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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.