Today’s blog is about phrases, words and artefacts in literature that seem to be anachronisms but aren’t: hanging out, flossing your teeth and wearing a big B on a necklace.
The entry appears on the Guardian newspaper’s books blog here. And don’t miss the comments – there are some fabulous examples from readers.
Some of the items featured in the entry have appeared on the blog – Philippa Gregory’s Other Boleyn Girl, James Joyce and the dental floss, Agatha Christie endlessly. Julian Fellowes has an entry, F Scott Fitzgerald has several, and Philip Hensher is here too.
Whether we're reading the Booker prize books or watching Downton Abbey, we all love to catch out an author in an anachronism. Philip Hensher, in a piece on this year's Booker longlist, found problems in several books, and took particular issue with the use of "Hello" in Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries, set in 19th-century New Zealand. It seems that "Hallo!" – meaning "Stop, wait, hang on" or as a surprised or informal greeting (and much used in Dickens) – hadn't yet morphed into "Hello" as a gracious salutation. On the plus side, Hensher gave a date to one novel, Jim Crace's Harvest, because of the use of mauve – the name for the colour was invented in 1856.
At the other end of the literary spectrum, with the new series of Downton Abbey in full flow, we can expect the usual criticisms that the language and activities of staff and aristos are inauthentic and too modern – there's a website, Prochronisms, devoted to such TV nitpicking. There's no harm in that – the site is funny and informative – the site proprietor refers to it as Downton Crabbey – but other critics can be too ready to assume that because something doesn't sound right to them, it is automatically wrong…..
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