Amazing Historical and Contemporary Facts From Your Favorite Authors.
Can You Cant?
Offered by Barbara Metzger
Author of A DEBT TO DELIA coming in May 2002 from Signet
You know what I hear a lot? Wait, I am only an author. I don't hear a lot of anything from anybody. But I have been told by a few editors and booksellers that one of the things some people don't like about Regencies is the language: the odd words, the cant phrases, the idiomatic vernacular. Funny, I think Regency slang is one of the best parts of the stories, easy enough to pick up in context, helping create the special magic, the fantasy of the alternate world that is Regency Romance.
The actual Regency era was a short blip on the time line of history, replete with wars and riots, disease and poverty, with harsh conditions for the working class and extravagance among the aristocracy. Not very appealing. Ah, but then comes the Regency Romance, where there are handsome, honorable, wealthy, titled gentlemen on every street corner, enough to fill the House of Lords ten times over. They are top-drawer, well-to-pass, bang up to the mark heroes, and they all have perfect teeth. Except for the villains, of course. The ladies are beautiful and smart and kind and determined, all Diamonds, Toasts, belles who bathe every day. Except for the Other Women, of course.
So we have a fictionalized world with rules of its own, and words of its own. Think quidditch and Muggles, orcs and ents, thread, Worm, grok. They make their unique worlds come alive. Now think Corinthian, caper-merchant, and Incomparable. Same thing, a wider scope for the imagination, except most of the language used in the Regency genre really did exist. Some of the phrases frequently seen might have arisen a tad earlier or later, and some might have come from the creative genius of the immortal Georgette Heyer herself. No matter. They give us a richer vocabulary than mere contemporary American English. And they are fun. Imagine calling someone a clunch (a rock-like material), or a gudgeon (a fish), or a peahen (a female peacock), instead of a word your mother would not have used.
Some of my favorite Regency words come from rhyming cant. Havey-cavey (suspicious); argle-bargle (argument), niffy-naffy (hoity-toity), mingle-mangle (a mess). The combinations themselves add a lighter touch, perfect for comedy of manners, sweet social- foible romances.
If you love words and wordplay, you've got to enjoy Regencies. For newcomers to the genre, here are a few helpful definitions to get you started:
Your hero might wear inexpressibles (breeches) or Cossacks (loose trousers) with a fob pocket (for a watch, etc.). He will masterfully handle the ribbons (reins) of his cattle or prime-goers (horses) while the dirty-dish, loose screw, bounder (the villain) will be ham- fisted or cow-handed (clumsy), especially if he is disguised, foxed, castaway or in his cups (drunk). In that case, he might cast up his accounts (puke). The bad guy might also be an ivory tuner or Captain Sharp (cheater) who is punting on River Tick (in debt), below hatches (poor), with pockets to let (empty).
The lady can have a fichu (a thin fabric inserted scarf-like in the neckline), a pelisse (cloak) or a spenser (short jacket) and carry a reticule (a drawstring purse). She will be in alt (ecstatic) at Lord Hero's attention, and suffer megrims or blue devils (the mopes) when his eye turns to a light skirt, Cyprian, Bird of Paradise, or high-flyer (prostitute) who is also called bachelor fare or Haymarket ware.
Never fear. He will offer the heroine his heart, while the popinjays and mooncalves (twits) only offer the young lady Spanish coin (false flattery). The lucky couple will step into parson's mousetrap, or get leg-shackled (married) and live happily ever after.
Regency romances have been around since Jane Austin, and are still going strong, thank goodness, lasting far longer than the actual era on which the genre is based. Part of their enduring charm, to me, is in the language. There are many dictionaries of historical slang, and at least three Regency companion-type thesauruses if you want to learn more about the words and expressions used but, truly, all you need to enjoy a Regency is a good book, a willing mind, a cup of tea, and perhaps a dog at your feet or a cat on your lap. Happy reading!
Barbara Metzger is the author of over 30 books and also an artist, a library volunteer, a dedicated reader (of Regencies of course) a beachcomber, and Hero's dog-walker.
When asked what made you want to write regencies or what intrigues you most about that time in history - Barbara replied, "Georgette Heyer, of course. I was working at Ace Books forever ago, when they were bringing out reprints. Instantly hooked, never looked back. Or forward."
Barbara Metzger's newest regency novel, A DEBT TO DELIA, will hit the shelves on May 7th. Don't miss it!
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