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I'm working on a novel while trying to take into account the historical context surrounding it. It begins in 1140 AD, so the characters would use Old English, Latin, Old French, and other similar languages from that time period. It also features some vampiric characters. Over the years, these vampires have developed their own terminologies to refer to common things, such as relative time, without referring to daylight.

Today is easy to conjugate into tonight, and yesterday similarly transfers to yesternight, although that sounds somewhat odd in our language. However, tomorrow is not as easy to translate.

Morrow comes from the Old English morgen, which means morning. (Source: American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Edition) Therefore tomorrow means the next morning in its oldest variant, and the Old-English-speaking vampires would not use morrow or tomorrow, and would come up with their own words.

My question is, what words exist in a historical context that allow the speaker to refer to time periods without necessarily connoting daytime? Or, if there are none, what words would realistically have developed given the languages present?

Tomorrow is the word giving me the most trouble, but I'll also accept other answers that explain how I can refer to time without referring to the daytime. My main concern is staying in context; I don't want to make up words that have no etymological basis.

Helpful answers will give a sourced example of where the word was found and how it was used (along with what language it derives from), or an explanation of where the roots they are using to derive the new word and why it makes sense to derive the word from those roots.

I'll also accept phrases, since language is complex, and there might be no single word that does the topic justice.

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So, next night, then. Or proxime dusk. Or just crās, while we're at it. It is vampire slang, for crying out loud. It could be any word at all from any language going back a million years. They wouldn't be using English in the first place to express a concept it lacks a word for. They'd just use the PIE word for next night. Or the PIE word for daffodil, for that matter. –  RegDwigнt Jul 20 at 22:04
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The OP has a right to ask, though, for crying out loud. Right? I think it's kinda interesting. –  medica Jul 20 at 22:13
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I didn't deprive them of any rights, for crying out loud. Right? I too think it's kinda interesting. I am only adding more interesting things on top of that. Here's another one. Badass human teens like to say "bad" to mean "good", so badass vampire teens would totally say "morning" to mean "night", just to shove it into everyone's faces. –  RegDwigнt Jul 20 at 22:30
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Would everybody please stop crying out loud? It's much more decorous to cry silently. –  Erik Kowal Jul 21 at 4:33
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This question appears to be off-topic because it is asking people to coin neologisms, and for which there can therefore be no single correct answer. –  tchrist Jul 21 at 14:42

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I have no good answer for 'next night', but I commend to you 'yestreen' -- a word meaning 'yesterday's evening', which was still in (possibly affected) use in the 19th century. That may be Scottish; a more English version is 'yester-even'. See also 'forenight'. The first use of 'yestreen' noted in the OED was 1400 -- not necessarily Old English, but definitely unlike modern English.

Also, you may be pleased to know the existence of 'Saturnight', 'Sunnight', 'Tuesnight', 'Wednesnight', 'Thurseven' and 'Frinight'. In all cases, these referred to the night before the corresponding day. They are all labelled Old English -- so, earlier than 1400.

It might not copy perfectly, but here is the OED's earliest noted use of 'Thurseven':

Prose Charm: Against Elf-Sickness (Royal 12 D.xvii) in G. Storms Anglo-Saxon Magic (1948) 222 Gang on þunres æfen, þonne sunne on setle sie, þær þu wite elenan standan.

I can't help you with a translation.

A pleasing word meaning 'the end of the night, just before daybreak' is 'ughten', but the etymology isn't clear to me. It's in Beowulf (~1000AD) and fitted into the Germanic/Saxon/Old-English mishmash at the time.

Straying into invention, I suggest 'to-fall' -- a word meaning 'beginning of night', whose examples in the Oxford English Dictionary (which I've used for all the words listed) all look to the future. It was first used in 1425, though not in the meaning we're discussing.

