Thursday, April 11, 2013

No Urban Dictionary Necessary

I didn't have a chance to post yesterday so I am going to toss in two letters today.  I for illness -- simply because one very sick, but very brave kid is the reason you saw no A-X post from me yesterday.

Now onto today's:  J is for Jargon

We want our character's voice  to be authentic, to reflect the era and area they live in, their social position and the hobbies they have.  It is essential an part of character development and what sets our manuscripts apart.  Yet we need to accomplish this without our readers needing to have urban dictionary at the ready for each paragraph they read.  Too little local vernacular and the characters seem dull, fake.  Too much and the reader is pulled from the story as they try to decipher meanings.

Mark Twain's, Huckleberry Finn, is a perfect example of how local vernacular can be weaved into a story to present an authentic voice that enhances rather than detracts for the reader's experience.   I have read this book countless times (it is one of my favorites) and last count, I could identify five distinct dialects --although I am sure there are more; I just haven't made a habit of jotting them down as I read :)  The three most common dialects I identified are the Pike county dialect, the southern, backwoods dialect, and the Missouri slave dialect.  All are distinct, all use slang words not commonly seen today but not once in the dozen of times I have read it have I ever struggled to figure out what the characters were trying to say.  Somehow, Twain makes it work!

"Don't you go about women in that old calico. You do a girl tolerable poor, but you might fool men, maybe. Bless you, child, when you set out to thread a needle, don't hold the thread still and fetch the needle up to it. Hold the needle still and poke the thread at it--that's the way a woman most always does, but a man always does 'tother way. And when you throw at a rat or anything hitch yourself up a-tiptoe and fetch your hand up over your head as awkward as you can, and miss your rat about six or seven foot. Throw stiff-armed from the shoulder, like there was a pivot there for it to turn on--like a girl; not from the wrist and elbow, with your arm out to one side, like a boy. And mind you, when a girl tries to catch anything in her lap she throws her knees apart; she don't clap them together the way you did when you catched the lump of lead. Why, I spotted you for a boy when you was threading the needle, and I contrived the other things just to make certain." 
~Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain


  1. You're right - Huck Finn is an EXCELLENT example of Jargon. One of my favorites actually. I look to it as a great example.

    Happy A to Z blogging!