posted on August 23, 2021 by Heather McCollum

“What a Powerful Fiddle You Have.”

Words. There are millions of them. They are the tools we use to create and weave together stories. As a writer, I must choose them wisely, especially when writing my historical romances.

Many words were not used hundreds of years ago. For example, the word “penis” was not used for the male sexual organ until the 1670’s. As a writer of 16th century romance, I would certainly need to choose a different word. However, many of the words for penis in the 1500’s sound ridiculous to modern readers. Words like fiddle, spindle, pudding prick, and kicky wicky are just a few examples. Can you image reading this in my upcoming release, THE HIGHLANDER’S PIRATE LASS?

Beck stared at Eliza without saying anything, his kicky wicky hard as granite under his kilt.

<snorts> <giggles> <rolls eyes> <shuts book> The term would completely pull me out of the scene. So I try to find other, historically appropriate words like: jack, cod, erection. But I’m so tempted to put a fiddle or pudding prick in my story!

Then there are modern sounding words that are authentically old. 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 16th century Highlander book, it would be historically accurate for me to have my hero say:

“Wow, lass! Where did ye learn to sail a carrack with less than ten crewmen?”

<Wow? Really?> <shuts book> <looks up origin of word> <forgets about book>

Using the word “wow” sounds too modern even though it is accurate. I obviously can’t use it.

How about cursing?

In my latest release, the heroine was rescued and raised by pirates. Eliza Wentworth is capable, funny, and loves the F word. Believe me, I tried to talk her out of using it (so does the hero). She just rolled her eyes at me and called me an easily offended milksop who shouldn’t be writing about pirates if I can’t handle their wicked words. As a compromise, I spell it phonetically as “fok.” Eliza seems fine with it. Thank goodness!

Just like in everyday life, people tend to have a favorite curse word or two. I choose preferred historically used curse words and favorite exclamations for each of my characters. Sometimes you can tell who is thinking or speaking just by the way they curse.

My go-to web site for word origins and timelines of use is where I can find the year words or phrases began to be used in all their varying contexts. Richard Spears’s Slang and Euphemism book is a wonderful dictionary of oaths, curses, insults, slurs, sexual metaphors, etc. and the approximate time periods the words came into popular use.

Then there is the question about accents and foreign words. Scottish brogues can be very thick. I could write phonetically, but I doona ken if ye would ken what I be sayin’. Ye may just say “Awa’ an bile yer heid,” and close my book. The Gaelic language is beautiful, but I do not know it, and most of my readers don’t either. So I have to write in a way to give the Scottish flavor without annoying my readers. I use “ye” and “yer” but that’s about it. “Bloody hell” is a common curse, but I can’t overuse it. I let my characters say “‘twas” and “‘tis” and “shall” because they were used regularly and sound old. Those words flavor my writing but do not make readers stumble and get pulled out of the story.

I love words, all kinds of words. Choosing the best ones to tell my stories is what I do all day. I’m thankful that I can share this information with you here, because no matter how authentic and “cool” the word “wow” is, I just can’t put it in my book. And no matter what, my heroine will never stroke a “pudding prick.”

Please comment for a chance to win a copy of my 16th century Highland romance, HIGHLAND CONQUEST.

Heather McCollum

Heather McCollum

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.

10 thoughts on ““What a Powerful Fiddle You Have.””

  1. Colleen C. says:

    Oh this sounds good! 😀

    1. Thanks so much, Colleen! It was so fun to write : )

  2. bn100 says:

    sounds interesting

  3. Jennifer Goins says:

    Oh this sounds awesome

  4. Thanks, everyone! Beck and Eliza were so much fun to write about. I hope you enjoy them too!
    Have a lovely, brawny-Highlander-smiles-at-you-over-the-melons-at-the-grocery kind of day : ) Heather

  5. GB says:

    I love words. Kicky wicky and pudding prick did the trick in producing a snort and giggle from me. However, I don’t think I would mind fiddle or spindle.

    1. I don’t know. She stroked his fiddle, or his spindle pressed against her, makes me snort too : ) Amazing how words can bring on such emotion.

  6. Ashley F. says:

    I do love a bit of flavour and learning new words (and or old uses) I suppose ‘sword’ isn’t used as often in some settings? XD

    1. I have so many real swords in my books, it might become confusing. I’d hate for a reader to think briefly that he was impaling the heroine with a steel sword! Oh no! : )

  7. Sherry Brown says:

    Sounds and looks really good!!!!

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