest book!!

  80. Group hug. Everyone hug Melissa.

    [[[[[[ ]]]]]]]]

  81. Yes, Melissa. That is the baby name website. I love just typing in random names. I think it would really be a great tool for parents naming a child, but works even better maybe for naming characters.

  82. ((((forces herself not to wince as she's being squeezed by the horde of people who want to hug a prickly pear))))

  83. VINCE SAID: "Opinion requested: Should readers let authors know about their anachronisms? My wife says to never, ever, ever, do this!!!"

    Actually, Vince, I'm one of those authors who actually is grateful when readers point out mistakes to me so that I can fix them.

    For instance, I had several readers email me about incorrect things, one of which was that there wasn't a St. Jude Center in St. Louis like I thought. My belief was based on a building I used to drive by that said "St. Jude Center," but obviously it was something else because the reader told me St. Jude is in Memphis, and when I double-checked, I discovered she was right. So I changed it in my indie ebook since I could.

    Also, I discovered on my own that the Piggly-Wiggly I mention in IOH closed before the time frame for IOH, so I had to change that too.

    And trust me, after I got several low-star reviews about the "language" in IOH (i.e. freakin', flippin', etc.), I scratched all those, too, although I really didn't want to because I don't agree with people that say those are curse words in disguise. In my opinion, it's better to say a word like gosh or darn rather than actual curse words, but I'm not lookin' to ruffle feathers, so I deleted them.

    And, Vince, thank you for your sweet comment about ALITW, hooligan or no! :)

    MELISSA ... thanks for worrying about me. I'm kind of surprised Firefox didn't warn me that it was a bad site like it sometimes does, but hopefully I stopped the download in time.

    RUTHY, that's interesting about the phrase, "wrap my head around it." Maybe it IS an older saying that modern times picked up, although it sure doesn't sound like it, which can be just as deadly in a historical.


  84. Melissa, thank you for all the wonderful resources. I've used some of them, but now have a more complete list for research.

  85. Hi Melissa. Thank you so much for the wonderful research sites. I thoroughly enjoy historicals, but haven't embarked on that particular writing journey--yet. I have a dear friend that is writing that genre and I so appreciate the time spent getting words in the correct time period and context. Readers will certainly let you know if you miss something! Thanks again and blessings to you.

  86. Enjoyed your post today! and always reading through the Seekerville comments make me smile :)
    Please enter me in the drawing for "A Heart Most Certain."

  87. Wow Melissa, You ARE a dinasaur. My hubby would love you. He hates all the cell phones. LOL

  88. Totally needed this post. Consider it bookmarked!