More Fun with Old Lexicons of English: biological

The concept tripping me up linguistically today is how a man of the early 1800s might have expressed “biological child” when referring to making sure a baby born in wedlock was, well, his. The term “natural” would not be appropriate because it would imply illegitimate biological child. “Biological” is unusable because it did not enter English in a provable way until 1819 (given that my story is set no more than 10 years previous, and the term had been coined in German and moved to French by then, it might have been used in spoken English amongst educated persons and just not written down in a record that survived). I don’t want to use a phrase such as “child of his body” because in the context of the flow of the sentence I need a one-word adjective. Using “blood” doesn’t quite work.

In the end I settled for no adjective at all, and perhaps it’s an argument for letting the words just say what they have to say: “…make sure any babe born of the union was his–and therefore the marquess’ grandchild.”

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “More Fun with Old Lexicons of English: biological

  1. There MUST be a term, but English law probably provided that any child born of a married woman was her husband’s – which made keeping access to your wife unavailable a man’s problem.

    As Dorothy Sayers has solicitor Murbles say in Busman’s Honeymoon, there is a provision for EVERYTHING in The Will – it might have been interesting if the color of the child did not match up with the color of its parents.

    Interesting – but the laws covered the eventualities, and many a ‘biological’ child inherited, sometimes when the duchess provided the duke with one he could not get himself (though he’d never admit it).

    English literature is full of these little mishaps. But they COULD count, and women would be accused (rightly) of adultery if the husband were unavailable for the appropriate period.

    Good luck with your terms.

    • There was definitely a conferral of legitimacy to children born inside a marriage, period. I’ve read (scratch that: tried to read) romances that hinged on someone keeping their “real” father a secret and they piss me off bc the ways in which that could matter were so narrow. There was a legal exception for a husband to disavow his wife’s child if he could prove he could not have sired it, either from impotence or from not having been in the vicinity at the time of conception. My context is less a legal sense than a moral one. I think in the end i am not using an adjective and letting “grandchild” just mean what it means – actual, biological descendent, with no need for a qualifier at all. But i always enjoy trotting out the places my modern parlance trips me up (that i notice!) when writing historical fiction

      On Monday, October 6, 2014, Lily White LeFevre wrote:

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