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Monday, October 7, 2013

Linguistic anachronism in Murdoch Mysteries

I was watching Murdoch Mysteries on TV tonight. This is set in Toronto at the turn of the 20th century (last week Queen Victoria died). Tonight's episode referred to someone's bicycle being "sabotaged". According to the OED, the noun sabotage was not borrowed into English until 1910, and the first recorded usage of the verb is from 1918. In fact "sabotage" was not even used in the original French in this sense of intentionally damaging the operation of something until 1909.

This is not as egregious as some of the anachronisms I've noticed in Downton Abbey. Mostly I just like to play the "I wonder if that word really existed then?" game and then go and check in the OED. Perhaps, as in so many things, Detective Murdoch is ahead of his time (though I think it was Inspector Brackenread who used the word "sabotage").

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.