Here’s the saddest thing I ever discovered as a writer. Shakespeare did not write proper English! As a writer of historical fiction, I have been told several times that my characters should not use contractions. You know, I’m instead of I am, can’t instead of cannot, won’t instead of whatever it’s a contraction of. Yet Bill S. titled a play All’s Well That Ends Well and no one fusses. This was easily 200 years before the Regency period.
Anachronisms creep up in historical fiction now and again. One of my husband’s complaints about the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon is the out of place things that creep up. Particullarly the Monty Python reference when the show didn’t debut on the BBC until years after Claire – well, I don’t want to spoil things. It should also be noted that he’s on his second read through all the books, and complaining that the next book won’t be out soon enough.
I remember a published author who was the speaker at an RWA meeting when I was first a member. Even though she knew better, she had her Regency main characters meeting in Trafalgar Square. Yeah, didn’t get that name until 1830. https://www.london.gov.uk/priorities/arts-culture/trafalgar-square/history
It’s a close call with the Yankee expression, Okay. You’ll find it in print by 1830, and that indicates a wide usage before that. I really like the Choctaw explanation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okay
As English is a living, breathing, chain-smoking, beer-drinking language, it changes a lot. Languages like Japanese have changed little in the past century. But English not only has changed, it’s colonized various parts of the world. These nifty graphs show the rise or fall in contraction usage since 1800.
Here’s an excellent article on some of the influences on English: http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/linguistics/change.jsp
The final word, of course, would be Miss Jane Austen. She uses contractions very rarely, but remember her writing went through publishers who had their own ideas of proper English. They no doubt filtered her words as they saw fit. But here’s one they missed:
It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.”
― Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
Thank you, Miss Austen, and thank you, gentle readers. See you on Sunday for the next leg around the world in books.