In my previous blog post I asked which of the words and phrases below could be used in a story set in 1802. These are the answers.

  1. Agent provocateur: used pre-1802?   No

According to Etymonline.com the first referenced use in English as a borrowed French term was in 1845 (this was a surprise: I was sure it dated back to the Napoleonic Wars).

  1. Spy: used pre-1802?   Yes

The Random House Dictionary has this word dated from 1200-50, a variant of the Middle English spien. So any of you planning a story about a medieval James Bond, go right (or should that be write?) ahead.

  1. Yokel: used pre-1802?   No         

Etymonline.com has its first recorded use in English from 1812 (it has, apparently, come to us from the German jokel, a rude name for a farmer). Really annoyed about this as I had to substitute ‘yokel’ in ‘The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy’ for ‘bumpkin’ (1560s) which to my ear doesn’t have quite the same heft.

  1. Bedrock: used pre-1802?   No

Memidex.com cites its use from 1869.

  1. Blindside: used pre-1802?   No                         

Dictionary.com puts the first use of this US football term in the early 1970s.

  1. Snob: used pre-1802?   No

Tricky one this. Although the word ‘snob’ was around pre-1802 its use was confined to Cambridge University students as a dismissive term for the local tradesmen. The meaning we infer – those who look down on those they believe to be their social interiors ‒ was popularized by William Thackeray’s ‘Book of Snobs’ (1848). So there’s a jarring moment in Jol Wright’s visually beautiful film version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when Mrs Gardiner accuses Elizabeth Bennet of being a snob (just one of many historical faux pas, the worst of which is Keira Knightley’s penchant for wearing rubber wellies!).

  1. Standby: used pre-1802?   Yes

Merriam-Webster has the first recorded use of ‘standby’ (as in ‘one that is held in reserve ready for use’) dated at 1796, so Elizabeth can indeed reach for that conversational standby, the weather.

  1. Upstage: used pre-1802?   No

Etymonline.com dates this from 1855, which was a painful discovery … the synonyms for ‘upstage’ just don’t cut it. I ended up using ‘overshadow’ but it doesn’t have the same ring to it.

  1. Stage-struck: used pre-1802?   No

Another 1802 no-no, etymonline.com dating this from 1813. The good news here is that the term stage-smitten dates from the 1680s.

  1. Scuttlebutt: used pre-1802?   No                         

Although the word scuttlebutt – a barrel of drinking water for the use of the sailors – dates from 1805, its use as a term for rumor and gossip is much later, 1901.

  1. Femme fatale: used pre-1802?   No

French borrowings are awkward in terms of dating. According to Merriam-Webster the use of femme fatale in English dates from 1912 (etymonline.com comes in a little earlier at 1895). My problem as a writer is that these anglicized Frenchisms are so marvelously succinct and evocative I really regretted having to ditch them. Some of the others that fell by the wayside:

“A woman diving off a bathing wagon in to the sea” 1790 by Thomas Rowlandson , Wellcome Library, London. Here: dipping more than her toe into a new language
  • Volte-face (1819)
  • Decolletage (1894 – try finding a synonym for that!)
  • Bete noir (1844)
  • Habitue (1818)
  • Declasse (1887)
  • Aperitif (1894)
  • Chic (1879)
  • Bona fides (1838)
  • Debutante (1817, as in ‘a young woman making her first appearance into Society’)
  • Fiancee (1844)
  • Fiance (1864)
  1. Mores: used pre-1802?   No

1907, from Latin mores “customs, manners, morals”.

  1. Goal: used pre-1802?   Yes

Figurative sense of “object of an effort” is from 1540s.

  1. Dutch courage: used pre-1802?   Yes

This dates back to the British troops seeing the Dutch troops getting ready for battle in the Thirty Years War (1618-1638).

