“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?
I’m not sure if I remember stuff tripping me up, but I do know that my editor made me change “cattle” to “horses”.
Definitely “bosky”. That word is forever stuck in my head. Completely.
I had been reading Heyer for a while and came upon a multiple choice vocabulary test in prep school (Maybe I was 15?). I don’t remember all the choices, but I remember two of them were “Wooded glade” and “Soldiers in uniform”.
OK. Ummm. TO ME, a reader of Regency, “bosky” means foxed, in your cups, drunken, etc. (Although if you ask me to come up with a reference here, I’m channelling Sir Percy in defeat. “Sink Me!”)
So my idiotic little mind put together this mental image of three sailors in bright white and blue uniforms wandering through a wooded glade, bumping into trees and swinging about brown bottles of ale. Very entertaining.
Didn’t help a WHIT on the vocabulary test. And now I’m forever corrupted by bosky. I find myself looking to use it in sentences, to no avail. Thickets, no matter how sober, do not turn up that much in everyday conversation.
It took me a while to understand “corn” and “lace” on uniforms but mostly I love the Regency terminology.
the outside of enough
It took me a while to figure out what ton meant. And how it was pronounced. 🙂
Oh, I thought of another one. It took me years to really figure out what “yard of tin” meant!
I want to know exactly what clocks are on stockings. See The Devil’s Cub or These Old Shades by Heyer.
“Shot the cat” and “blowing a cloud” and oh so many others are just obvious from context.
My mother used to tell us to stop being bosky/obstreperous/uncouth. I have a large vocabulary thanks to her yelling at us.
The Elgin Marbles. I thought they were these small round objects for the longest time. Then in another book that mentioned them, they actually did also talk about Greece or what the statues were/weren’t wearing, something like that. . . and boy did the lightbulb pop. . . they *were not* small and around, but looked like statues I’ve seen in the Met once upon a time. LOL 🙂
I love ‘mutton dressed as lamb,’ which I’ve taken into my own everyday vernacular. But I didn’t get it at first, because I didn’t know that ‘dressed’ was also a word for cooking preparation. It works both ways, I know, but I was still confused.
Oh, and demi-monde. You have beau monde, and demi-monde, and it took me a while to figure out they weren’t the same thing. 🙂
Also — franking a letter.
A clock on stockings is a small design woven into the fabric.
Like the backrgound of Norwegian sweaters? Those little flecks of white? But on stockings they’re a stripe made up of little tiny designs on the outside of the calf.
(If you know stockings, there’s a tendnecy for a looser stripe of stitches to appear up the calf, called a ladder, which is caused by the two needles causing a series of looser stitches there. If you put a design into the end of one needle and the beginning of the next, the ladder pulls together, and then you have clocks on your stockings. Then in became a fashion thing to have a stripe up the outside.)
Whew. Never knew Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitting Around was going to come in handy on a Regency blog!
Oh, very clever. Thank you, Suisan.
Georg, thanks for laughs on “I have a large vocabulary thanks to her yelling at us.” Your mother sounds like she would’ve fit rather well in a Regency setting.
Wow, all cool stuff. I love “bosky” too. I also found ton a little confusing, because you’d hear about the ton, and bad ton, etc…
LOL on the marbles, Lois and Georg, that’s funny about the vocabulary! My mother is an avid Regency reader and might have used Regencyisms to scold me, except that we spoke Lithuanian at home!
Suisan, thanks for the explanation of clocked stockings. I never specifically researched that because I’ve only seen it in Georgians but I had always imagined it was some sort of embroidery or gathering.
Megan, love that mutton/lamb thing. A timeless concept, really.
My mother finally gave me all of her Georgette Heyers and a few other romances I liked to sneak into her collection and read. Where do you think I get my affection for the period from? 🙂
thank you for the clock explanation!
When I first started reading Regencies the vocabulary did take some getting used to. I remember one thing that particularly struck me–even though it is perfectly obvious what it means–was the use of “females” instead of “women.” One of my favorite essays of all time is Mark Twain’s “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” which specifically decries this usage. I was also struck by the large number of terms for “drunk”–bosky, foxed, a trifle disguised…
Though of course, we have almost as many euphemisms for drunkeness nowadays as we do for sex. Says something about human preoccupations.