Friday, April 27, 2007

Dirty Dictionaries

When it comes to writing sexy historicals, there’s a fine line to be tread between “understandable to the modern audience” and “accurate”. Our very own Lacy Danes has a lovely page of historical sex terms. One of my chosen references is the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, which I think is a later edition of an older 1750’sish dictionary. It’s mostly cant and rhyming slang, which as an Aussie I am particularly at home with. I often tell my husband to answer the “Eau de” (pronounced “ohdee”), which frequently gets a puzzled look, but “eau de cologne” rhymes with “phone”. Great if your hero is into that scene, which the original title page describes quite well:

A DICTIONARY of Buckish Slang, University Wit
and Pickpocket Eloquence

Your heroine is either taught this by a lover, is a pickpocket herself, or hung around with her brother and his university friends....

Another resource I use is The big book of FILTH: 6,500 sex slang words and phrases (ISBN: 0-304-35350-7). This is great. It dates every usage of the word, down to the decade. (It also has 30 pages of alternative words to “penis”.)

Which brings me to the problems of being accurate. Some of these words sound very silly: “torch of cupid”, “pizzle” sounds a bit odd. Even “limb” or “master of cockshire” is weird.

What’s a writing girl to do? The alternative is to get medical which is not always the best route to take. I mean, why bring the clinical into the erotic? But the best part is that there are words in modern day use that have been used since the 17th century. A happy, Anglo-Saxon, four-letter word.

People might think I’m vulgar, but hey, at least I’m accurate.

How do you deal with historical sex terms in your work? Readers: what words have made you howl?


Little Lamb Lost said...


Eva Gale said...

I happily use the same ones you do. :)

Kalen Hughes said...

I like the "c" word (the one that also means rooster). I have more trouble with terms for female anatomy, as most of them squick me out (quim, cunny, etc.). *shudder* I think this is one of the reasons I'm not "filthy" enough for Aphrodesia. LOL!

Kate Pearce said...

I'm a bit naughty for a historical writer. I tend to use the more modern terms, especially for women, because I find that anything which is actually in period sounds false to me-so I keep to the standard terms and most people just read right over them although 'technically' they are incorrect.

Jessica Danielle said...

I just added you to my favorites list!

meardaba said...

I'm with little lost lamb on this one. Manroot has me in stitches every time.