Writing Tips by Gary Speer

Tips for writers, musing about writing and life

Does your word usage date you? Using archaisms in your writing

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When I was a kid, it was always fun when my grandmother — with whom I lived after my mother died — allowed me to eat at friends’ homes who had televisions, because I often got to sit in front of the friends’ television and eat off a TV tray.

Is “TV tray” still a commonly used term? I haven’t read or heard about TV trays for years, have you? But I see that many people still use the term: I just did a search on Google and came up with more than half a million search results. I’m surprised.

I also discovered through a Google search that many people think of what, to me, is a new category of furniture — TV furniture. Looking around some home furnishings and furniture sites shows me that you can find everything from TV mounts to TV “lifts” and many other furnishings and furniture pieces designed for your television. I would have thought that a TV lift would be some sort of cart, perhaps a bracket. Nope, the TV lifts I saw were very nicely made, nice looking pieces of furniture I would have called a “bureau” or “dresser.” Or perhaps just a TV “stand” with drawers in it.

I hope you’re getting my point: Language and word usage is a sure way to “date” yourself. If you say “neat” or “nifty,” you probably grew up in America in the pre-1960s, maybe even pre-1950. If you say “way cool,” you probably grew up in the 1980s or 1990s. Quite honestly, I don’t know an equivalent expression for teens and pre-teens these days.

Use your dated language and word uses — they are called “archaisms” when they are way out of use — to your advantage as a writer. If you’re creating a character or setting a story in a particular time period, find some good dictionaries and word usage resources to make sure you get the language right. Unless you’re trying for humor or writing fantasy, you would not have someone living in America in 1839 saying, “Hey, cool. That’s way cool, dude.”

Watch for archaisms, anachronisms, and other “glitches” in your dialog and story details. Get rid of them, or use them to your advantage.
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