I don't know about you, but a stranger looking at the search engine history of this computer on a day that I can devote to writing would probably be (to understate the point) befuddled. In case you don't believe me, take a look at some of the things I researched yesterday alone.
Dutchman's breeches - Not to be confused with the saying that when there's enough blue in the sky to make a Dutchman a pair of breeches, it won't rain. Don't ask me who came up with that anyhow.
Richard Valentine Morris - One of the commodores sent to the Mediterranean during the First Barbary War. This one at least makes sense.
Mangelwurzel - I blame Jenny entirely for that one; it had nothing to do with The White Sail's Shaking.
Lunch - I needed to know when the term came into use in America as the midday meal.
American Naval Register - This is me trying to find a decent collection of records for American ships in the 1800s.
Raincoat - Yes, I looked up raincoats. I couldn't think of the word I wanted, which turned out to be "slicker."
Bulldog - How does one describe a man who looks like a bulldog?
Buck up - When did this phrase come into use?
Dark horse - When did this phrase come into use?
An odd assortment, indeed. Quite interesting, but definitely odd. Such is the case with many authors' fields of research; my friend likes to tell about the time she asked her mother how long it would take someone to die who had been stabbed through the chest with a spear. It is particularly so, however, with those who write historical fiction, since with contemporary novels the writer does not have to worry about the use of idioms and the dates of invention of various articles. Unfortunately, this business can seem very tedious to writers and is often skipped or forgotten, which is sad in the days of fast information-finding via the internet. But accurate speech is just as important to provide depth to a story as solid facts; it's hard to stay with an author whose pre-1800s character uses "Okay" and other modern slang. Glaring mistakes like that will ruin the historical feel of any story.
The process of phrase- and word-checking varies, however, from era to era. Several people who had not yet read The Soldier's Cross asked me how I tried to maintain an authentic feel in the speech, and whether I used the language of Shakespeare. The answer to the latter is no, I certainly did not, because people in the early fifteenth century had regretfully not heard of Elizabeth I and therefore didn't speak in the Queen's English. In fact, they all spoke French. Henry V was the king who re-introduced the English language to the English court; prior to that, the upper classes (being Norman themselves) spoke French. Naturally, I couldn't write the story in French, and even if I could have it wouldn't have been the same French that they spoke in the 1400s. I had to stick to English - modern English.
This necessity gave me more freedom than I have in The White Sail's Shaking, since the very fact that the novel is written in English requires a suspension of disbelief on the reader's part, and one which I don't think anyone has trouble making. I therefore didn't spend time looking up phrases like "buck up" and searching for raincoats. I also didn't eliminate all contractions and whatnot, since that gets quite irritating for the modern reader. I simply kept the dialogue slightly formal, free of slang, and included oaths or phrases that were popular at the time, which is enough for a novel set in the Middle Ages.
But with The White Sail's Shaking, being accurate to the speech of the period is a little more taxing. (Not surprising, since it seems that everything about White Sail's is more taxing than my two previous novels!) They did speak English, and they spoke it a certain way and without certain idioms. One of my characters used the expression "a dark horse" and I was preparing to move on, happy with the sentence, when it occurred to me that maybe that phrase wasn't around in 1803. I anxiously checked and found that I was right - it's a racing term that came about in the 1820s and 30s. Granted, few people would notice if I left it in. In fact, it's likely that no one would notice at all. And yet it would not be in keeping with the era I'm portraying, and if anyone did happen to be a horse-racing connoisseur, they would notice the slip. I regretfully cut it and rewrote the sentence.
Minute research isn't always an easy task, even with the internet (although Dictionary.com is an excellent resource). On the other hand, if you want to find the silver lining on the dark cloud, checking the etymology of idioms and slang is an interesting business and provides the searcher with a collection of strange and possibly useful facts. For instance, I now know about when "lunch" came to be used in reference to a midday meal. I also know what mangelwurzel is, and that's not something you get to lord over people everyday. So even paying attention to the little things has its rewards.