Monday, May 02, 2011

Cant or Clarity?

As novelists we strive to add a touch of realism to our purple prose, especially when we're writing about centuries past and want to create the right atmosphere. But how far is it necessary to go when asking our readers to step back in time? We don't want to lose them, or bog them down in unnecessarily long descriptions. Nor do we want to resort to the stilted verbage of yester-year in order to prove that we know our stuff. There has to be a happy medium, right?

Aficionados of Georgette Heyer will be familiar with her use of Regency cant. Sometimes she sprinkles it through her books with a light hand. At others its laid on so thick that her meaning almost gets lost. You know the sort of thing. Being short of blunt, having pockets to let, being in dun territory – all of those expressions tell us that some unfortunate soul is hard up. So why not just say so? Well, because the odd bit of easily understood cant makes for authenticity, I suppose. Take another example. If a woman's accused of being a doxy, a lightskirt, a Cyprian or a member of the Mulsin company we'd have a pretty low opinion of her morals. (Or not as the case may be).

All of the above are in fairly common use in Regency novels and unlikely to confuse anyone. But I thought I'd have a bit of fun and introduce some cant that's not quite so well known.

How about - A bumblebroth,
a cicsbeo,
dernier cri
or a Long Meg.

Any idea what those phrases signify? And let's not forget my personal favourite:


Obviously, I don't mean the board game. Let me have your best guess about that one too. Alternatively you can wait for my next Regency Scandalous Propositions to be published by Carina Press in September and find out that way.

Wendy Soliman


Barbara Longley said...

Well, I believe a ciscbeo is the male equivalent of an gigolo? A Long Meg I've seen before, but without the context, I don't remember. Would a bumblebroth be the same as a clusterfuck? Ahhhh. I can see I have to start reading regencies again. It's been awhile. Thanks.

Wendy Soliman said...

I'm not saying if you're right until a few more people comment. I'm glad to have set you on the path to reading regencies again!

Claire Robyns said...

Okay, I'll take a try. I read a lot of regency, and will admit that a Long Meg sounds familiar (although can't think of the meaning now) but don't recall seeing the others :)

A bumblebroth - a mix up?
a cicsbeo - a coffee machine? lol, no idea whatsoever
dernier cri - leggings?
or a Long Meg - less than attractive lady?
Backgammon - gun?

Taryn Kincaid said...

bumblebroth -- klutz
cicisbeo -- (I think your spelling may have confused people.) The arm candy of a married Regency cougar.
dernier cri -- da bomb
Long Meg -- Got me there. So I'll see your Long Meg and raise you a Brown Bess, a whisker and a Banbury tale.
Backgammon. No idea.

This Sunday, on Six Sentence Sunday, I featured a small snippet on my blog from an old WIP. The hero, who's been shot in France the night before his wedding, shows up at the altar apparently in his cups. The bride takes a look at him and decides he is "foxed."
Most of the commenters had never heard the word, which is pretty much a Regency reader staple!

Taryn Kincaid said...

Oh, and I have I mentioned? I love, love, LOVE Regency cant. If I gobble a few too many Regencies at once, I may start sprinkling them in my speech. Especially "chucklehead." Yeah, I rely heavily on that one!

Wendy Soliman said...

I love cant too, Taryn. And yes, 'in his cups' and 'foxed' are standard Regency fayre. In fact some older people I know in the UK still use 'in his cups!'

More comments needed before I tell you the answers!