To Nitpick or Not to Nitpick? That is the Question.

Are you as surprised as I am to learn that the word “nitpicking” first came into use in 1956? That means I’m older than the word nitpicking!

          It also means I can’t use “nitpick” or any form of the word in my historical fiction writing.

Nitwit

          One of my characters wanted to call another character a nitwit. That’s what led me to my discovery about nitpicking. It turned out that I can’t use nitpick, nitpicking, or nitwit in my historical fiction writing, unless I move my stories from the 1760s to the 1960s. That’s just not possible, unless I plunge my characters into a time warp.

          In case you care, “nitwit” wasn’t in common usage until around 1922. I don’t propose that you or I call people hurtful names, but I can’t help what my fictional characters do or say.

Guidelines for historical fiction

          There are words we use in everyday life without giving (or needing to give) any thought to their origins. That would make life beyond tedious. That’s not what I’m talking about here.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

          As a writer of historical fiction, I must be careful not to include a word not in common usage at the time of my short story or novel. If one of my 18th century characters used the word “nitwit,” you might not notice; however, if one of my 18th century characters said “telephone” it would yank you right out of the story and it would ruin my credibility. It is through that process of checking on certain words that I’ve happened upon many surprises.

          My surprises fall all along a spectrum. There are words such as nitpick that I would’ve guessed had been in use for centuries. On the other hand, I didn’t expect that the term “fast lane” was in common use before the year 1050. (That’s not a typo. The year 1050.) After seeing that while I was looking up a different word, I began to doubt myself and wondered if I needed to look up every word I wrote.

          Of course, that’s not practical. By writing about this today I’ve probably opened myself up to a great deal of scrutiny when my historical short stories and my first historical novel are eventually published. Knock yourself out! I’m doing the best I can.

Concerted effort

          Today’s blog post falls into the same quirky category as an earlier one. In the title of one of my 2018 blog posts I asked if an individual can make a concerted effort. The point of that post was that by its very definition it takes two or more people working together to make a concerted effort.

          One of my blog readers took me to task on that one. She insisted that she always made a concerted effort in everything she did. She seemed insulted by my blog post and missed my point.

          It wasn’t my intent to insult anyone or hurt anyone’s feelings. I was merely pointing out a nuance in the English language. I’m attempting to be a writer. It comes with the territory.

          Words are fascinating!

Until my next blog post

Keep reading books.

When you read a good book, be sure to tell the author by writing a review or even writing a letter to the author. You should be able to reach them through their website.

Remember the brave people of Ukraine. It saddens me that only 49% of registered voters in North Carolina voted in the mid-term election last Tuesday. Democracy is a fragile thing. We don’t have to share a border with Russia to know that.

Thank you for reading my blog today! I hope to see you here again next Monday.

Janet

7 thoughts on “To Nitpick or Not to Nitpick? That is the Question.

  1. For me, the answer to your question to nitpick or not to nitpick is to nitpick. I write mostly 20th century historical (?) fiction, and I’m constantly checking the etymology of words to see if they were in common use at the time and if my character would have been likely to use them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are right, the job of a writer is to use words, correctly and to their full advantage. Also very interesting about those two words you mentioned. Although I spent many, many years in the US, I never really came across those two, but their history is interesting and for you it is imperative that you do not use words that came after the time of your novel. No one will believe if an eighteenth century person asked for his/her mobile phone! All the best to you Janet!

    Liked by 1 person

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