WOW! An Anachronism!


“Good Lord!” I ejaculated, if ejaculated is the word I want. “Are you really writing up that Totleigh business?”

So says Bertie Wooster in the novel Much Obliged, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse. If I were in the room, I could assure Bertie that ejaculate is the very word he wants, ejaculation being defined as a loud shout or exclamation. Funnily enough, the dictionary does not define exclamation as an ejaculation.

The reason I embark on this whole ejaculation/exclamation explanation is because I recently read a novel in which two of the main characters kiss. After the kiss, they both say “Wow!” I’m usually not too fussed about this sort of thing, having said Wow! myself on a number of occasions, but this was different. These particular Wows were said in a novel set in America in the year 1850. I just cannot imagine anyone saying Wow in that time period, so I did some investigating into novels of the nineteen century.

Although I found plenty of exclamations and even ejaculations, there were no Wows. Archdeacon Grantly says “Good Heavens!” Sir Louis Scatcherd says “By Jove!”; “Good Lord!” is the go-to phrase for Bertie Wooster, but the word Wow is absent from their vocabulary.  A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain was published in 1889. I thought perhaps that Mr. Twain would slip in a Wow now and then, seeing as how his Connecticut Yankee employs the vernacular of his day, but he did not.

(Spoiler Alert: Even after the mass slaughter of thousands, the Boss and Clarence did not say Wow! In fact, they could not say a word–for some things, there are no adequate exclamations.)

In my research, I also discovered that only the male characters made exclamations. Female characters were apparently not allowed to do so. Thus however much Bertie Wooster biffed it, his Aunt Dahlia kept her “Good Heavens!” to herself, preferring instead to express her disappointment with a well-aimed book.

The book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was set in New England during the Civil War. One of her characters, Jo March, has a habit of saying “Christopher Columbus!” as a exclamation. If any character of the nineteenth century would say Wow, my money would be on Jo. But no Wow from Jo. In fact, she is reproved for even saying “Christopher Columbus!” When she is an adult, she names her dog Christopher Columbus so that she can exclaim all she wants without someone busting her chops.

In the end, I decided not to get too fussed about the characters saying Wow! In the first place, the author meant well. I sympathize with her, having had my own struggles with the phrase “All right.” In the second place, the book I read is a romance novel loaned to me by a friend. I usually do not read romance novels written by contemporary authors, but when a friend is nice enough to foist one on me, all I can say is “Wow!”



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