Cattle and corn

“What, are you at that again? I still have them, and they will still beat any of the cattle you own.”

These lines are from FARO’S DAUGHTER, by Georgette Heyer and for anyone who hasn’t read it (do find a copy–it’s a fun read even though the heroine doesn’t beat the hero at cards), this is what the hero, Max Ravenscar, says when challenged to a race by one of the villains.

When I first read this (I was probably around 9 or so) the immediate mental image was something more like the picture at left, though I did figure out that Max wasn’t about to hitch longhorns to his curricle.

It took me a bit longer to figure out that when Regency authors wrote about horses being corn-fed they weren’t talking about Indian corn or sweet corn, as they called it in England while I lived there. By the time I was researching my first Regency, reading about things like the Corn Laws, I knew it was a generic term for grain. None of this ever bothered me. Maybe it was my tender age. When you’re young you often accept odd things because, well, much of the world is just odd and new.

But I think I’ve always been pretty flexible in my reading. When I read historicals set in pre-Georgian times I sometimes encounter the odd unknown word. As long as it makes sense in context, for instance when I know it’s an item of clothing even if I can’t quite picture it, it doesn’t bother me a bit. I may look it up later.

But it’s a bit of a tightrope. In my own writing, I like to use the occasional Regencyism but I try to make sure it’s self-explanatory–like calling someone a ninnyhammer–or makes sense in context. I avoid terms that could be confusing, like “cattle”, especially if there are historically accurate alternatives. I expect they’d get nixed by a copy editor anyway.

I’ve heard some readers complain that this sort of censorship is “dumbing down” the Regency. I understand what they mean. Georgette Heyer created a shared world many of us like to visit and Regencyisms are the passwords. The thing is, I want my stories to be accessible to readers who aren’t familiar with the period. And there’s so much more to the Regency than just the language anyway!

So were there any Regencyisms that tripped you up when you first started reading Regencies? How important are they to your Regency reading experience? Do you have any favorites?


About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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