Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mark Twain Slang (1862)

Caroline and old Mark Twain
One of the things I love about writing my P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries  is the richness of American vocabulary in the early 1860s. Another person who loved the language was Mark Twain. In 1863, the quick-witted, sharp-tongued, pistol-packing newspaper reporter named Sam Clemens was living in a Wild West mining town called Virginia City and had just started using the soon-to-be famous pseudonym "Mark Twain". The budding writer delighted in the latest popular slang words, some of which can be found in his early writings and letters home. Even his new name was slang. "Mark Twain" can mean two things: the depth of a sounding in the Mississippi River or two whiskeys on credit at a saloon. Here is an ABC taster of some of the other marvellous slang of the period.

Absquatulate = to leave abruptly
Bach (or Batch) = to live like a bachelor
Cheese it! = Shut up!
Dunderhead = fool, idiot
Eagle = a gold coin worth $10
Put some Killickinick in your pipe...
Flapdoodle = Nonsense
Gimcracks = A Knicknack
Hurry-Skurry = Rushed
Ironikle = Ironic
Jollification = Party, Celebration
Killickinick = Twain's beloved, yet cheap pipe tobacco
Lucifer = A Match (to light your pipe)
Mulligrubs = Grumpiness, Depression
Nabob = Wealthy and Important Man
"Undress Uniform"
Octaroon = Person w/ one Negro great-grandparent
Poltroon = Utter coward
Quirk = a Taunt, Retort
Rough = a Thug, Ruffian
Spondulicks = Money
Toper = Drunkard
Undress Uniform = Long Johns
Vamoose = to depart hurriedly
Whale = to Beat or Thrash someone
Xeromyrum = Dry Ointment
You bet! = common exclamation
Zephyr = a Gale

The first book in my P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries series is The Case of the Deadly Desperados. It is available in hardbackpaperbackKindle and MP3 audio download

P.S. For more Wild West slang, read my post about audiobooks.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Roman Murder Mystery!

[a guest post by Emily Robb, aged 15]

Emily Robb with sheep and helpers
There are five minutes to go until lunchtime: I’m frantically running around my school hall, straightening chairs, propping up toy sheep and running over what I’ll say when 120 Year 7s ask me if I did it; if I killed Marcia Dorothea.

This is in fact not quite as dark and worrying as it may sound.

As a year 11 History prefect it is often my job to talk to prospective students about the subject, help out at lectures and give girls a tour of my school but it is also frequently my job to step back in time, throw on an extraordinarily unflattering costume and act.

In the past two years I have dressed up as a Georgian, a 1920s ‘Flapper’, President Wilson, Neville Chamberlain and now a few weeks ago I became a Roman farmer named Davus in a murder mystery that the History and Latin prefects had organised. Poor Davus’ calm, albeit slightly dull, lifestyle had suddenly become threatened by the ghastly reality of being held suspect in a murder inquiry – and the terrifying prospect of being interrogated by a squealing mass of twelve-year-olds.

Year 7 detectives!
We were keen to make the event as enticing and exciting as possible and so, as a soon-to-be-released film issues trailers to its potential audience, the prefects got to work on some serious marketing. Our main concern was that the murder mystery was not compulsory; would anyone sacrifice their place in the lunch queue and turn up? We were constantly told by teachers that it would be fine – of course they’d turn up – they’re Year 7s: they’ll go to anything! Still we had doubts, so over the next term we started to get inventive and created as many intriguing clues as possible.

The first of these clues interrupted an orderly assembly for their year group when a video was suddenly projected onto the screen of what seemed to be an ancient Roman news reporter (my friend Polly, the Latin prefect), delivering what appeared to be an ancient Roman news bulletin – and an extremely dull one at that. Polly drones on in a dismally monotonous voice about a young girl named Cornelia, sitting under a tree and a cart which has been stuck in a ditch for a good many chapters now (Slight tongue-in-cheek Ecce Romani jokes – anyone remember Ecce Romani?)

