I attended Becker Elementary School in Austin, Texas. The Annual School Fair was called “Becker Be Gay,” and a big banner was posted over the school’s entrance every fall announcing the school fair. There were cake walks, apple bobbing, and the usual carny games. The families around the Bouldin Creek Community of South Austin looked forward to the event. By the time I was in high school, Becker Elementary had to come up with another name for their school fair as the word gay had a new meaning that had to do with sexual orientation. Strange how a word that according to Webster’s Dictionary meant joyous and happy could take on a total new meaning in a few short years. Reminds me of Tim McGraw’s song “Back When,” in which he sings about when coke was a coke and a hoe was a hoe.
Pearl Zane Grey (1872-1939) wrote the stories of his ancestors who settled in the West. The one-time dentist was very successful turning his books into 108 movies that built an empire known as Paramount Pictures as well as a long running TV series. I thought it would behoove me to read his works, and I acquired a copy of every book of fiction he wrote. I am reading them all (it’s one of those before-I die-things). He uses the word intercourse frequently in his work to mean a serious discussion between two or more people. During the time of his writing (1910-1935), that was the generally accepted meaning for the word—it was usually modified by the word sexual when used in that context. Now the sexual meaning applies to the word intercourse alone—another word that has evolved to mean something different.
As a writer of historical fiction during the eighteenth century, I have discovered that many words have become obsolete or their meaning has completely changed. Should I use these words in dialogue?