America’s Secret Slang

by The TV Guy

UnknownSo I was flipping through the channels as I often do, aimlessly looking for something different to watch. One morning I came across a show that intrigued me right away. The many colloquial sayings and bits of language we use without a second thought of where they come from were being explained. The word “cop” for police officer was originally thought to come from the copper buttons on their coats. Well, they now think that the word cop comes from the Irish word “coep,” which stands for hero. They theorize that because much of the Irish language was passed on in an oral tradition, none of these words were well documented.

The California gold rush gave us so many slang words and phrases that we still use today. “Acid test” comes from testing the gold to verify it was real, if it passed the acid test than it was genuine. “Heard it through the grapevine” is a saying we all have heard and likely used in our lives. This comes from stringing telegraph line from posts to trees to whatever would hold the line. The miners thought they looked like grape vines and when they got information on the telegraph, they would say they heard it through the grapevine.

So if you are a lover of words and language this show is something you will want to catch. Check your local listings on H2.

Little House on the Prairie- book review

Sorry for the couple of days of not posting.  I had some computer issues and felt too lazy to try to post from my iPad.

I’ve been reading the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I started at the first one, and am up to the fourth in the series.  I remember reading and loving these stories as a kid, and it’s no different now.  One of the things I like about the books is that they detail how to do things that must have been standard back then, like making head cheese or building a log cabin.  I’m not a history fan per se, but I do enjoy history in this context.

It makes me think about how I’ve read writing advice that warns writers not to make their books “dated.”  Being “dated” is one of the reasons I like these books.  Before I go off on a tangent, I highly recommend them. Yes, they’re appropriate for children, but they’re also interesting for adults.

Back to the whole “being dated” thing.  Events don’t occur in a vacuum.  Speech, slang, customs, food, hairstyles, and clothing change over time, and all these things put a story in context.  I can guarantee that the Little House on the Prairie books would be different if the family was used to eating McDonalds and couldn’t get it, as opposed to hunting and growing their own food.  “Drat” was practically cursing back then.

My point is that if a book is going to stand the test of time, it’s probably going to be at least in part because of the context of the book, not in spite of it.  If Huckleberry Finn weren’t tied to a particular time period, would it still be as good?  I understand why the caution not to use slang, but let’s face it… a reader can figure out slang in context.  In the TV series Battlestar Galactica, they changed the primary expletive to the more TV friendly “frak.”  We all knew what that replaced.

So, what do you think about slang and “dating” modern fiction?  Yay or nay?


ImageI once read a bit of writing advice that said it’s important not to put slang into your story so as not to date your work.  In that way, your work will be able to have longer lasting appeal.  For a little while, I bought it.  I have a tendency to believe just about anything, at least at first.

Now I think that bit of advice is hogwash.

Having a story without anything to “date it,” when done deliberately, is a bit like cooking without any spices so that you don’t offend any taste buds.  I was reading a book today in which the author referred to someone watching Johnny Carson.  Until I read that, I hadn’t realized the book was published in 1990.  I liked reading that.  There’s another series of books, the In Death series by JD Robb, which are set in 2059.  The author has some of the characters use slang, different slang than what’s used now, but I like the fact that the characters talk differently.  I think that it adds to both the setting and adds depth to the characters.

Let’s face it, timeless classics are anything but “timeless.”  I like reading Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, not because they’re set in a time vacuum, but because the characters are timeless, the plot is timeless, and they way they make me feel is timeless.  It’s like the photos I talked about yesterday.  Reading these books is like looking back at a moment in time.

I don’t advocate adding slang just for the sake of doing it, or putting in things to date your work just because.  But if something fits, if it adds to the story, or the character or just feels right, then of course you as an author should add it.  I judge what to put in and take out by what I like to read.  If I enjoy it as a reader, then it’s the right thing to do as an author.