Reading Is Good For You

Book Reviews, Literary News, and Thoughts on Life

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Having taken courses in the history of the English language and linguistics, I know that the uses of words can change drastically over time.  Still, sometimes when I’m reading through a book, particularly historical fiction or books that have been written way back when, I’ll stumble upon a word used in a way that makes me do a double-take. Take, for example, this passage from Georgette Heyer’s Regency romance Sylvester: or the Wicked Uncle (emphasis mine):

‘No – or on a lady with a better seat. The combination is quite shocking! Will you let me mount you while you are in town?’

[Phoebe] was so astonished she could only stare at him. He smiled, and said: ‘I keep several horses at Chance for my sister-in-law’s convenience. She was used to ride a great deal. There would be nothing easier than for me to send for a couple to be brought up to London.’

‘Ride Lady Henry’s horses?’ she exclaimed. ‘You must be mad! I shouldn’t dream of doing such a thing!’

‘They are not her horses. They are mine.’‘You said yourself you kept them for her use: she must consider them as good as her own! Besides, you must know I couldn’t permit you to mount me!

Well, it’s no wonder to me that Phoebe was so astonished! Having a background in equine science and the sense of humor of a twelve year old boy, I know exactly what that means in today’s terms and, needless to say, I was laughing like a loon when I came across it in the book.

Have you all run into some words used in an innocent manner for the time period in which the book was written, but mean something totally different today? Do share!

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This entry was posted on August 24, 2011 by in Miscellaneous and tagged , , , .
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