Wednesday, November 02, 2011


Etymology is an area where we all fall down as writers. Even the best forget to check their novels, essays, short stories, and dialogue for etymological mishaps.

The Oxford Dictionary defines etymology: the historically verifiable sources of the formation of a word and the development of its meaning. So? I can hear you asking.

If you use a word in your story set in Victorian London and it didn't begin to enter the mainstream until the Great Depression, you have a problem. Etymological dictionaries will save your professional credibility. For example, in my mid-grade time travel novel, I had to search out the expressions used by sailors in 1890 to make sure they were used on sailing ships. I found three instances where the words I'd used did not start until 1910 and later. I also had my protagonist use an exclamation that went out of use in the late 1700s. Ooops!

I now use two sources for help:
 QUESTION: How do you tackle etymological issues in your manuscript?
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