Among the notes I’d intended to refer to, I find the following:
I’m thinking my main discomfort over the “anachronistic diction” thingy has to do with the fact that most of the chunks of verbiage that jump out at me are in fact idiomatic to 20th-21st Century American English. The reason such language sounds inauthentic to me has to do with the definition of “idiomatic” = i.e. language whose meaning as used can’t be derived by direct analysis of the meanings of the individual words.
For example, if, given a choice between two options, I say “six of one…” ALL BY ITSELF, any speaker of modern American English will mentally supply “half a dozen of the other” – a non-native speaker with only access to definitions of the words in the phrase “six of one” will not understand what I mean. So idiomatic expressions being used outside their home cultures don’t really sound authentic because their meanings depend on a culture OTHER THAN wherever/whenever the story is set.
So the narrator (or author) is sidling up to the reader with a knowing wink and a nudge.
My usual coping strategy is to attempt to construct a phrase that isn’t a 20-21st C. CE English idiom, but whose elements and context lend themselves to a reader being able to readily understand what’s meant while still recognizing the “alien” nature of the phrase. “Ah, that sounds like it might mean the same as …
Some idioms recently encountered:
“inner child,” – without access to our idiom, this most likely means a fetus.
“the truth is out there” – out where? in the woods? absent a familiarity with “X-Files” this phrase is opaque.
“I’ve got it covered.” – Did you put a hat on it?
Other diction problems arise due to the use of a word with a specific, known etymology, under circumstances alien to the built world of the narrative (even if the time & place of the BW is unspecified but “not here and now.”)
* grizzlish – a neologism specific to a particular type of (North American brown) bear
* Gargantuan (specific, traceable eponymous etymology, from Rabelais, 16th C. France)
* silhouette – this and other eponyms should be carefully avoided UNLESS your story is set in a time and place where they would be available in the language of the story. For Silhouette, some time after 1770 and in a European language. For Gargantuan, some time after 1600 and in a European language. If your story is “some other time, some other place” i.e. a “built” fantasy world, or in a medieval setting, these words would not be available
Finally there’s the issue of a third-person (omniscient) narrator’s diction vis-à-vis the diction of any/all characters in the narrative. This is something I’ve been pinged on more than once, and I continue to wonder about it. If we’re in a hard-boiled crime story, does the 3rd person narrator have to talk like he or she came up from the Mean Streets? If it’s a story about some Jukeses & Kallikaks in rural Maine, does the narrator need to sound like a hillbilly? Can a third person narrator have a personality separate from the context the story? This may be a bigger topic yet.
This was very interesting, especially as to partial allusions specific to our place and time.
I also consider that twenty years ago being a valley girl and speaking like a valley girl were closely tied to a particular place in California. Now, through TV and social media, young women all over the country sound like valley girls. That’s okay, I guess (although not to these old ears), but, when one character in a story about another time and place stands out by speaking that way, I find it jarring.