History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

06 November 2006

Talk Dirty to Me

Slang. Cant. Vulgar speech.

A rose by any other name . . .would it smell as sweet as Shakespeare claims, or would it wither and die as Peter O'Toole maintained in My Favorite Year?

I love language. I love my copy of the OED. I love the Online Etymology Dictionary (even though it tortures me by telling me that so many wonderful words are off limits). I spent years and years (before the internet, don’t ya know) searching for a copy of The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. I’d fallen in love with it at my godmother’s house, and never been able to locate a copy. Finally, by change, I found one at a local used book Mecca. Lucky me. Now-a-days anyone can get a cyber copy from Project Gutenberg for free!

Want to go beyond that? Try the 1736/7 (I see different dates listed) The Universal Etymological English Dictionary. It’s full of juicy words.

Got a military hero? Don’t we all . . . how about doling out a bit of military slang from the Napoleonic wars?

Or perhaps you’re writing a political hero. A reformer. An MP. You could put Piggot's Political Dictionary (1795) to good use.

Need a quote? A theme for a conversation? Try out the search functions over at Bartlby.

How about you? Do you have a favorite source for the obscure?


Anonymous Mary Blayney said...

Where did you find your OED? I have the version that requires a magnifying glass and have never found a really good one. Now I am agitating for our small, rural, but new library to subscribe to the online edition.

My favorite resource for words of the period and how they were used are primary sources, especially letters. If nothing else I am fascinated by the endless variations in spelling that people came up with before spelling was standardized.

8:14 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Our San Francisco public library has the OED online for those with library cards, Mary. I use it at least a dozen times a day. Check yours; perhaps they do too.

Of course, the adventure is in knowing what to look up--the itchy, twitchy apprehension that a certain word simply doesn't SOUND period or British, or that there might be a story or a wrinkle of meaning there. (A wrinkle in time, you know?)

8:34 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I've got the same library access Pam has, and I also have a compact OED at home (bought a used copy off Abe Books for $40). I don't mind having to break out the magnifying glass (in fact, half the time I don't I just read it as is).

8:46 AM  
Anonymous Monica said...

I love my OED too. Though, sometimes I wish I didn't have it so easily available. I really want to use the word sex as a verb in my early 17th century novels. What do you all think?

10:52 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Sex as verb . . .

Maybe I need more caffeine.

Do you mean as in "He sexed the chicks."? Or “She wanted to sex up her outfit.”? I’m just not getting this.

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Monica M. said...

As in to have sex. I think it's me who needs the caffeine, I actually meant noun. (I was looking at the OED and it has this phrase under both verb and noun, but in any even, neither are used until the 1900's.)

2:20 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Thank goodness. I got so confused.

I'd probably just go ahead and use it. I mean, all the period terms just end up sounding like euphemisms (esp. since intercourse isn’t period, either!): to have congress, to know, to consummate, coitus, conversation, to occupy, to swive, to lie with.

Ok, I kind of like “swive”. LOL!

2:48 PM  
Blogger Anne Mallory said...

I love cant, slang and vulgar speech. I use the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue all the time. Too much fun. :)

3:21 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Anne, don't you feature bits of it on your site. A word of the day kind of thing? I think that's brilliant (as are your books, and those amazing little characters all over your site, very Gorey).

3:39 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I've struggled with the word "sex" in that way, Monica, for more hours than you can imagine, and I think not. I once used "eros," when commenting generally -- a character says that there's no more impossible combination than eros and politics -- but of course that's in the voice of an educated Regency type who says it with a little irony -- well, my Rengency folks say everything with a little irony. I've used "love making" or "making love," "go to bed with," and I kind of like "take to bed."

Hey, are we allowed to say "f**king" here (just in case we're not)? I was taken to task by a reader for using it, but there are a very few times when I think it works better than anything else.

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Monica said...

Pam, I've been struggling with it as well. There are only two words that really sound right in the particular sentence, "sex" or "f***ing." The later is a little too much for the context. "Mating" or "Tupping" just doesn't have that ring. Thanks for the opinions... I'm kind of with Tonda that I've read it thousands of times before and skipped over it more than I've skipped over some of the others, simply because they "sound" funny. To me, this is one of those cases where the "wrong" word pulls me out of the story less than the right one. Can't wait for the letters. :)

6:48 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

I am watching Battlestar Galactica at the moment, and one of the heroines actually said to a hero, "I would FRACK anyone to save you."

Hah! On network TV. So, now we can add the word FRACK to the list. I wonder if it has had some historical usage that way?

Fracking someone sounds so, medieval . . ;-)


8:28 PM  
Blogger Anne Mallory said...

Oh, Kalen, I love Gorey! I'm clicking on some Gorey Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer postcards to buy. Just what I need. *shakes head* :D

I do Word of the Day, yup! It's a lot of fun. You have me totally entrapped in the Canting dictionary now...you are a dangerous lady!

I dig swive too. "I'm going to swive you silly!" Perhaps followed by, "Arrr!"

10:16 PM  
Blogger Cathy Writes Romance said...

Good morning, History Hoydens!

I love the on-line etymology. I have a big old OED, too. Really big. Kinda old (like from the 1950's).

I have this quirky way of using language. I'm not sure if I inherited it from my Scottish/English ancestors or just read all the wrong books when I was a kid. Anyway, I love it when the OE or the OED backs up my coceptualized use of a word.

7:26 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I love the fact that I've heard "shite" on Network TV. Uh, guys . . . "shite" = "shit" but with a British accent. Guess Powell Jr. didn’t catch that one.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I learned my British English very young, from Pooh and Piglet, Alice and the Mad Hatter. I think it's a pity that they Americanize the language in the Harry Potter books, though maybe there are kids who would be scared away by Britishisms. But this seems unlikely to me since they've mastered so many of Rowlings' words already.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I go out of my way to buy the British versions of the HP books, as do all my friends. The whole Philosopher’s Stone/ Sorcerer's Stone thing just about killed me. Hello, a Philosopher’s Stone IS something (in alchemy, anyway). You can look it up. You can learn something. WTF is a " Sorcerer's Stone”?

9:19 AM  

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