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Tip Tuesday #84

Tip Tuesday is a recurring feature where blog readers send in tips for fellow writers. If you'd like to send one in, please do! E-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

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.


  1. What a great resource! I haven't heard of this before, but I'll be adding it to my bookmarks.

  2. This is a great tip not only for a historical novel to get the language right but for a fantasy where you want to make the feel of it from an older time. Thanks.

  3. Ive been there. I love it. I already follow Deren's blog, he's awesome.

    Thanks, all!

  4. How cool!! Let's hope I don't spend too much time there : ) Sounds addictive.

  5. I'm afraid to go there except I need to check out the work ain't.
    If you have time come visit us and read about our new experiment.

  6. Great tip, and one that I'm sure I wouldn't have come up with otherwise. Thanks!

  7. Great tip and good to make your acquaintance.

    Look forward to following your posts.

    warm wishes

  8. Very cool.

    "Computer" is mentioned in 1870, describing a person who computes, and then it's back in 1910 and rises sharply in 1970.

    "Punk" started in 1830 and was actually nearly as big in 1940 as it was in 1980.

    Strangely enough, no mention of "Voldemort" before 2000. They must not have searched The Daily Prophet.

  9. Thank you Deren, thank you Casey.

  10. I'm a huge advocate of reading widely, especially for writers. That's also a great link. I hadn't heard of this!

  11. Cool resource. Thanks for this tip!

  12. That sounds like a great resource. Thanks, Deren!