Thanks for having me on EverAfter Romance to celebrate the release of the first book in my new Highland Isles series, The Beast of Aros Castle! I’m Heather McCollum, and I am a Word Nerd. I love words, history, and writing romance. I often lose myself in etymology: the study of the origin of words.
As a writer, there are millions of words from which to choose. Yet the wrong word, or the right word said by the wrong person, can completely throw a reader out of the world I’ve created. Nooo! Therefore, I must choose wisely when writing.
The word “wow” was first used in the 1510’s. It was a Scottish exclamation to show astonishment and has apparently stood the test of time. In my Scottish romance, set in the year 1522 when King Henry VIII was still on his first wife, it would be historically accurate for my Highlander to say “wow, lass, ye look lovely, spread naked across my bed.” But how many of you would stop and wonder whether he would really say “wow”? That word could completely throw you out of the scene (and this could be a scene you really don’t want to miss!).
Then there are the cuss words. In the late 16th century, the F-word was not considered a swear word, but a word to describe, in a straightforward way, sexual intercourse. It first showed up in a manuscript written in the early 1500’s by a monk writing about his moral-lacking abbot. The word became increasingly thought of as crass and was considered taboo by the late 18th century. The word “swive” was defined the same way as the F-word in the 16th century, and considered just as crass.
When writing love scenes set in the early 16th century, I needed a word for penis. Penis was not used for the male appendage until the 1670s. So, what did they call it before then? Fourteenth century people called the penis a “yard”. When searching for authentic penis synonyms (yes, this is my job), the word “pizzle” also comes up (no pun intended!). In 1522, the penis was called a “gear” and in 1523 it was referred to as a “fiddle”. The word “cod” was used earlier and by 1533 the penis could be called a “spindle” or “iron.”
All of that is fascinating to me and quite hilarious when I try to use the words with my husband. But if I were to write “she stroked his fiddle” into my book, it might just break the mood of the scene. So, although, the word would be historically accurate, I can’t use it in my historical romances, unless I want to leave you all laughing and wondering how that word got past my editor.
Different characters will use different words when thinking and speaking. My Highland hero was thinking about sleeping with the heroine and how great it would be. I first had him describing the hoped-for interlude as “fabulous,” which was in use from the early 15th century. Luckily my editor pointed out that she could not see my low-slung-kilted, rugged, warrior describing his sexual prowess as fabulous. She was right. Incredible or earth-shattering, maybe, but not fabulous. Words are powerful, and the wrong one can ruin a scene.
I often lament that there just aren’t enough words in the English language from which to choose. Thank goodness for metaphors and similes. His eyes are not just gray. They are the color of an angry sky just before a storm. The girl’s smile is not just pretty. Her mouth turns up at the corners with the naïve merriment of a sheltered child. Authors blend words to create worlds, characters and stories like an artist blends colors to create their paintings. Since I can’t even draw a proper circle, I’m much happier paging through my thesaurus.
Thank you so much for having me here today! Do you know of any words that have interesting origins? What is your favorite word? I’m partial to snollygoster and callipygian.
For more information about Heather McCollum and her books, check her out on the web:
Heather McCollum is an award winning, historical paranormal and YA romance writer. She earned her B.A. in Biology, much to her English professor’s dismay. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood of 2009 Golden Heart finalists. The ancient magic and lush beauty of Great Britain entrances Ms. McCollum’s heart and imagination every time she visits. The country’s history and landscape have been a backdrop for her writing ever since her first journey across the pond. When she is not creating vibrant characters & magical adventures on the page, she is roaring her own battle cry in the war against ovarian cancer. Ms. McCollum recently slayed the cancer beast and resides with her very own Highland hero, rescued golden retriever & 3 kids in the wilds of suburbia on the mid-Atlantic coast.