Happy Tuesday, everyone. Deren Hansen e-mailed me with a tip for the week and I don't think you'll be disappointed. It offers a fantastic resource. Please visit Deren's blog, The Laws of Making, after you're done reading here.
Using language well is one of the hallmarks of a writer.
One of the reasons it's critical for writers to read widely is because they must develop a sense of the differences--sometimes subtle--in how people have used our language in different times and places.
That's why you must run, not walk, and add http://corpus.byu.edu/coha/ to your bookmarks. The link will take you to the Corpus of Historical American English (CHAE). The site shows you how frequently a given word appeared in published works each decade for the last two hundred years.
For example, the word, 'airship,' comes out of nowhere with 30 instances in the 1860's, nothing in the 1870s, ramping to a huge spike (195) in the 1910s, falling down to only 4 instances in the 1950s, and then climbing back to a respectable 38 in the 1980s. Notice the linguistic shadow of the rise and fall of the technology?
Nothing can replace being well read, but the CHAE is a great way to spot-check potentially anachronistic word and phrases.
Deren Hansen blogs daily at The Laws of Making.