Confound it all!

Girl pulling hair, screamingConfound it all! One of the frustrations of writing historical fiction is discovering your character could not do/hear/see/say something because it had not been invented yet!

Such is my plight as I just discovered my heroine could not say ‘Confound it!’ as the saying did not exist for nearly another 40 years!

A few other things she could not say (and the year in which she could have said them) include:

  • botheration – c. 1835
  • by gum – c. 1825
  • cheeky – c. 1830
  • cheerio – c. 1910
  • confound it – c. 1850
  • darned – c. 1815
  • drat – c. 1815
  • fancy that – c. 1834
  • frightfully – c. 1830
  • (all) right – c. 1837
  • right you are – c. 1865
  • smashing – c. 1850

But, when frustrated, as I  am,  she could have said any of these (and the year they made their appearance):

  • bah –c. 1600
  • balderdash – c.1675
  • barmy — c. 1600
  • beastly – c. 1200
  • blasted – (damned) c. 1600
  • by (Saint) George – c. 1719, by Jove – c. 1570
  • by the bye – c. 18th C.
  • criminy – c. 1700
  • daft – c. 1450
  • dang — c. 1790
  • darn – c. 1790
  • deuced (damned) — c. 1785
  • devilish – c. 1450
  • devil of a… – c. 1750,
  • dickens (What the dickens?) – late 1600
  • egad — c. 1675
  • fiddle-de-dee – c. 1785
  • fiddle faddle – from 18th C.
  • fiddlesticks – from 17th C.
  • gads — from 17th C., gadzooks — c. 1655
  • ghastly – c. 1325
  • golly – c. 1775
  • good gracious – from 18th C.
  • goodness! – mid 19th C.
  • gosh – c. 1760
  • go to the devil – from 14th C.
  • gracious – from 18th C., gracious me – from 19th
  • I say – from 17th C.
  • la – from 16th C.
  • lo and behold — by 1810
  • oh! – c. 1550, oh-oh — c. 173
  • pah — c. 1600
  • pish — c. 1595
  • pooh — c. 1600
  • pshaw — c. 167
  • rot it – 17th — 18th C.
  • rubbish — c. 1630
  • son of a gun — c. 1710
  • tosh – (nonsense) c. 1530
  • What (how) the devil – from 17th C.
  • zooks – c. 1635
  • zounds – c. 1600

And to make matters worse, my family looks at me like I’m nuts for caring whether or not she could have said any of these phrases. Confound it all!

English Through the Ages, by William Brohaugh, Writer’s Digest Books, 1998
Etymology of Expressions compiled by Joanna Waugh

by Maria Grace Copyright 2013, all rights reserved


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  1. Glad you found my list helpful, Maria!

    1. I did, very much. Thank you for your articles that are so helpful!

  2. Maria, don’t take those dates as written in stone. The dates for a word or phrase are the dates the word/phrase first appeared in print. Written language lags the spoken word. As a conservative estimate, I’d say you could have your characters use a word about 20 years before its date. Purists may scoff, but you can’t please everyone!

    1. I was thinking something like that, Linda. It’s nice to get that confirmation though!

    • Kay on January 8, 2013 at 11:56 am
    • Reply

    Too funny!

    • M M Bennetts on January 8, 2013 at 12:19 pm
    • Reply

    Captain Grose’s Dictionary of Buckish Slang is a superb source of information on what was said when from the latter half of the 18th century till 1812.

    Eric Partridge also has written several books on historical slang and he’s tops.

    I rely on those two as well as always checking everything in the Oxford English Dictionary. And that and Grose are now available on the internet, as I understand it.

    I often have a reverse problem–much of colloquial English dates back to the 16th century and is still in regular use, but I’ve had several readers insist that my use of these words is modern and therefore grating, or indeed invented by Richard Curtis for Four Weddings and a Funeral, for example. Ha ha.

    1. I love Grose’s dictionary and use it often. It is available in several places on line, including a pdf version and and epub.

      Thanks MM!

  3. Okay (1829) then! 🙂

  4. Okay (1829), then! 😉

    • Cassie Grafton on January 8, 2013 at 12:47 pm
    • Reply

    Love this! I think my favourite run has to be: pah, pish, pooh, pshaw!!! 🙂

    I have been using the Online Etymology Dictionary but I’m keen to check out Captain Grose’s Dictionary of Buckish Slang! Thanks for sharing.

    • Katherine Pym on January 8, 2013 at 1:28 pm
    • Reply

    I’ve found words were used in journals/letters long before they were recorded as used. Egad is one. Sources say 1675 but I’ve seen it prior to 1660. Words must be popular, widely spoken, before it’s considered by the list makers.

  5. Great post Maria- I would never have guessed ‘son of a gun’ was that old. Always sounds like a cowboy in a stetson to me! 🙂

    1. Honestly, that one surprised me too!

  6. I remember when I saw “The Titanic,” it bugged me a bit when the heroine (played by Kate Winslet) “flipped the bird” at the policeman. It didn’t seem historically correct for 1912, so I tried to research when “the bird” became a gesture but couldn’t find anything at the time. Ha!

    Thank you for the fun information!

    1. Sometimes it is hard to chase down that sort of information. I try to bookmark and copy stuff as I run into it because I know I won’t be able to find it when I need it. LOL

    • Occupational Hazards | Austen Authors on January 22, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    […] didn’t used to care whether the British drank tea from tea cups or tea bowls in 1801. The year ‘Confound it!’ was in common use never crossed my mind. Stiff boned, tightly laced corsets in Regencies never […]

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