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Flags verbal anachronisms in historical fiction
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Verbal anachronisms plague historical fiction, especially screenplays. It spoils the realism of a Civil War battle scene to hear a captain call his sergeant a "moron" when you know the word "moron" wasn't coined until 1910. Writers need something like a spell-checker that flags any word or expression that is inappropriate to the period of the work. (Better still, it might suggest an appropriate synonym, such as "blockhead.")

A modification to a conventional spell-checker could do the job. First, for any given project, you'd need a word list that contains only words that were in use in a certain year. You could compile such a list by scanning several books, newspapers and magazines that were published in that year. Fortunately, these are now abundantly available (up to 1923 anyway) thanks to Google Books, Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, and so on.

By merging many such lists from different years, you could create an all-purpose list where each word is tagged with a range of dates—the earliest and latest year the word was found in your corpus. Then, when you begin to check your manuscript, you specify what year you are portraying, and the program does the rest.

Jim Bob of Merriam Park, Sep 11 2009


       Reminds me of a game me and my friends once played when we found an old dictionary without cover so we didn't know what year it was from. We looked up words like atom, electricity, radio, sufragette, we got pretty close. Good idea +
zeno, Sep 11 2009

       Slightly OT, but the HBO series Band Of Brothers, in the episode about the Brecourt Manor assault, has a couple of howlers in the subtitles.
On the DVD, Winters orders someone to bring along "TNT, to spite the guns", whilst on BluRay it's "TNT, despite the guns". I'm sure there must be more.
coprocephalous, Sep 11 2009

       Not just for historical uses. I got turned off to one tolkienesque fantasy television series when the term "play-book" was used in the first episode. It was just to jarring in context.
MechE, Sep 11 2009

       IMDB has fascinating sections on anachronisms in historical films. "Deathwatch" is a particularly rich source. "Valkyrie" was surprisingly goof-free.
8th of 7, Sep 11 2009


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