After my last post about how some holidays don’t exist in the world of my books, I started exploring another aspect of writing in a fictional setting. Namely, language. Language is a constantly changing and evolving thing, and many words today don’t have the same meaning they had just twenty years ago. New words are being invented all the time. Depending on the origin of the word, this can lead to some complications in some kinds of writing.
Of course, none of this means I can’t use these words in my book. There’s no reason to get too nitpicky about them. But as an etymology hobbyist, I enjoy studying words and finding out their origins and history. I sometimes even write about those etymologies. But even if the words listed below might be found in my book, there’s that little voice in the back of my head telling me that they don’t belong.
Jeez (Variants: Jeeze, Geez)
“Jeez” is a common type of non-profane exclamation. It can be used in place of any number of curse words, such as when saying “Oh, jeez” instead of “Oh shit,” or “Jeez, what the heck!” instead of “Damn, what the hell!”
More specifically, according to the origin of the word jeez, it’s a shorted form of “Jesus Christ.” It first appeared in the 1920s. It’s easy to imagine how this word came into existence if you’ve ever had to censor yourself in front of a child. “What did you just do? Jee–…ze. I can’t believe you just fu–…dge. You’re a pain in my … neck.” And so on.
In my books, everything takes place on a fictional world. Since that world isn’t Earth, there was no Jesus Christ. I always replace any instances of a character shouting “Jesus Christ!” with “Oh my God!” or something similar. I try to avoid jeez as well, though I doubt anyone would notice if it slipped in here and there. Similarly, anyone writing a historical novel set before the 1920s should avoid using jeez, since it probably wasn’t in use yet (though with all words, it was probably in common verbal use for some time before the first written account of its use, and written accounts is all we can base etymological studies on). Though I doubt many people are writing Victorian romance novels where the characters use slang words like jeez.
“Guy” is an informal word for a man or boy. Originally, the word only meant an effigy of Guy Fawkes (yes, that Guy Fawkes). After Guy tried to blow up parliament on November 5, 1605, people in England started making and burning these effigies. According to Wikipedia:
In Britain, 5 November has variously been called Guy Fawkes Night, Guy Fawkes Day, Plot Night and Bonfire Night … it became the custom to burn an effigy … of Fawkes. The “guy” is normally created by children, from old clothes, newspapers, and a mask. During the 19th century, “guy” came to mean an oddly dressed person, but in American English it lost any pejorative connotation, and was used to refer to any male person.
As you can see, “guy” basically referred to the doll that would be burned, which was oddly dressed because it was made from scraps of whatever clothes the kids could find. Eventually instead of an “oddly dressed man,” it just became any man. But in a world that never had Guy Fawkes, the word wouldn’t exist. And in a story set place before the 1600s, it wouldn’t have been made yet.
I’ll probably add a few more “Words I Shouldn’t Use in my Books” as I do more research and come up with them. Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t use them. But it’s good to know where your words come from.
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