Downton Abbey Anachronisms

In honor of tonight's premiere of Season 3 of Downton Abbey,  I wanted to make sure that, no matter how big and crazy a fan you think you might be, there are some bigger, crazier fans out there. Luckily for us, those fans are also smarter and more resourceful than we lay Americans, and they've created a fabulous niche hobby of linguistically analyzing Downton for anachronisms.   First, the author of the blog Language Log compiled this video of lines that are "questionable" in their time-period authenticity:

Next this Princeton/Harvard dude named Benjamin Schmidt ran a statistical study on the Downton language that, when explained, sounds to me like a doctoral thesis, but was probably something he put together in the spare time he had awaiting the results of his homemade baby hadron collider. Namely he:
". . . found some copies of the Downton Abbey scripts online, and fed every single two-word phrase through the Google Ngram database to see how characteristic of the English Language, c. 1917, Downton Abbey really is."
 The results, when graphed, look like this incomprehensible little word cloud:

Which, if you enlarge it, is actually kind of neat.  And, when you parse it out a little bit, there are some really interesting observations, like the fact that a great deal of wartime language emerged entirely from WWII, not the WWI setting of Downton's second season, and wouldn't have been used back in the teens.  In fact, "wartime" and "peacetime" themselves were not used as adjectives until the 1940s.  The blog goes on,
One subplot involves Thomas setting up business selling goods on the black market; "there are shortages all around," he declares. He might as well be speaking Greek: the 'black market' doesn't emerge until 1941, and though  businessmen (particular Americans) sometimes used 'shortages' as the opposite of 'surpluses,' it is so rare in British speech that it almost never appears in UK fiction from the period.
Even more interesting are simple turns of phrase that we modern viewers take entirely for granted but that would have been rare under Earl Grantham's watch.   Seemingly innocuous phrases like, "at long last," "from scratch", and "act fast" are , while not unheard of, "10 times more common in the 1990s than in the 1910s." 

Schmidt follows up with a similar blog post here, and apparently received so much feedback he created a blog called Prochronisms, where he similarly analyzes other period shows like Mad Men (!!!) and Deadwood.  The important thing to remember, of course, is that it's all in great fun.  It's not genuinely nitpicking or criticizing (in fact, Schmidt himself subtitles the blog "Prochronisms: or Downton Crabbey"); it's all part of the delightful, gluttenous, I-must-know-more fandom that comes with being a Downton addict.

So enjoy tonight, and maybe we can all make Schmidt's anachronisms into a big Downton drinking game!  And if anyone in the premiere says "YOLO," we can all cheers together.
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January 9, 2013 at 8:18 AM delete

This is so cool!! Being a history nerd and a Downton fan I enjoyed reading this!


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