Sunday, 19 October 2008

A Place In Time

If I wrote a Western set in1877 that had a bounty hunter handing over a prisoner to Wild Bill Hickock - I imagine that I would get a pile of letters telling me that Hickock wasn't the law in Abilene at that time.
Same would happen if I had a journalist covering the battles of the Ameican Civil War with a portable typewriter on his back - or that The St. Valentine's Day Massacre was carried out by gangsters armed with Uzzi machine guns.
So, why is it that some authors today make that sort of mistake today?
It's a small mistake but the number of times that I have come across it is getting riduculous.
I refer to two small four letter words that begin with 'F' and 'C'.
Now, I'm no prude - any book set in the 1960s to the present day that use those words I do not have a problem with.
But when those two little words turn up in a western or a book that is set in the decades forward to the Sixties - it kind of jars with me.
After all if those two little words were in common usage it would be reasonable to assume that the likes of Mark Twain, Owen Wister, Ernest Hemmingway, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac and Raymond Chandler would have used them in their books.
The thing is that until the publication of D H Lawrence's ' Lady Chatterley's Lover' in the early Sixties those two little words were virtually unknown.
The thing that gets to me that a lot of these books have been researched but, not with the authentic language of the time. In everything that I've read about The Battle Of The Somme I never heard anyone mention '....the mud in the trenches....' nor, in the 1950s, did Derek Bentley standing on a factory roof say: 'Let 'im' 'ave it.' So, if they didn't say it - why should modern authors say it.
Just keep the books in their place in time - maybe, I'd read more.


David Cranmer said...

I couldn't agree more on the use of these words. Your post got me buzzin' cyberspace looking for an answer to the origin of one and I came across this:

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Interesting argument, Ray. I'm going to try and find out where the F word was first used in film/book.

Unknown said...

You're right, and it's by no means limited to F and C words. One BHW writer doesn't use these, but he does regularly have bunches of lookalike, talkalike outlaws mouthing street-slang terms of a much later era. And his lawmen heroes talk about "scams" as they unravel the convoluted, twist and twist again plots.

It's not a new problem. Some western writers in the 1940s and '50s used gangster slang of that time in the same way: "dames" . . . aaargh!

All I can suggest, Ray, is that you avoid the writers whose choice of words irritates you. Fortunately, the BHW series offers plenty of variety, though it is sometimes annoying to find yourself fooled by a new pen-name into picking up a book by an author you were trying to avoid!


Ray said...

David - thanks for the link it proved useful and I felt that it backed up what I was saying about 'not in common useage'.

Gary - I don't know if the transcript of the Trial of Lady Chatterley is on line but I do believe that it was mentioned that the words were used by Chaucer and a quote from Shakespeare 'He doth spell sunt with a 'c'' but I've forgotten where that comes from.
Lawrence wrote 'Lady Chatterley' back in the 1920s but no English publisher would touch it - it was published in Paris and, promptly, banned over here.
Whichever way you look at it Chaucer, Shakespeare and Lawrence used the words in their proper context and not as swear words.

Keith - I agree with you but, for some reason it's those two words that bug me. Maybe, it's because either a) they're in common useage that no one would notice or b) that they turn up in war movies etc that it is 'assumed' that they were used at the time.