Historical novel, Historical research, Historiography, Industrial revolution, Library, Renaissance, Research, Research Tip, Victorian Era, Women, women's history

Curses Indeed!

Featuring The Encyclopedia of Swearing

Annie – my protagonist

It’s great when you’re writing and come up with just the right word or expression.

And being historically accurate makes your work more authoritative and trustworthy.

While working on my historical novel, set in 1800s Vancouver, I needed to find a few accurate expletives to come out of my protagonist, Annie’s mouth. She’s a factory girl and not shy about expressing her opinions!

I still haven’t found exactly what I’m looking for – namely – something like, “damn it” (or preferably stronger) – an expletive for her to say when something falls on her foot. Feel free to suggest something in the comments please!

I did a quick internet search and got a few ideas and then went onto our local library catalogue and found this amazing resource.

It’s called An Encyclopedia of Swearing: The Social History of Oaths, Profanity, Foul Language, and Ethnic Slurs in the English-Speaking World, by M.E. Sharpe

At the Vancouver Public Library (VPL), it’s an e-pub found by a catalogue search and available only to VPL library card holders. Call a librarian if you don’t find it in your own local library. It may be accessible differently than it is here.

I couldn’t see how to find an answer my question (the curse following the thing falling on her foot), but while scrolling around and trying out different things I tried out a search on the word “prostitute”.

Along with some historical and literary references, and bibliographic references, I got this list of words spanning the years 1100-2000.

1100whore
1200
1300strumpet, concubine, quean, common woman
1400harlot, slut, filth, mistress
1500drab, trull, mutton, cat, doxy
1600prostitute, moll, punk, doll, jade, hussy, trollop, gypsy, slattern
1700biddy, conveniency, bunter
1800fallen woman, hooker, blowen, streetwalker
1900broad, call girl, call boy, tramp, tart, lady of the night, hustler, slag
2000escort, sex worker

A few other terms in the table of contents of this encyclopedia include:

  • expletives – homosexuals 
  • ethnic slurs
  • etymology
  • piss
  • punk
  • shrew
  • soldiers and sailors slang
  • shit words
  • turd
  • twat 

and more….

There are entries for a few regional terms, including Scots, South African,and probably some more

And entries for a few historical periods including Renaissance and Victorian, and probably some more

Use the table of contents or do a search.

Just be careful if you do a search that you use the correct search field labed, “search within this publication”. Otherwise your search will bring up results from all the Gale online publications held by your library.

Another option is to use the “advanced search”

  • Enter “prostitution” as a keyword
  • Scroll down and enter the name of the publication
  • I entered “encyclopedia of swearing” and the full title was auto-filled
  • Scroll down
  • Press, search

I noticed that not every term gives a nice date-line table like the one that showed up on my search for Prostitute.


You can save your results on Google Drive, Cloud, and other platforms.


For academic works there are also options to put the citations into whatever citation protocol you’re using.

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British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical novel, Historical photos, Historical research, Historiography, Labour history, Local heros, Research, social history, Women, women's history

Professor Lara Campbell speaking this Thursday night on zoom about The Campaign for White Woman Suffrage in BC

One of Vancouver’s most vocal and powerful advocates for labour rights and women was Helena Gutteridge, a tailor, who came to Vancouver in September 1911.

She arrived a few months too late to attend a Woman Suffrage Convention held in the city chaired by then-Mayor Taylor. But soon after, she was instrumental in the BC Suffrage League, one of the local suffrage groups affiliated with organized labour.

Helena Gutteridge speaking at a labour rally in Vancouver, 1938
Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Public Library – Accession Number: 13333

Here, as elsewhere, groups and individuals organizing for women’s rights was like a moving kaleidoscope of collaboration, re-branding, and class distinctions.

I am loath to go into too much more detail as the history of the suffrage movement is complex but here are some bits and pieces to consider.

Some suffrage groups worked with labour. Others with temperance activists. Others folded at the start of World War I so as not to detract from the war effort.

Different jurisdictions and levels of government introduced women suffrage in different years, with a series of legislation that were passed and reversed over about thirty years.

Interestingly Vancouver has unique legal rights in the province including those pertaining to woman suffrage at the municipal level. Our legal rights are governed under the Vancouver Charter as opposed to the Municipal Act which governs other cities in the province.

In the 1910 municipal election, all white married women who owned property were eligible to the vote, a by-law passed under Mayor Taylor’s progressive influence. But the same right wasn’t extended at the provincial and federal level until later. The suffrage battles at those levels were carried out by different players under different circumstances and resulting in different dates when the franchise was extended to white women.

And to be clear, the early 20th century suffrage movements were led by and intended for extension of the franchise to white women – and did not address the lack of voting rights of First Nations people, Asians, and some others – both men and women.

The BC Political Equality League (PEL) was formed in January 1911 and later that year began to hold meetings in homes, almost daily, to acquaint women with their newly acquired civic voting rights, and to persuade them to register to vote in the upcoming election. 

The Mount Pleasant Suffrage League also existed but I haven’t been able to find out much about it other than when and where it met. A couple of the characters from my novel live in Mount Pleasant and will attend these meetings but so far, I can only surmise the content of their meetings, given the working class character of the neighbourhood and the paltry reporting of women’s political issues.

