Thursday, July 13, 2017

Looking up Words from the Past

Edith here, writing from north of Boston where it's finally really summer!

Last Saturday I finished writing the first draft of my fourth Quaker Midwife Mystery. No title and no cover, either, so far - it will be out in April, 2019. I'm delighted to be done, of course. Revisions and polishing lie ahead, but the basic story is complete. (See here for the first three!)

One thing I do a lot as I'm writing this series, which is set in the late 1880s, is look up words. I might type a word like "employee" and then think, "Wait, that sounds kind of modern. Did people say that then?"

Other than a good dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary, my favorite source is the Online Etymology Dictionary. This invaluable source from Douglas Harper is right there at my fingertips as I'm writing. 

I type the word, click OK, and bingo, get results.

So, for your reading pleasure, I present some of the words I've been checking, and the year of their first occurrence. I categorize them into CAN use and CAN'T use. And yes, I keep a running list of every word I've looked up from book one forward.

CAN use:
  • last straw 1836
  • employee. "person employed," 1850, mainly in U.S.
  • chummy. 1874
  • damnation. As an imprecation (spoken curse) from 1600.
  • grown-up, 1813
  • daddy 1500
  • elastic. Figurative use by 1859. The noun meaning "piece of elastic material," originally a cord or string woven with rubber, is from 1847, American English.
  • cop. "policeman," 1859, abbreviation of earlier copper
  • hot water. 1530s in figurative sense of "trouble.
  • funny bone "elbow end of the humerus" (where the ulnar nerve passes relatively unprotected) is from 1826, so called for the tingling sensation when struck
  • lo and behold, attested by 1779
  • trainee, 1841
  • weekend 1878
  • stall, v. "to become stuck or be set fast," mid-15c
  • ad, abbreviation of advertisement, attested by 1841
  • intuit, v, Meaning "to perceive directly without reasoning, know by immediate perception" is from 1840
  • index finger 1768
  • splendid 1640s
  • vet for veterinarian 1862
  • neighborhood 1620s
  • creepy, in modern sense 1858
  • Thanks, 15 c.
  • Brochure - 1748
  • Pamphlet - late 1500s
CAN’T use:
  • second-guess 1941
  • run-in "quarrel, confrontation," 1905
  • deadline: “time limit," 1920, American English newspaper jargon
  • scan, v. sense of "look over quickly, skim" is first attested 1926
  • undercover.  Sense of "operating secretly" attested from 1920
  • hormone, 1905
  • logo 1937
  • trade-off, 1957
  • fitness, as in physically fit, 1937
  • stylized, 1894
  • spill the beans, 1919
  • pictogram 1910
  • activist "one who advocates a doctrine of direct action," 1915; activism 1920
Readers: which of these surprised you? Got a favorite word whose history you want me to check?


H. Maupin said...

Yikes! An exclamation of astonishment.

Edith Maxwell said...

Here you go, Harold. ;^)

yikes. Exclamation of alarm or surprise, by 1953; perhaps from yoicks, a call in fox-hunting, attested from c. 1770

Jane Risdon said...

Being English I still use yikes! Cripes and more. Being older perhaps we have a wide range of words to use, I notice a decline in the number of words youngsters are using over here, vocabulary is narrowing. Like, whatever, you know and init seem to be the latest 'hot' words.

Edith Maxwell said...

Init is very English, I think - we don't hear it over here.