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Ann Kathleen Otto


Historical Transitions

When you're writing a novel about a period of rapid change, it's sometimes hard to tell if you're using the right terminology. That's the case for Yours in a Hurry which takes place between 1908 and 1912. Here are some examples of choices that had to be made.

"Addison stood in line outside of his hotel waiting for a hack to take him to the airfield." 

Hack, Carriage, Cab? The mode of transportation was changing. In 1909, one had the choice of a horse-drawn carriage or hack, or a taxi, a new word at the time meaning an automobile for hire. Our character chose the hack because it was much cheaper. Of course, many referred to the motorized vehicles as the horseless carriage, but most of the autos on the road at that time were a Ford Model T, referred to as "tin Lizzies". 

"This is Addison Hartle, who I told you about, my chum from back home."

Today you might label your best friend on social media as your BFF, but if you read any book from the 1910's in America or even much later in the UK, you will likely see the word chum commonly used for friend, especially among youth.  

The Aviation Issue

It's difficult to decide what terms to use during the invention and development of the airplane. First, one has to understand that lighter-than-air machines are those like balloons or dirigibles. Airplanes are heavier-than-air. 

In the beginning, the heavier-than-air vehicles were called flying machines, as in the popular song of the time, Come Josephine in My Flying Machine. As France became the leader in aviation prior to 1910, their term, aeroplane, was adopted. The term derives from two Greek words meaning 'air' and 'wandering'. Over time that changed to airplane, and now, we usually refer to them as just planes.

And then there is the issue of who controlled the machine. They were first referred to as flyers. In the early 1910's as the profession began to emerge and licenses became common, they were referred to as pilots and aviators. 

"You know I can't sit in the dark during the daylight. I don't know what you women see in the flickers. Daisy is always after me to go, too."

From 1905 to 1915, nickelodeons were popular around the country. You paid a nickel at these small store front theaters to see projected moving images. As the film industry grew, and the movie houses became larger, these became known as moving pictures or motion pictures, unless one didn't like the new entertainment or just liked to use the slang of 'the flickers'. We soon shortened that to the movies.  You can read more about the early movie houses like the one below in an earlier blog.


Truth is, some changes take years to become the norm. In rural areas and small towns, horses were still a common form of transportation well into the 1920's or 1930's. If you walk the streets of England today, you may still hear someone refer to a chum. 

What terminology have you had to research in your writing or work? What have you had to change in your vocabulary recently?  


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