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The History of a Foul Mouth

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Rowan
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The History of a Foul Mouth

Post by Rowan » Thu January 13th, 2011, 2:10 pm

No matter how many times I read a historical fiction book, I cannot wrap my head around encountering what I've always thought to be modern words. That is, curse words. (Or however you may refer to them.) I'm reading the third book in CJ Sansom's Matthew Shardlake series and Shardlake's companion uses the word arsehole a lot, but in the bit I was reading at the breakfast table this morning, he used the "F bomb" (anyone know why it's called that???) and I was a bit surprised. I know there aren't many words that can truly be considered modern, in the sense that they've only come into use within the last 50 years or so, but does anyone else have this problem? Either with "bad words" or with any other words that seem out of context in historical fiction.

Please don't tell me I'm alone in this. :( :p

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wendy
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Post by wendy » Thu January 13th, 2011, 2:25 pm

Well, when I was writing about pirates I discovered they had their own ripe vocabulary and chose my curse words very carefully from THE PIRATE PRIMER. I couldn't envisage Blackbeard and Co. sticking to the Queen's English (and the novel needed to sound authentic).
I've just finished a book on the 1612 Lancashire witches and used many traditional Shakespearian oaths for them.
I have never yet used the f*** word because it has not been appropriate to the period in question.
So I agree with you that it belongs in the modern era - but I also think it is wrong to exclude swearing if the characters would have addressed each other accordingly.
Is your issue just with the f*** word - or all expletives you find offensive?
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Rowan
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Post by Rowan » Thu January 13th, 2011, 2:29 pm

Hi Wendy,

I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm offended by the use of the words (I have occasion to use them liberally myself :o :o :o :o ), but just find that they seem to stand out more to me in a historical setting than outside. Does that make sense? Kinda like a mental speed bump. I don't know how else to explain.

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Post by Ariadne » Thu January 13th, 2011, 3:22 pm

By coincidence I was recently asked about the historical usage of the F-word, so looked it up in the OED. Its usage is late 16th century (as a verb), and cited often in bawdy rhymes and plays and such in the centuries following. But as a curse word, usage is much later, cited as late 19th and early 20th c. in writings. (And I'm sure it was used in speech earlier than in writing!)

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Rowan
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Post by Rowan » Thu January 13th, 2011, 3:30 pm

So either way, usage of the word during the 1400s is wrong.

I wish I had access to the OED. Thanks for that Ariadne. :)

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Post by Misfit » Thu January 13th, 2011, 3:49 pm

[quote=""Rowan""]Hi Wendy,

I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm offended by the use of the words (I have occasion to use them liberally myself :o :o :o :o ), but just find that they seem to stand out more to me in a historical setting than outside. Does that make sense? Kinda like a mental speed bump. I don't know how else to explain.
[/quote]

Ditto (for using the word on occasion) as well as being thrown out of a story when it is used liberally like you. This happened with me with a book about R3. I can't recall where I inquired about it (the old board or elsewhere), but I think someone (EC?) had some examples of its earlier use.
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Post by Kveto from Prague » Thu January 13th, 2011, 6:11 pm

I just started reading a new book written a few years ago. It is set in 3rd century rome. Then right there on page 5, a pratorian guard tells a messanger to "Go **** off."

It jarrs me right out of the narrative. not for any puritanical reasons. it just feels so blarringly modern. I know that we are supposed to guess that the character was using roman/latin equivalent of the time but it just feels too modern. makes you instantly remember that you are reading a book written in 2008 not a story set in old rome. on me, it has the worst effect that it could elicit, reminding the reader that this is just a book.

For the record, its not the f-bomb that turned me off. id have had the same reaction if the roman would have said "groovy" or "whizzo" or "bling-bling". whether or not "****" is an ancient word, it just feels too modern. Would it be so hard for the author to try to find an insult which would sound a bit more authentic?

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Post by SonjaMarie » Thu January 13th, 2011, 6:14 pm

I was once told long ago that the "f word" meant For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, lol.

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Rowan
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Post by Rowan » Thu January 13th, 2011, 6:24 pm

[quote=""Kveto from Prague""]I just started reading a new book written a few years ago. It is set in 3rd century rome. Then right there on page 5, a pratorian guard tells a messanger to "Go **** off."

It jarrs me right out of the narrative. not for any puritanical reasons. it just feels so blarringly modern. I know that we are supposed to guess that the character was using roman/latin equivalent of the time but it just feels too modern. makes you instantly remember that you are reading a book written in 2008 not a story set in old rome. on me, it has the worst effect that it could elicit, reminding the reader that this is just a book.

For the record, its not the f-bomb that turned me off. id have had the same reaction if the roman would have said "groovy" or "whizzo" or "bling-bling". whether or not "****" is an ancient word, it just feels too modern. Would it be so hard for the author to try to find an insult which would sound a bit more authentic?[/quote]

That's it exactly Kveto!!!

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Post by LoveHistory » Thu January 13th, 2011, 8:55 pm

I had the same problem watching Titanic when Rose flips off that guy who works for her fiance.

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