This post is less about grammar and more about style.
Remember the 1985 movie Back to the Future? Marty McFly repeatedly says “heavy,” 1980s slang for an intense situation, and Emmett (Doc) doesn’t understand. He questions Marty about problems with weightiness. Great Scott! Heavy as slang in 1955 is anachronistic.
Writers of historical fiction should exercise caution in the use of slang. Readers will catch those anachronisms in a heartbeat, just as Doc did in Back to the Future. Keep in mind you don’t want anything to distract your reader from your story. When it comes to writing dialog, do your research!
Examples I’ve come across:
- The old west ego. If you’re setting your Western in a time that predates Freud, don’t use the term ego when you mean arrogance. Ego didn’t exist until Freud coined the word in 1920.
- Eye candy or stud muffin. Those terms are late twentieth century and have no place in earlier settings. I recently read a Word War II era romance that described a soldier as “eye candy.” That’s a no-no.
- Fashion statement Too modern to be spoken in most historicals.
- Don’t go there! If your historical character is using the expression “don’t go there” (meaning, that subject is off-limits), he better be living in the 1990s or later. For that matter, off-limits is fairly modern, so be careful. Other expressions that are too modern to appear in historicals include get over it, give me a break, and go figure.
- Don’t give me any flak (or flack). Flak (also spelled flack) is anti-aircraft artillery. The term now means a critical or hostile reception or reaction, but it evolved from the military term. If your historical story predates military aircraft, don’t give your characters any flak.
- Life in the fast lane. An expression evolved from motorists using divided, multi-lane highways should not appear in a story predating divided, multi-lane highways.
- Stuck in the groove or his needle is stuck. This term originated with the first phonograph record and died with digital recordings and downloads. Use this slang with care.
What other anachronisms have you discovered in historical novels or movies?