Just before one of the poor confused year sevens stuck up their hand to ask what on earth was going on, a very urgent looking arm is thrust into camera-shot, holding in its shaking hand a piece of parchment. A rather startled news reporter hurriedly reads through its contents; breaking news, you see, was not commonplace in Ancient Rome. With an exaggerated gasp and eyes aglow with the burden of death, Polly regrettably informs the hall full of twelve year olds that a murder has taken place and that it is from this point forth, their duty to find out who is responsible.

Enticing? We thought so. Next, various prefects arranged for mysterious clues to be included in the daily bulletin that is read out every morning to classes during form-time. These featured cryptic messages such as ‘Don’t be fooled. Refuse the priest a drink’ which would come in handy for them later.

A teacher with cameraman!
The final advertising effort involved quite a large amount of embarrassment on our parts and quite a lot of confusion on theirs. The day before the mystery was to take place the entire cast trudged unwillingly into the changing rooms at the beginning of lunch and worriedly got changed into Roman clothes – armour, tunics, religious robes: the whole shebang. This was definitely going to invite a few laughs at our expense. However we were pleasantly surprised and extremely encouraged by the fact that upon stepping out of the changing rooms and making a rather doleful walk into the canteen we were mobbed by large packs of year sevens, asking us questions and being frankly rather frightening. Nevertheless – the detectives were ready.

The Poster!
With these plans secured, we now felt slightly more confident that the young inspectors were actually going to turn up but we still had much to prepare. Between us, over the next few weeks, maps were drawn, suspects cast, scripts written and scenery planned. As Davus the farmer, it was I who had the misfortune of finding the body of the deceased – a tricky situation to explain when being rigorously interrogated by the surprisingly scary year sevens. However I was innocent (HOORAH!) and I was extremely glad about this; I’m not sure I could have borne the guilt and evidently may have cracked under the judgemental glare of the detectives.

On the day, we arrived a little before lunchtime to set up the hall where the murder mystery would take place. An extremely large poster designed to draw the year sevens in, covered the doors to the hall, with a special message from Caroline Lawrence – author of The Roman Mysteries – wishing the girls luck, at the bottom.

The corpse!
Upon entering the hall the girls were greeted by a rather sombre looking pathologist who showed to them the body (quelle horreur!) from where they were encouraged to follow the path and ask questions of anyone they may pass in doing so. As they journeyed through passageways, through curtains and over rivers the eager detectives seemed prone to beginning their interrogation rather tactlessly with the simple question ‘Was it you?’ Whilst rather dramatic piano music accompanied their travels, the girls questioned lumberjacks, jewellery sellers, mosaic artists, money lenders, slaves, guards, the two temple priests and myself; the farmer. All in costume we made a humorous scene; I surrounded by a field of toy sheep, others clasping cardboard spears and others dressed in head-to-toe religious attire.

signed first edition!
We were surprised and delighted by the amount of staff that couldn’t resist trying their hand at being Poirot or Miss Marple for a lunchtime; one teacher was even accompanied by his own camera man and a full set of thorough interview questions– claiming to be from the local news. The hour whizzed by, with girls still hurriedly filling in sheets in the last minute. The fun wasn’t over, though, as the next week in assembly we got to present the three winners and four runners up with their prizes. For the runners up, sugar mice and for the winning detectives who managed to correctly solve the murder in the shortest time beautiful signed copies of The Slave-Girl from Jerusalem by Caroline of course! What better prize for a Roman Murder Mystery than a copy of the Roman Mysteries?!

I had a fantastic time organising and partaking in the murder mystery and would just like to thank Caroline for her generosity in giving the prizes; they really made it something special! When I look back on my school days as an adult it will be these moments that I’ll remember; not the horrific maths tests or the everlasting physics lessons – the moments where the staff and students work together outside the classroom to create something for everyone to enjoy. I won’t forget the fun I had as Davus the Roman farmer, in fact, after all the worrying, I think I rather prefer his comfy tunic to my school uniform.

Carpe Diem!

P.S. The louder of the two temple priests was the murderer; a priest with a partiality for the wine…