  1. Sang-froid: used pre-1802?   Yes

1712 (from the French meaning of ‘cold blood’). Fortunately a number of other anglicized Frenchisms made the cut-off date of 1802. These included:

Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet, not a snob but definitely wearing her wellies
Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet, not a snob but definitely wearing her wellies
  • Passe (1775)
  • Rendezvous (1640)
  • Pique (1530s)
  • Sobriquet (1640s)
  • Faux pas (1670s)
  • En route (1779 – I was so pleased about this, synonyms are a nightmare)
  • Tete-a-tete (1728)
  1. Red-handed: used pre-1802?   Yes

1781 (of Scottish origin, I understand).                                                         

  1. Light-fingered: used pre-1802?   Yes

I had one of my characters described as ‘light-fingered’ so when I read in The Cassell Dictionary of Slang’ that ‘light finger’ was ‘US, 1950s’ I was a little put out. Fortunately, further research had the term backdated to 1540. Phew!

  1. Vendetta: used pre-1802?   No

Etymonline.com has this making its debut in 1846, from Italian vendetta ‘a feud, blood feud’. A shame it’s so recent, it’s such a very evocative word.

  1. Proletariat: used pre-1802?   No         

I was searching for a synonym for ‘the mob’ and tried all manner of alternatives. ‘Proletariat’ was a no-no: 1853, from the French prolétariat.

  1. Hoi polloi: used pre-1802?   No

Another try at finding an alternative to ‘the mob’ and another no-no: 1837, from Greek hoi polloi ‘the people’. (OK, Byron used it in 1822 but that was in Greek so it doesn’t count!). If you do need alternatives, ‘the commonality’ is OK (1580) as is ‘riff-raff’ (late 15C).

  1. Itinerary: used pre-1802?   Yes

This came as a surprise to me, ‘itinerary’ sounding quite a modern word, but no: mid-15c, ‘route of travel’ from Late Latin itinerarium “account of a journey”.

  1. Deadlock: used pre-1802?   Yes

One of only two decent (and usable) alternatives to ‘stand-off’: ‘deadlock’ was first used in 1779 in Sheridan’s play ‘The Critic’.

  1. Stand-off: used pre-1802?   No                         

A really useful term but one, sadly, no one in Georgian England would have employed. Its use in the sense of ‘stalemate’ is dated 1891.

  1. Impasse: used pre-1802?   Yes

Good word and usable! 1763, from the French impasse meaning ‘an impassable road or a blind alley’.

  1. Sham: used pre-1802?   Yes        

In the sense of ‘something meant to be mistaken for something else’ it dates from 1728.

  1. Transfix: used pre-1802?   Yes

I was certain this was a modern word but no: 1580s, ‘pierce through, impale,’ from Middle French transfixer.           

  1. Grouch: used pre-1802?   No

I needed a word to describe Darcy when he was in one of his moods. This seemed perfect until I discovered its first use was in 1896. Drat!

  1. The game is afoot: used pre-1802?   Yes

This phrase is so synonymous with Sherlock Holmes that I’m guessing most people would think it was coined in the late 19th century. Wrong; it was first used in Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV’.         

  1. Pedestrian: used pre-1802?   Yes

Another surprisingly usable word with its meaning ‘a walker’ dating back to 1793. Fortunately the word ‘pavement’ is from the 13th century so they had something to walk on!

  1. Bric-a-brac: used pre-1802?   No

1840, from obsolete French à bric et à brac (16c.) “at random, any old way”, a nonsense phrase.

So … how did you do? My score was 14/30 … pretty poor, I suppose, but as they say practice makes perfect (a mid-16th century maxim so one Elizabeth Bennet might have used). 



One of the fun things about writing historical adventures is the opportunity it presents to have real historical figures interact with your fictional characters. In “The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy” I’ve included such notables as Talleyrand (Napoleon’s duplicitous but oh-so-effective Foreign Minister), Talleyrand’s sexually-liberated wife, Catherine (what a find she was!), William Pitt (the ex-Prime Minister and Darcy’s arch-enemy), William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam (given the name ‘Fitzwilliam’ I couldn’t resist making him a relative of Darcy and, anyway, his Irish connections were very useful with regard to my plotting) and Horatio Nelson.

