on June 24, 2013 in Misc

I used to have a book about prostitution in Victorian England.  An illustration in it shows one streetwalker saying to another, “Why Fanny, when did you turn gay?”

Fanny was not “gay” the way we mean it today or just being happy.  “Gay” was street slang for a hooker.  And yes I know: “hooker” has its origins in the name of a Civil War general.

Here’s another one for you…

A minister complains to his flock about all the New Age ideas people are starting to follow.  Sounds like a scene from today or from the 1960’s at the earliest?

Try the 1860’s.  And “New Age” was capitalized just like today.  That means I can use this term in my book Charity MaCay and the Almighty Dollar, which is set in 1867-1868.

I gotta tell you, checking for anachronisms in your own manuscript is so exhausting, so royal pain annoying, so anal retentive BORING.  But hey, on the bright side I’m at the point with my manuscript that I’m pretty much just editing single words.

A lot of you writers must know just what I’m talking about.  If you deal at all with history you have to make sure that objects or ideas or even single words were around in the period you’re dealing with.  That includes science fiction writers scribbling time travel stories or paranormal or romance novelists telling tales of bloodsuckers in Regency England.

And you and I know why we have to get these freaking details absolutely right.  Not just because we want to be proud of our work, but because when we slip up relatives and other critics will point out our mistakes because, they swear, they’re just trying to be helpful.   (Yeah, right!)

So in our defense I’d like to point out that even bigshots can make mistakes.

In the movie Titanic a character makes a crack about “Masters of the Universe.”  That term wasn’t around in 1912, and so movie critics went out of their way to mention James Cameron’s boo-boo.

I caught an anachronism in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Zelda Fitzgerald of 1920’s Paris said “lobotomized.”  But lobotomies had not yet been invented.  I still loved the movie, of course.

So what anachronisms or other detail problems have you noticed in books or movies or TV shows?  Ever had to run your manuscript by experts to vet for those pesky details?  Ever want to slit your wrists ’cause you’re so damn tired of looking up the origin of words?

Postscript:  My Mom is doing better this week.  I really appreciate all the kind words and thoughts I received from you all.


9 Responses to “Anachronisms”

  1. That’s good news about your mother!
    Movies set in the past that contain a lot of today’s slang really bothers me. You’re right, slip in one wrong word and people will catch it.

  2. So glad your mom is better. I don’ write historical, but I still know the word-by-word thing. It’s my least favorite editing thing.

  3. Helena says:

    Carol – From what I’ve read of Solomon’s Compass (about a third of the way through and loving it!), you did a superb job at editing.

  4. Glad your mom is doing okay. I heard that James Cameron caught flack about the sky over the ocean. Apparently, it didn’t get the constellations right. So in the blu-ray release, he redid the stars to match the night sky as it would have appeared during the time that the Titanic sailed the high seas.

  5. Helena says:

    Michael — Wow, talk about the audience noticing details! Reminds me of how in the early silent movies a few actors tried to get away with cussing at each other or complaining while pretending to speak the correct dialogue; then deaf people who could read lips complained that they knew what the actors were really saying.

  6. Old Kitty says:

    I recentely watched a show about film “bloopers” and there were quite a few fantasy-type films set in Roman/mythical times showing big men wearing modern day trainers and I think one film had this guy yelling and you could see he had dental gold fillings! LOL! I think Braveheart the film is full of such historical anachronims too?

    Glad your mum is doing better! Take care

  7. So glad your mom’s doing well. Anachronisms are good to avoid in our own writing but so much fun to find in others’.

  8. Helena says:

    Milo – Funny point! They are indeed fun when other people make them, but not us.

  9. Helena says:

    Old Kitty – When I was a kid I saw an old 50’s movie on TV that was set in ancient Greece, but they referred to the god of the sea as Neptune (Roman name) instead of Poseidon.