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This Exists... Because of A Lady

Writer Creates Jane Austen Spellcheck List To Get Period Language Correct For Novel


Have you ever been reading a story, supposedly set in a past time period, and spotted words you just know don’t belong? Hugo-award winning author Mary Robinette Kowal has, and she’s determined to not let it happen in her books. So she did something ingenius. She compiled a huge list of words from the collected works of Jane Austen and hopes to apply them to her spellcheck dictionary in order to weed out inappropriate usage in her novels. She just needs a little help. 

Kowal created The Jane Austen Word List to help with her latest novel from Tor. Glamour in Glass, is the sequel to Shades of Milk and Honey, a tribute to Austen’s works with a little magic thrown in for good measure. Historical fiction is tricky, she says, particularly in getting the vocabulary correct. She explains:

I’ve created a list of all the words that are in the collected works of Jane Austen to use for my spellcheck dictionary. It will flag any word that she didn’t use and I can then look those up to see if it was in use in 1815.  It also includes some of Miss Austen’s specific spellings like “shew” and “chuse.”

It won’t be perfect. For instance it won’t flag words whose meanings have changed, like “check” or “staid” but it will be an improvement.

Take a guess at how many words you think are on the list.

It’s a whopping 14,793. Kowal has them in a .txt file (which you can find on her blog post) but so far has been unsuccessful at creating a dictionary of them for OpenOffice. She’s tried several different things and has a few people on the case but if you think you can help her out, please do because this is a really cool project others would benefit from.

Edit: The author herself has dropped by to let us know she did solve the problem…back in 2010. Apparently I missed the date. Coolness factor still stands!

(via Michael May)

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  • http://twitter.com/panoplyprose Melissa Swanson

    Okay, that is cool. Wish I had the computer skills to get it into Open Office, but I’m sure there’s an awesome nerd who will step up to the plate. :)

  • http://crackedmirrorinshalott.wordpress.com/ Savannah N. Logsdon-Breakstone

    I wonder if She’ll (or someone else) add words from other works contemporary to Austen?

  • Kate Saunders Britton

    I’m not sure how relevant this is. Glamour in Glass has already been published (I quite enjoyed it, actually).

  • Betty Windsor

    This is such a great testament to nerdyness.

  • http://www.thenerdybird.com/ Jill Pantozzi

    Thanks, I’ve edited the post!

  • http://twitter.com/AnhedoniaMalfoy Anhedonia Malfoy

    It looks to me like you can add a custom dictionary in Open Office 2 but not Open Office 3.1 (I’m using a Mac).

  • http://www.maryrobinettekowal.com Mary Robinette Kowal

    Oh! Thank you so much. I actually solved this back in 2010 and just never updated the blog post. Here’s the follow-up post about the words that I had to cut from Glamour in Glass. http://www.maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/words-i-couldnt-use-in-glamour-in-glass/

  • http://www.maryrobinettekowal.com Mary Robinette Kowal

    Thanks! I’m glad you liked it.

  • http://www.maryrobinettekowal.com Mary Robinette Kowal

    Yes. When I went through and did the actual spell check, I’d look up the words that were flagged in the OED. If the word existed and still meant the same thing, then I added it to the dictionary. I sometimes cross-referenced with Google nGrams or Google Books.

  • http://www.thenerdybird.com/ Jill Pantozzi

    Thanks for dropping by! And my apologies, I didn’t even notice the year on the post, my eyes just scanned the day. Glad to hear you were able to get it to work!

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t Austen the one who didn’t know how to spell “friendship”?

  • http://www.maryrobinettekowal.com Mary Robinette Kowal

    When I looked at post after you linked to it, I totally saw why it looked current. The “13″ looks like the year and the “10″ looks like the day. I’m just glad you are enthusiastic about the project. It’s been fun to do.

  • http://twitter.com/RachWit Rachel Witkovsky

    You’ve probably already seen this, but I thought I’d share just in case (from one Austen fan to another). Why We Still Love Mr. Darcy – http://bit.ly/XAjdUk