Saturday, June 20, 2009

World History at a Glance

I've touched on words from the Medieval era and the Regency, and didn't scratch the surface of either. The Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian eras await, as do ancient Celts, Picts, Romans, and Greeks, the American Civil War, The Jacobite uprisings, The Spanish Inquisition--the list seems endless.

Many of these eras overlap because they took place in different parts of the world. Trying to keep what happened when in any viable order can be confusing and time consuming. However, through most of history, events worked like ripples, pushing out to effect other parts of the globe. Knowing what was happening elsewhere can add dimension to your writing.

At one point, I had a timeline taped around the perimeter of my office. I added things to it as I ran across them and soon found myself running out of space, taping up more paper, adding more info until I could find nothing. When I'm working, the inability to find what I want chews my last nerve. I tore the thing down, spent hours putting it in order, only to find more bits to add later. Soon, I found myself tearing it down yet again.

Then I stumbled upon a real treasure: The Timechart History of the World--6000 years of world history unfolded. (ISBN-13:97807607-6507-6534-0 & ISBN-10: 0-7607-6534-0)

It does, in fact, unfold. Eyeballing it, I would say it is about twenty inches tall by twelve inches wide, but only about 1/4 inch deep. When working on an era, I open the book, unfold the pages, and see what other world events occurred about the same time and how, if at all, they might effect my characters.

For instance: 1000 A.D. finds the 19th Song Dynasty ruling China under Emporor Tching-Tsong (Yes, that's really his name). Egypt has become an independent Kalifate, while the Califate (yes, they're spelled differently) of Bagdad is ruled by Kader. Persia is ruled by Mahmoud, first Sultan of Chizni, who conquers India. Meanwhile the Seljukian Turks are rising in power.

In the eastern empire (Greece) Basil II and Constantine IX both claim the throne. In the western empire (Rome) Sylvester rules. Lower Italy is still retained by the Greek emperors while Naples, Sardinia, and Corsica remain under Rome. At this time Venice, which became independent of the eastern empire in 997 A.D., acquired Dalmatia and Istria. (During its illustrious history, Venice has had 122 Doges (Dukes), the first, Anefesto, in 697 A.D., the last, Luigi, in 1797 when Bonaparte gave it to Austria.)

We are about 1/4 of the way up the page.

I deliberately chose to start at the bottom because most of us who write in this era write European history. These rulers and events have nothing to do with our work. Or do they?

The first Crusade began in the latter part of the eleventh century. How many knights answered the call to free Jerusalem? Who did they fight? And why? How did they travel? Who did they meet? What events would effect them and the outcome of their crusade?

By looking at this timeline, you have a starting place. A map of the Crusaders' route will show you which of these rulers might have helped or interfered with their quest. Having names give you a toe up on your research.

Part of writing history is understanding it. To get a good grip on world events, I recommend this book. I have other timeline tomes, but they haven't the "at a glance" advantage.

With its classical maps, use of both Biblical and Scientific timelines, pages dedicated to the ruling powers and a host of other information, this book is a gem in any library's crown. It is "based on the famous and now very rare Victorian wallchart with much material specially reproduced from the world famous British Library held in the British Museum London" according to the back cover.

I hope some of you will find it as invaluable and thought provoking as I have.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Peek at Regency Cant

As I said before, it is my goal to make Romancing History a place for writers and readers of Historical Romance--not just the medieval variety. Since my current wip is medieval, restricting the blog to that era would be easy and, since this is a new undertaking, wrong.

My first historical was set in the Regency. That disaster ended life feeding my roses (did you know paper blocks weed growth?) which was, in truth, a mercy. If I missed one contrivence, one tired plot device, one ANYTHING a story shouldn't have, trust me, it was purely accidental.

However, as a result, I own A Regency Companion by Sharon Laudermilk and Teresa L. Hamlin. This little treasure is no longer in print and holds pride of place on my shelves. It's a fun read because these writers named the characters they used to illustrate proper address with Regency cant. Names like Lady Cheese-paring, a stingy sort who would count the oats lest the servants ate too much porridge, and Lord Nipcheese, the miser, who not only counted the servants' oats but those of his family as well!

Cant is the language of the rabble. Polite society frowned on it--in public. Gentlemen using it in mixed company displayed ignorance of the social niceties. Ladies? No lady would lower herself to speak such rubbish--at least not where a chaperone or mother could hear.

