Another writing resource: Etymology

I wrote a piece a few months back about how Google can be used as a great little writing tool. While I was writing The Bond, sequel to Dragonlinked, I found I used Google a lot in another way: to find the etymology of several words and phrases.

Etymology is the study of the origin of words and the way they have changed through history. Why is etymology important? Well, Dragonlinked Chronicles takes place on another world. I wanted the books to have some tie to the familiar, however, so I set Lethera at almost the same technology level that Earth was during the same time period, the late 1800s. In some ways Lethera is a little more advanced than Earth (medicine, and thus, hygiene—due to diagnostic, preventative, and curative magic), while it is behind in others (electricity, gunpowder—also due to magic being used instead). Therefore, since the books are pseudo-period pieces, I wanted to ensure that words and phrases I used made sense for the time and technology, etc. For example, in the Preface of The Bond, I initially referred to anaphylactic shock, but a quick check of the Online Etymology Dictionary (Google: anaphylaxis ety) revealed that the term anaphylactic shock wasn’t really in use until 1916, which is just beyond my 40 year allowance for medical terms (the book takes place in 1874), so, I decided against using it and conveyed the medical issue another way.

For period pieces, and even for pieces set on other worlds/societies, there are many instances where an etymology check can prove handy. For example, say you are thinking of having a character or the narrator say or think ‘Such and such took off like a rocket’ or ‘rocketed away’ (Clich鍏? Probably, but useful enough for this example). Well, do they USE rockets on that planet/society? Has the character/narrator seen or heard of one? Could they have? When did rockets (or that specific phrase) come into general use on Earth? Does it makes sense for that character (or the narrator) to use that phrase? a quick etymology check will answer many, if not all, of these questions.

Hand-in-glove with the discussion of etymology as a tool comes the idea that you should concern yourself with this aspect of writing as well. It ties into suspension of disbelief. As readers we are willing to let a lot go, but if some wildly out-of-place detail pulls us from the story, our suspension is broken and that is something, as writers, we want to avoid doing.

So, think about adding this nifty little tool to your kit, and keep at your craft!

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