This post is inspired by an entertaining debate stimulated by Lesley Carroll over on the History Hoydens Blog on purple prose and archaic terms in sex scenes in historical romance. I am in the process of reading yet another wonderful book by Laura Kinsale, this time For my Lady's Heart
(still never read a bad Kinsale, the stakes are rising all the time). It's medieval and makes wonderful and challenging use of archaic medieval language throughout. Not a few sporadic thees and 'tarses but consistent, contextualised convincingly written archaic dialogue that enhances the story and builds the world with extraordinary talent (another string to the marvellous Ms Kinsale's bow). Her love scenes are not exempt from this; they draw upon the cultural references, religious values, knowledge and language of the world she's writing in – and they are wonderful.
On the Hoydens blog, I quoted the use of the word 'quaint' e.g. "he pressed his mouth to her quaint," as an example of Laura Kinsale's characters using their own language to define their body parts. However, seems that my love of this particular style is not shared by all. One woman's piece of contextualised, evocative world-building is, it seems, another's purple prose.
There appears to be something of a debate on whether historical romance authors should go for a modern usage (cock, clit etc), a gilded euphemism (manhood, bundle of nerve etc), or something archaic (tarse, quaint)?
Sex-writing is an area of writing that writers – and readers – have a strong reaction to. Personally, I believe that all language throughout a book should help to build the world and flesh out the characters and love words are no exception to this. If a love scene doesn't forward the character and relationship development, it's not worth having in a romance. I've read well written love scenes ranging from hot and gripping to sweet and romantic in all the afore mentioned styles. Like they say - it's not what you have, it's what you do with it that counts.
However, in the spirit of sharing and because purple is my favourite colour, I thought it would be fun to collate some of the archaic names/euphemisms for your historical male's purple-headed warrior, culled from the undeniably and exquisitely marvellous A Dictionary of Historical Slang by Eric Partridge and Oxford English Dictionary. I present them below, for your delectation. How much fun can you have coming up with historically accurate and extremely foolish chat up lines?
I'll never forget my ex-boyfriend (aged 15) at the Camelot Theme Park asking Lancelot if he could have a glance at his lance... I'm sure you can do better!
|Bit of Hard (Stiff)||C.19-20|
|Jockum / Jockam||C.16-19|
|Old horney, Hornington||C.18-20|
|Tadger||C.19-20||(North of England)|
|The Member for Cockshire||1840|
|Yorkshire Compliment||(specifically means, large penis no money)|
For those exploring this dark and dingy corner of the craft, come and stop by my May 2011 blog post on the icky business of writing sex scenes.