For a society who found discussing money distasteful, they had a number of slang words for it.

Bean - a guinea

Blunt - money

Brass - money (or brazeness)

Canary - a sovereign

Groat (not in this book but used usually as, "I don't give a groat.") a 12th century English silver coin equal to four pennies.

Guinea - (also not in this book, but used not only as currency but to discribe color) a gold coin of Great Britain issued 1663-1813, worth 21 shillings. (fyi: a pound was worth 20 shillings or 240 pence until 1971 when it became equal to 100 new pence.)

Monkey - 500 pounds.

Pony - 25 pounds.

Plum - 100,000 pounds

Ready (or the ready) - money

Then, of course, since money was of no consequence (at least not in public) you had:

Cent per cent - usurer

Ten in the hundred - a usurious money lender, more than five percent interest was considered excessive.

Some words and phrases took root and are still in use today. Here are a couple of them.

Take-in - a hoax

Rig out - Clothing

sport - to display

spout - to speak theatrically

Spree - a bit of fun, a romp

jaw - talk

Cake - a silly, foolish person

Black book - A black book was kept in most regiments, and the names of all persons sentenced to punishment were recorded there. To be in someone's black book still means someone is unhappy with you for some transgression.

Floor - to knock someone down

Fob - fob off; to put off with a trick. And did you know that a fob is not the ornament or pendant hanging from the end of the watch, but the small pocket in a man's breeches where he kept it?

Fuss - much to-do about unimportant matters

There are more, but I've rattled on sufficiently for now.

In the future, I hope to cover other topics like marriage and property--the laws for which would have today's woman looking for a meat cleaver--entertainments, fashion, and a host of other things. The Regency era is fascinating on so many levels, but mostly, IMHO, because it is an era unique to history, the likes of which we shall never see again.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Timely words

Warning: I don't edit blogs. What I think is what you get. Proceed at your own risk.

In the previous blog, I mentioned a word that I thought too modern for my time period, but didn't give it as I couldn't recall it at the time. Going over my manuscript, I found the word, and, just to be certain, checked it again. Still fits.

The word is mitigate. My fifteenth century heroine wants to mitigate damage done her lord by an unthinking (and uncaring) woman. My etymology dictionary assures me that, used to mean lessen in severity; make milder, came into being in the fourteenth century. Works for me.

But not all words are as accommodating. One of the funniest I've found is the word hussy.

According to the Medieval Word Book by Madelieine Pelner Cosman (page 124), a hussy refers to a household bound woman--the female counterpart of a husband, shortened from housewife. It only took on the meaning we use today, loose woman, harlot, in the Renaissance age.

Of course, we won't tell the networks this, or they'll be doing a new reality series: Desperate Renaissance Hussies.

Another word that changed it's meaning is dun.

In A Dictionary of Medieval Terms & Phrases by Christopher Coredon with Ann Williams, a dun is defined as an Irish fortified dwelling. Perhaps it is the color of said dwellings that led to things being called dun-colored. (Unfortunately, the etymology doesn't make this clear so this is pure supposition on my part.)

Regency writers, however, are more accustomed to using dun as a repeated demand for payment, a seventeenth century usage.

Why this word evolved from a fortified dwelling to a creditor's demand is obscure. It may have been a blending of languages that made one word perform disparate tasks, but there is no way to be certain.

Many words we use are derived from names. These are called eponyms, and they pepper our language. Something jamesian refers to a styling or reflection reminiscient of either the novels of Henry James or the philosophy of William James. Why do I mention this? Because a word very common in schoolrooms harkens back to a name.

A thirteenth century theologian by the name of Johns Duns Scotus finds himself the unwitting origin of the word dunce. It seems his views fell out of favor in England during the Reformation, especially his defense of the papacy. William Tyndale first used the word Dunsman as an epithet, but it, like so many words, was shortened over time to the form we use today meaning ignorance and stupidity. (A Dictionary of Medieval Terms & Phrases. Pg 108)

And, last, I'll include the word precinct. While still in use, commonly in conjunction with the jurisdictional boundaries of law enforcement, in medieval times a precinct meant a cathedral close (Cathedral lands, usually walled) with all of its auxiliary buildings.

Of course, canon law had long tentacles, so perhaps this usage isn't so different after all.

Have you discovered any words like those above? Please share. We strengthen ourselves when we share knowledge.