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

This Exists... Because of A Lady

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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Jill Pantozzi is a pop-culture journalist and host who writes about all things nerdy and beyond! She’s Editor in Chief of the geek girl culture site The Mary Sue (Abrams Media Network), and hosts her own blog “Has Boobs, Reads Comics” ( She co-hosts the Crazy Sexy Geeks podcast along with superhero historian Alan Kistler, contributed to a book of essays titled “Chicks Read Comics,” (Mad Norwegian Press) and had her first comic book story in the IDW anthology, “Womanthology.” In 2012, she was featured on National Geographic’s "Comic Store Heroes," a documentary on the lives of comic book fans and the following year she was one of many Batman fans profiled in the documentary, "Legends of the Knight."