Sidebar Header Graphic
Sea Surgeon EnvironmentSurgeon ProceduresSurgeon as PhysicianOther Pirate TopicsAbout the Author

PSJ Title Main

Instructions for Writing in 17th/18th Century Style

In 2007, I started the groundwork for a book on pirate surgeons. There is surprisingly little on pirate surgeons, per se, so I took up reading the surgical manuals to which a Golden Age of Pyracy (~1680 - 1725) surgeon might have had access. From reading these period surgical manuals (in pdf form), I learned some 17th/18th century text-reading survival skills. See, they wrote differently back then and it can be a real adventure trying to figure out what's being said.

So when a topic came up on a forum where I post asking how to write in the style of people living during the GAoP, I took it upon myself to create a list of rules that could be used to write in the 17th/18th Century style. I am reprinting it here for you. (For those of you are seriously contemplating doing such a thing, I recommend seeking both a different web page and a very good psychologist. This list is most tongue-in-cheek.)

Lady Writing a Letter
The imaginatively named "Lady Writing a
Letter" by Johannes Vermeer.
1. When spelling a word, use any letter order that comes to mind which is relatively close to the pronunciation. It is perfectly acceptable to spell a word three different ways in the same paragraph.

2. Randomly replace the letter 'j' with the letter 'i', particularly when it comes at the beginning of a word. So, 'juice' becomes 'iuce' (You can drop the second 'i' because of the spelling rule - see #1. Or you can not. I have also seen it written 'iuice.')

3. Likewise the letter 'w,' replaced with two v's: 'vv.'

4. Ditto the letter 's' with a letter that looks mostly like 'f.' Do this in the same way as rule # 2 - 's' is often replaced by an 'f' when it is at the beginning of a word. You should also change it when there are two s's together in a word. In this case, the first 's' is written like an 'f' and the second is written like an 's.' Like: 'fucsefs.' (That is not a swear word, it is written that way to keep people on their toes.)

5. If you are tired of writing a word because it's long or you've already written it before, feel free to superscript the last letter that you feel like writing. For example, you can write the word 'attitude' as 'attitu.' (You can further convert it into 17/18th c. speak using rule #1: 'atatu.' This makes it really, really period correct.)

6. Sprinkle Latin phrases in occasionally. Misspell and abbreviate them for best effect. (Note: this may just be in the surgical manuals. Common folks probably couldn't write in Latin. Actually, common folks probably couldn't write at all.)

7. In place of 'etc.' always, always use '&c.' (This is also mondo cool.)

8. Randomly italicize words. For example, some authors always italicize locations, foreign phrases and things like '&c." Many italicize these words at some times, but not others. Some don't italicize them at all.

Women Writing
Another Vermeer. I think
it's called "Bored Maid
Looking Out the Window
While her Lady Writes"
9. Occasionally run the letters 'o' & 'e' together in the Latin fashion to form 'œ' as well as running 'a' & 'e' together to form 'æ.' The 'æ' is more common than the 'œ.' It often appears at the beginning of words that have no reason to have one or the other letters, which looks like 'Æ.' So you might decide to say, "Æ ate eht pices of pi" or " I æte eyt peeces of pye." However, don't overuse this because " Æ æte æyt pæces of pæ" just looks silly.

10. Make some of the words ending with an 'ess' sound positively biblical by adding 'eth' to the end of them. So, for example, 'suffice' becomes 'sufficeth' or (even better) 'sufeyceth.'

11. Some authors use apostrophes, others didn't. Many used them, but not correctly and certainly not consistently. So feel free to randomly toss some apostrophes into your text as the mood suits you. (Which is not all that different than the way many people do it today. Your author included. Ahem.)

12. If you want to change to the opposite meaning of a word, throw an 'un' at the beginning of it. For example, if you wanted to talk about someone not wearing a cloth, you could write 'He unwore the cloath.'

13. A hard 'c' is clearly weak, so you should probably give it some support. Add a 'k' to it or even a 'ke' if the 'c' looks like it might be vulnerable. 'Attic' is pretty wimpy, so you would want to write it as 'Atticke.'

14. Ditto words ending in 'e.' Throw an extra 'e' on occasionally in case the the first one gets lost. This is especially true in small words like 'be' (change to 'bee') 'me' (change to 'mee') and 'he' (change to 'hee').

15. In fact, just go ahead and throw some 'e's at the end of other words that don't need them for any reason when the mood strikes you. It would be perfectly acceptable to write the word 'surgeon' as 'surgeone.' (Of course it would also be acceptable to write it as 'chiurgion,' so that may not be the best example of this rule.)