The New Men: A Note on Style, Spelling, and Diction

In writing this novel, I not only wanted to get the historical facts and cultural perspectives right but also to capture how different people in Detroit spoke and wrote in the 1910s.

To learn how they used language, I supplemented my academic training in the period by immersing myself in historical archives, period publications, and wide-ranging secondary sources. To convey how they used language, I let my characters – particularly my narrator – do what would have seemed right to them, even though some of their choices might strike contemporary American readers as odd or even wrong. Probably the most obvious examples of that are the spellings such as “employe” and “sceptical” and the omission of the period at the end of some abbreviations (e.g., “Mr Ford” and “Dr Marquis”). The novel includes words that were commonly in use at the time that are no longer used, at least in the same way. That includes words like “Negro” that were not (deliberately) offensive at the time but would be out of place in any halfway respectful conversation today.

There are subtler differences as well; for example, grammatically attuned readers will note the frequent use of “which” as a restrictive relative pronoun. (And, of course, there are also spots where the characters simply make mistakes with language, as people do in every time and place.)

In short, the editors and I promise you that if a particular character writes or says something a certain way, we went to great lengths to verify that a similar, actual person in that time and place might well have written or spelled it that way.




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