As with so much of women’s historical research, records are spotty. Reports of meetings and actions were considered un-newsworthy by the mainstream press and the retention of records was considered of lesser importance than those of men’s activities.  

I hope to learn more next Thursday night (May 28), when the Vancouver Historical Society will welcome SFU Professor Lara Campbell, who’ll be speaking about the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Vancouver. 

The VHS meetings are currently being held by zoom so please see details in the link to gain access. 

British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical novel, Historical photos, Research, Telephone operators, Vancouver history, Women, women's history

Vancouver Telephone Operator’s Strike of 1902

Image courtesy of MontanaWomensHistory.org

I’m toying with the idea of having either my protagonist, Annie, or her sister – or both – working at the New Westminster and Burrard Inlet Telephone Company (later BC Tel and later still, Telus) and taking part in a strike that really took place in Vancouver, against the company in the early 20th century.

On November 26, 1902, women telephone operators from the phone company, along with linesmen, inspectors, and repairmen struck for higher pay, shorter hours, and recognition of their union.

Telephones had already become crucial to running a business in Vancouver, so businessmen (sic) in the city supported the strikers and even offered to volunteer to help keep the service running while negotiations were underway.

A little over two weeks later, on December 12th, the company gave in to all of the strikers’ demands including implementation of an 8-hour work day and provision of three days sick leave per month.

Every phone operator who’d been with the company for six months or more received a raise of $2.50/month. This brought their pay up to $20/month, ($300/year), the poverty line at that time.

Long distance operators got $32.50/month, and linesmen $66/month.

I

British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical documents, Historical novel, Historical research, Research, social history, Vancouver history, Women, women's history

A blizzard in Vancouver, 1911 – Annie stranded in the West End

Wet and heavy, the snow we get in Vancouver paralyzes the city for days to the delight of skiers and children.  But for those who have to get to work or have no choice but to get somewhere, the snow can wreak havoc to their plans. Even public transit buses get stuck in the snow and city crews are kept busy clearing streets and putting up barricades to keep traffic off the steepest hills.

I wanted to find out about a real-life snowstorm in Vancouver- the likes of which we are familiar with here – for a scene in my story, in either 1911 or 1912  I wanted my protagonist,  Annie to be stuck in her west-end home, alone and lonely with lots of time on her hands to think about something that was bothering her.

The Canadian government has weather records as far back as 1898, and, fortunately for me, there were records for Vancouver back to 1911. 

I went  through a few months when we generally have blizzards here in Vancouver, and identified a run of three days in  November 1911 when the snow did not stop falling.  This fit in perfectly with the scene I was working on and helped me pin down the next series of events in the story with historical accuracy.

Yipee!  I’ve been trying for as much authentic historical accuracy as possible, but at times have had to fudge a few dates to fit the storyline, and create wholly fictionalized characters where I cannot accurately portray  a real-life person from our city’s past.

At the same time, I’m trying to follow Jack Bickham’s advice from his book on Scenes and Settings about the importance of getting local facts right, including weather.

Originally I was going to assume sometime in November or December of either 1911 or 1912 for this scene, (because I wanted it to be before Christmas) and just pick a random date but Jack Bickham convinced me to make the extra effort to track down accurate local weather conditions for added authenticity.

The federal government weather statistics that exist cover average and extreme temperature ranges, rain, snow, and total precipitation, and wind gusts, by month and by specific day of the month.  Plus more, no doubt, that I haven’t looked into. It’s fun to look at even if you don’t have a specific research project in mind.

British Columbia history, Canada history, Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), Environmental history, First Nations history, Historical documents, Historical novel, Historical photos, Historical research, Historiography, Port Moody, Research, Vancouver history

Canadian Environmental history timeline

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

This week’s climate strikes, coinciding with the United Nations Climate Action Summit , brought more than 80,000 people out to the streets in Vancouver alone, according to the Candian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)

So in celebration and solidarity, I thought I’d share this environmental history timeline from the Canadian Encyclopedia.

It is a great start to some painstaking documentation that we need about this grass-roots movement.

But there are many more events, movements, legislation (and catastrophes) – like the Mount Polley mining disaster, that should also be included in this timeline.

The environmental movement has many tentacles and has traditionally had limited access to the powerful media outlets and industry-affiliated lobbying interests that, generally, are working against it.

 Vancouver has a long tradition of environmental activism and is the birthplace of Greenpeace, the Suzuki Foundation, SPEC (Society for the Preservation) and probably more innovative environmental organizations – and those are only the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

If you think this is the kind of project you would be interested in, the encyclopedia is always looking for contributors so get in touch with them here if you think you can help make this timeline more complete.

I have one that I’ve been creating for a couple of years that is a general – mostly British Columbia historical timeline, with fictionalized dates and events pertaining to my novel, interspersed.

And I’ve created another one to help me understand the timing and details of First Nations land grabs within the city of Vancouver that covers over a hundred years.

And finally, I’ve created a shorter one to help me understand the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) controversy over the location of the terminus of the transnational railroad that occurred in the 1870s and 80s.