Monday, 6 April 2015

To endeavour to attempt to use the word "try"

Whenever I read things written in the present time, but intending to feel like they were written 200 years ago, I always come across words that take me out of my suspended disbelief. I have written several blog posts under the tag "write like Austen" on these words and the differences between their modern usage and their former meaning. I have no idea if they are useful to anyone, or even interesting, or if anyone even reads them, but I hope so.

"She has got over the most trying age."
A word which can give you away as a modern writer when writing in Regency English is "to try." In the sense of trying to do something, it was not as frequently used 200 years ago. It was used, but more often with a different meaning, one that it can still bear but is not so common, which is to test something.

This can be in the sense of seeing if something works, or of making something difficult. Think of Lizzie saying to Wickham that Georgiana "has got over the most trying age." Or Mrs. Bennet saying that something tries her nerves, or tries her patience.

You might say "try the door," which would mean, test the door, or see if the door will open. Saying, "I have tried to open the door," is not as elegant, in my opinion, and not as common a historical usage.

"It ought not to be attempted."
I recommend, as is probably a good general rule for writing, seeing if you could use a different word or expression. Some examples might be to attempt, to endeavour, to strive, to make an effort, to struggle. Not only might they be more descriptive and evocative, but they are more appropriate to the period. Recall that when Jane asks Lizzie whether they should let their acquaintance know about Wickham's true character, she replies "that it ought not to be attempted."

My feeling is that it will make your writing more authentic if you are aware of these different meanings of "to try" and if you mostly use it in the sense of testing the capacity of something, or being difficult, and if you mostly use other words when referring to one's exertion.

Melanie Kerr is the author of Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice

Read Chapter 1      Watch the Trailers      Buy the Book

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