Elizabeth Melton Parsons


Using Period Language in Historical Romance

1 Comment

I like Victorian romance and most of the time the author defines the time period by dress, customs, mannerisms, and a certain way of speaking. Not necessarily the words used, but the manner in which they’re said, with some words from that specific time period thrown in here and there. I’m not talking about the Highland romances, which are full of the lovely Scottish brogue. I’m speaking of the English and American romance novels.

Since I write some historical romance, I do research on this kind of thing, but I’d never thought too much about it when reading, I simply enjoyed being taken away to another time period for a while. That is until recently I read a couple of books. One was a Victorian romance set in England, the other an 1800’s American western. The novel set in England and published by a well-known traditional publisher had language much too modern for the time period. The manner of speaking and certain words and phrases would never have been used in Victorian times. If it had been an occasional lapse, it wouldn’t have bothered me, but the entire book was written this way and was very distracting.

By contrast, the American western was so full of period language, words, phrases, and sentence structure, I needed an interpreter to understand what was being said. It was as though the author felt the need to use every slang term and little known words from the 1800’s they could find.

So when it comes to period language in a romance, how much is too much or too little? I don’t know the answer; I guess it depends on the preference of the readers. Some may like it more modern, others may like more of the original time period jargon. I like the manner of speaking to be correct for the period and I like the occasional word I’ve never seen before. But I also want the author to make it clear what the word is referring to by when and how it’s used in the dialogue.

I found a site that has19th century swear words and although I’d heard of most of them, some surprised me and I was surprised that some were even considered vulgar back then. http://www.authentic-campaigner.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-1865.html

And another site for period language. http://www.celticfringe.net/history/vocab.htm


Author: Elizabeth Melton Parsons

I'm a novelist, poet, and artist. I love books, nature, art, and gardening. I'm a rock hound and there's a photo of me with a cool fossil rock on my about page, I take a lot of nature pictures. The background here is one of mine. Unfortunately I recently lost my wonderful husband, but I'm grateful to have the blessing of two beautiful sons. elizabethmeltonparsons.wordpress.com is © Elizabeth Melton Parsons 2007-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Elizabeth Melton Parsons with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

One thought on “Using Period Language in Historical Romance

  1. I try and make sure I don’t use modern words but I do use contractions because to me reading without feels too stilted. I’m also fairly timid about using period cant, it’s too easy to use it wrong I think.


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