“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
What I’ve always heard
As a woman who has always been interested in the women’s rights movement, I thought I knew the right word for the women who fought for the right to vote in the United States: suffragette. It was repeated in everything I read and heard over the years. Then I read Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler and came upon the word suffragist for the first time. Because the word was new to me, I had to learn more.
What was true
A quick search on the term revealed Fowler was right. On learning that suffragette as a word did not exist until the early 1900s, I was embarrassed that I had used it in reference to Hannah True, the aunt of the Pierce siblings, in all the novels set in 1855 and forward. If you’d like to know more about the origin of suffragette and how it differs from suffragist, go to this article on the National Park Service site.
When you write historical fiction, or any fiction that contains facts, you run the risk of being wrong, and often it is what you thought you knew that turns out not to be true. However, if you spend time investigating the origin and meaning of every word and detail of every event you want to include in your story, you’ll never get the story written. Research what you know you don’t know, and when you see something at odds with what you believe to be true, look it up. In the meantime, keep writing. The world needs more stories that touch our hearts and minds and challenge our beliefs. And if you do use an incorrect word, sooner or later, someone will let you know.