I am not one who wants to live in the past. I love the future and all of the toys that it’s given us, but today, for just a minute or two, I was jealous of the Victorians. Yes, the Victorians.
Not because of their clothing, and certainly not because of the corsets, which seem like they would act as portable prisons, but because of the language. Sure, to us it sounds pompous and overly-flowery, but there was a freedom for precision in Victorian writing we don’t really have. So much so, I often find myself making up words just to convey exactly what I mean (and it’s fun. Really fun).
Lets say, for example, you wanted to describe Chicago’s lakefront on a distractingly beautiful day. With Victorian English, you could say, “The trees, verdant in late summer, frame themselves against the undulating sheet of unceasing water.”
I think that paints a pretty clear picture, though one that’s a bit overwrought for modern prose. Still, it’s precise. I’d pare that down to: “The August trees, still deep green, frame themselves against the vast, changing water.”
Is the image the same? I’m not sure, the more formal, more stuffy Victorian language covers everything in a coat of sepia in my mind. It seems grander somehow. Then again, I’d probably lose the interest of most modern readers at “verdant,” even though it’s a fabulous word that means exactly what it should.
Word choice can shift the entire tone of a piece, pulling a reader in, or pushing one out. If a sentence always sticks when you read it through, try changing out a word and see if that puts you back in the era in which you belong.
Need something to read? Check out Her Cousin Much Removed, The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only) .