Laurence Olivier as Nelson
Laurence Olivier as Nelson (with eye-patch)

Nelson only makes a brief appearance (basically to explain how concerned everyone was in 1802 that Napoleon was set to invade England) but brief though it is I had to make sure I drew him correctly. In popular myth, Nelson is always associated with an eyepatch (this largely thanks to Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of Nelson in 1941’s “That Hamilton Woman”) but it seems that though he lost the sight of his right eye from injuries sustained during the assault on Calvi in 1794 the eyeball was undamaged. Hence no eyepatch: (http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/mar/07/arts.artsnews).

Emma Hamilton by George Romney
Emma Hamilton by George Romney

But it wasn’t only Nelson’s appearance about which I had to be careful. The books I’ve read (“Horatio Nelson” by Tom Pocock is a stand-out) don’t, in my modest opinion, make enough of the personal impact the adulation heaped on Nelson by an adoring public after his victories at the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Copenhagen (this is pre-Trafalgar, remember) had on the man. I think it went to his head a little. This, combined with him having quite an eye (sorry!) for the ladies would have made him something of a handful in mixed company (especially, as in my book, when Emma Hamilton wasn’t around).

Having said this I think the headline in The Metro of the 19th October – ‘Love-rat Nelson Banned Wife to Be with Mistress’ – a trifle excessive. Nelson’s marital arrangements and infidelities were pretty much par for the course in mid-Georgian England so the opprobrium he suffered at the hands of the beau monde (he was ‘cut’ by a sizeable number of them) was, I think, a consequence of their being envious about his popularity with the mob.

Still I have the feeling that when Nelson was confronted by a woman as attractive as Elizabeth Darcy, the result would be inevitable. This is the scene when Elizabeth and Nelson are using a telescope to study the invasion preparations the French are making in Boulogne harbor:

Nelson turned the telescope back over to Elizabeth but if anything stood even closer, his thigh now pressed hard against hers and a steadying hand placed – rather unnecessarily – on her back. Elizabeth found it difficult to concentrate on the invasion preparations being made in Boulogne when invasions of a more personal nature were being initiated in Dover.

‘Your husband’s intelligence tells us that the intention of the French is to excavate Boulogne’s tidal basin,’ Elizabeth heard Nelson saying. ‘They are doing this to increase the capacity in the port such that twelve hundred of Boney’s invasion barges can find a safe berth there.’

‘Twelve hundred … so many.’ Elizabeth had to suppress a squeak as Nelson’s hand inched lower. She was presented with something of a conundrum. Any other man paying her such attention would be sent packing with a flea in his ear but this was no ordinary man. This was Nelson, hero of the hour.

I could only find a picture of Dover harbour c. 1800, this one is from http://doverhistorian.com/2015/03/21/packet-service-to-1854/
I could only find a picture of Dover harbour c. 1800, this one is from http://doverhistorian.com/2015/03/21/packet-service-to-1854/

‘Indeed, which is why Boney needs three days to execute his invasion,’ Nelson went on, his hand now only inches away from beginning its exploration of Elizabeth’s derrière. Elizabeth wondered what would have been her fate if Nelson had two hands with which to conduct his survey of her nether regions. ‘Only two hundred vessels can clear the harbor in a single tide therefore it will need six tides to get the whole fleet out to sea and en route for England. He will also need the most clement weather which is why I am convinced he will come at us in the summer.’

‘Yes,’ answered Elizabeth. ‘I am advised that coming at anything in the winter invariably leads to disaster.’

Nelson didn’t appear to understand the message Elizabeth was trying to send. ‘A summer onslaught is also necessary because the barges, brigs, pinnaces  and gunboats the Frogs will be using to transport their army must be keel-less to allow them to make land on our beaches. This, in turn, will result in them having lubberly handling, none capable of sailing close-hauled. They must run before the wind and such a wind is only certain in July and August.’

Elizabeth stood away from the telescope. ‘But the Royal Navy …?’

‘If at hand, then we will most assuredly board them and blast them, you may have no fear of that, Mrs Darcy.’

‘Ah yes. I am told that officers in the Royal Navy are very skilled at boarding.’

Nelson gave a leering smile. ‘That we are, Mrs Darcy, but as with all talents some captains are more skilled than others, especially when the vessel they are intent on taking is a handsome craft, well-rigged and possessed of sleek lines.’

