Tag Archives: everyday life

Gaps in Time

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Phantom Time? New Chronology? Missing Dark Ages?

No, the problem to which many are prone in historical fiction writing, that what is around today was around in the past, just with brass ornaments. Many seem unwilling to say, “There wasn’t anything like this back before the digital revolution.”

This is a thought pattern entwined with the *Your Friends in Funny Clothes* flaw. It’s the anachronism of assumption, like “There have always been houseplants” or “Nice people were never racists, let alone classists.”

This is most likely to show up in Near History settings, but sometimes the 19th century. Someone wants to transfer an activity or a personality type (the friend, being re-dressed) back from the present. Rather than researching what people were like or what they did, the inept research-avoider grabs what they think applies, based on wrong assumptions. Which is usually based on lack of knowledge of the target time, or anything in between.

Take — the Internet.

What, before WW2, would have been the equivalent of the person who lives on social sites, forums, and chat rooms?

I don’t have to make up this answer. On one forum thread, a group decided “of course” that the equivalent, before radio, of the Internet, must have been telegraphy.

It’s so obvious! It’s electrical/electronic, and reaches all over the world, and so those kinds of people must have learned Morse and chattered to strangers on the wires all the time.

No. Just no. It’s not even wrong.

See, they had jumped some gaps in their knowledge, and landed in nonsense up to their earrings.
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About Those Dead Rabbits …

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(Did you notice I had a “history” section? It’s not all about writing. Except that I tend to write historical fiction …)

Nowadays, women pee on a stick. It used to be that they had to go to a doctor with a urine sample, and it was sent to a lab, and some rabbit was mysteriously killed or saved. So the phrase, up through the 1970s at least, was “the rabbit died,” meaning someone was pregnant. (And thus the title of the 1978 movie, The Rabbit Test)

Having just received my copy of The Modern Home Physician, A New Encyclopedia of Medical Knowledge, Illustrated with Two Hundred and Thirty-Two Photographs and Nearly Seven Hundred Drawings Made Expressly for This Work, edited by Victor Robinson (Wm. H. Wise & Co., 1938), I went cruising.

In checking the pages on this big puppy (781), I found the Zondek-Aschheim Reaction test, devised in 1927 to give women an accurate and fairly early idea if they were pregnant or not. Before then, it was all symptoms and guesswork. False pregnancies happened out of stress.

The original test was done on immature mice, but a more convenient variation worked out some time between 1927 and 1938 used a female rabbit, inject intravenously with the urine. (You’d think that would kill right there, but the hCG hormone is only in pregnant woman’s urine).

Actually, the test didn’t kill anything. That’s popular misunderstanding of how the test worked.

[Bunny lovers, go away now.]

But to see the changes in the rabbit’s ovaries brought on by the hCG, the lab techs had to go inside. Since anesthesia and post-op on a big rodent seemed silly to the labs, all the rabbits died before being examined.

[Bunny people, you can come back now.]

A little time on Wikipedia turned up a bit more on the phrase “rabbit test,” which doesn’t seem to have been used until 1949, however popular it became. I would guess that “the rabbit died” idea is no earlier than the 1950s. Before then, rather than being cutesy about it, a woman just said the test was positive or negative. It seems right for the neo-Victorian Fifties love of euphemism.

Just an odd bit of everyday life that’s been mostly forgotten, and often displaced in anachronism by writers (no test in 1912, and no phrase in 1943). It’s the sort of thing I love discovering.

What Happened to Children’s Games?

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It was the 1970s the last time I heard children playing a real children’s game. Red Rover, as it happened. I last heard children skipping rope to rhymes in the 1980s.

Is this just something in Honolulu, or has the children’s game vanished? I hate to think of a world where all entertainment has to come from adults, in organized sports, computer games, things on a screen, even board games. About the closest thing left is riding skateboards. I don’t even see hopscotch diagrams at the elementary school.

No one buys them jump ropes. I haven’t heard a ball being bounced in decades, that didn’t involve dribbling and shooting a basketball. Yoyos, paddleball, jacks — all gone, it seems.

Of course, in today’s cities a game of Hide and Seek seems very unsafe. Too many children go missing as it is. Too many have been raised lacking what we used to call common sense and would go hide someplace they would get stuck or injured. That’s a game for a large landscape.

Children’s games didn’t involve adults, simply. Young children learned them from slightly older ones, watching or being taught. Some, like London Bridge or Ring Around the Rosey, were early and quickly outgrown. Others, like Simon Says or Mother, May I?, could be played by a fairly wide age range. The equipment was simple or non-existent. Parents knew them, but they didn’t participate.

Was this too much independence for the last generation or so of controlling “helicopter” parents? You don’t schedule a game like this, and you pick one or adapt one for the number of kids loose on the block. They were simple-minded, often silly, and just great for a young mind. There was no way to become a champion at most of them, and that wasn’t the point. Fun and a kind of co-operation were the goals. They learned to form their own groups, set their own parameters, and enforce them, all without adult interference. They socialized us in ways that are kind of obviously missing from many young adults I meet.

Please tell me this is a local problem, and these survive mainland.