A kind reviewer of Ense Petit Placidam correctly observed that a balance must be struck between authentic dialogue and readability in such period pieces. He might not have been as kind had he seen the first draft. Thankfully my editor, who shall remain nameless (but whose first name can be translated as "mankind") toned it down and smoothed it out.
I can’t help wondering though, if earlier Americans would have had an easier time of it, even long after "thee" and "thou" had faded from the language (except of course for Quakers and such). Colonial and Victorian America was highly literate for the times, and their reading primer was the finest example of the language ever set to print – the King James Bible.
This familiarity with the KJV carried over well into the beginning of the 20th century, but is fading fast. Today, for example, we call someone a "Nimrod," perhaps because it sounds vaguely like "knucklehead" or "dimwit." We get that from re-runs of old Bugs Bunny cartoons. Thing is, Bugs was being sarcastic when he called Elmer Fudd that, and the writers at the time presumed their audience would be familiar with Nimrod, the mighty hunter of the Bible.
I know, I know, I need to get with the times, and modern English is far more efficient. My wife and I were on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, where at the end Captain Jack holds forth on the wonders of treasure and rum. I leaned over to her and whispered in reply to Jack; "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal." She looked around as if to wonder if our fellow riders might think she was escorting a mental patient…

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