‘Then it is a pity, Sir, that I will not have an opportunity of seeing you in action. This is one vessel which refuses to be boarded by anyone other than her own captain.’


DSCF9002 blogWriting about life in 1802 is a challenge. One of the key ambitions of a writer of fiction is to be so persuasive that the reader suspends disbelief … forgets that the world and the characters he or she is reading about is make-believe. To do this the writer has to ensure there are no jarring historical inaccuracies or plot inconsistencies which brings them out of their fugue.

Pretty straightforward for those whose story is set in the present day or better yet is a fantasy world of the author’s own devising, but with historical fiction, accuracy is all and that requires a LOT of background research. This is especially with Regency fiction the readers of which are a very knowledgeable bunch.

So before I began the ‘The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy’ I knew I had to do my research. I read a great many books – some good, some not-so-good – and I thought it might be useful to pass on my thoughts and recommendations.

I began by reading about Georgian London – a good chunk of the action of my story takes place there ‒ trying to get a feel for the place and the people. These are the books I referenced to help me do this:

“Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England” by Roy and Lesley Adkins

DSCF9014AIf I had to recommend just one book as an introduction to life in Georgian England, this would be it. Comprehensive yet entertaining, it provided any number of insights that helped me in the writing of my novel. For instance, the importance of almanacs to the Georgians was partly due to their being able to alert night-time travelers when the moon would be out (coach travel on a moonless night was a perilous occupation). Another example: in ‘The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy’ Mrs Reynolds advises Elizabeth that she has provided her maid with sheets for use in coaching inns, this prompted by the Adkins’ book. An excellent book.

Nelli Rating: 10/10

“Dr. Johnson’s London” by Liza Picard

DSCF9015APerhaps in terms of ‘fun reading’ this is my favorite of the five I’m reviewing. It could be criticized for being a little staccato and list-like but I enjoyed it immensely. It was by far the best at conveying the idiosyncrasies of life in Georgian London and was a treasure trove of bits and pieces to get an author’s creative juices flowing. For instance it describes ‘the language of the fan’ – how ladies communicated using their fans – which is great fun for a writer. Examples:

Fan close, tip to lips: hush we are overheard; and

Open fan, hiding eyes: I love you.

I also loved the comment, attributed to Lady Browne, that, ‘We English always carry two purses on our journeys, a small one for the robber and a large one for ourselves’. Marvellous stuff. I had Elizabeth follow Lady Browne’s advice.

Nelli Rating: 9/10

“Voices from the World of Jane Austen” by Malcolm Day

DSCF9013AFor those about to embark on writing about Georgian life this is an excellent place to start. That the book is built around passages from the journals of real Georgians and excerpts from Georgian newspapers and the like enables you to appreciate the manner in which people conversed and the things that were important to them. I think it was this book that first alerted me to the depth of the divisions that racked Georgian society especially regarding such divisive subjects as the abolition of slavery and the impact of the industrial revolution. Highly recommended.

Nelli Rating: 8/10

“Georgian London: Into the Streets” by Lucy Inglis

DSCF9009AAn excellent book and one which conveys how very confined London was at that time: one million people crammed in an area perhaps only a tenth of the size of modern day London. It was especially useful as it describes London by district so if your character finds him or herself in Lambeth (as mine does) you’ll know to make mention of the forest of windmills decorating the area these used to grind the flour needed to keep London supplied with bread. Similarly, given that my story heavily involved the intractable ‘Irish Question’ that St Giles was where the poor Irish in London congregated (and where in the mid-eighteenth century one out of every five buildings was a “gin-house”) was a very useful piece of intelligence. Well worth a read.

Nelli Rating: 7/10

“Georgette Hayer’s Regency World” by Jennifer Kloester

DSCF9012AAn excellent introduction to Regency life, well written and well-illustrated though I found it somewhat superficial. My main criticism of it is that as a writer trying to come to terms with the rhythm of Georgian speech the lack of quotes from the Georgians themselves gave it a very sanitized feel, though I suppose the title of the book should have given me a warning of that. I also thought the Appendix of slang was a little truncated (but more of that in a later blog).

Nelli Rating 6/10