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These are great words! (Not strictly answering the question, but definitely helpful for the overall cause.) Do you happen to know when those words for the days of the week were coined, and where they were used, or are they modern coinages? And do you know what language 'ughten' is from? It doesn't sound like Old English to me. (Which is fine: my characters do travel.) –  Jerenda Jul 21 at 20:51
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Thanks! The first use of 'yestreen' noted in the OED was 1400 -- not necessarily Old English, but definitely unlike modern English. The nights of the week are all labelled Old English -- so, earlier than 1400. 'Ughten' is earlier still -- it's in Beowulf (~1000AD) -- and fitted into the Germanic/Saxon/Old-English mishmash at the time. 'To-fall' was used in 1425, though not in the meaning we're discussing. –  Ed Wynnn Jul 22 at 19:53
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It might not copy perfectly, but here is the OED's earliest noted use of 'Thurseven': "Prose Charm: Against Elf-Sickness (Royal 12 D.xvii) in G. Storms Anglo-Saxon Magic (1948) 222 Gang on þunres æfen, þonne sunne on setle sie, þær þu wite elenan standan." I can't help you with a translation. –  Ed Wynnn Jul 22 at 19:54

I read your post twice. I think what you're getting at is that in their (vampire) world/life[style], they talk about the nights as periods of activity the way we talk about days/daylight as being a period of activity, right?

If so, then a lot of the usual terms non-vampires use still apply. I would think that even the word "day" would be appropriate, as there is only the modern expression "daylight" to make reference to light. So to them, their periods of activity are 'days', and there are 7 in the week, etc. "I'll see you 2 days from now" seems perfectly valid and understandable.

Now in fiction, especially period fiction, you want to take the reader along by changing from the modern expressions and ways to express/say/represent things. I get it. You also said you want them to have their own slang. Well, you are free to completely make up words at that point, but a basis in an older language (are we talking Europe/Earth?) lends a bit of dust to it, as our language (English) has simply grown out of it, what with kids today barely required to learn 1 language, in comparison to the 'good old days'.

I find in fiction the vernacular much more plausible in a suspension of disbelief if I don't know words being used. After all, is this a place/experience that should feel familiar to me? Probably not.

But what I would suggest is that you have a little linguistic fun and utilize 'root' words in your language/slang/dialect that can be extended. In other words, it isn't the same exact language and parlance we use today, with a different word for 'tomorrow night', but rather an immerse language that doesn't have to make sense, but it has structure (which again, helps immensely in the disbelief suspension department)...

I'm not saying you need to go haywire and create a new Klingon, but you can get some great ideas at lists/reference like the list of Constructed Languages, Made-Up Languages from Books, and yes, there is even a place that shows you how to make up your own language!

All of the ones for books & film were designed to invoke exactly what you are doing, and so I think you should be able to glean a lot of pointers based on how they all approached the same issue.

I'm sorry if I am not giving you the shorter/smaller answer you originally asked for; But I think this answer/[comment?] might help you out in the long run, where the language and parlance itself brings the reader to a different place & time. And let's face it, in a book all the reader has are words! :)

Good luck, it sounds like a rewarding effort!

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Hey, thanks for your answer. Even though you didn't come up with a one-word answer, you still talked about the topics I was thinking about, which is why I upvoted your answer. And you made me realize I need to clarify the setting in my question... I do have a question, though: did you mean that creating and using invented words is good and draws the reader in, or is confusing because it's unfamiliar? I just wasn't quite clear on whether you were supporting the idea or not. –  Jerenda Jul 21 at 4:20
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Consider that your audience is reading in english and have a huge database of words. Adding words to their database is hard; and disrupts the story. "Now what did that word mean again?" See also this xkcd –  Michael Deardeuff Jul 21 at 5:01
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They would likely say two nights from now rather than two days from now. –  Joshua Jul 21 at 15:57
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@Jerenda, Sorry I wasn't clear. I am definitely for it, but only to the extent that your other prose & narrative will allow. Sub-vocalization (thoughts) can go a long way to explaining a word, but you can also have fun using the word several times, to the point where seeing it in context several times gives the reader the definition. I was also trying to be clear that unless you are in the present, language is the best way to transport. Cave men saying "Yo Dude!" won't go far to suspend disbelief! Like a good mystery, words/vernacular can be fun to figure out! Like a real visitor would do. :) –  Pat Trainor Jul 23 at 3:10
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@Jerenda, (contd.-rand out of space!) If you look carefully at made-up/made-for-story languages, you will see that they are designed by the writer to convey the right emotion/tone to MATCH the characters. Klingon is short, terse, and guttural. Elfish (?) in the 'Rings" is very whispy, lyrical, and soft. A woman yelling at me in French is not a bad thing! :) If they are dark/Gothic in 'feel', then the very expressions/words would be the same. I mean, you can't communicate accents very well on paper, so you work with English pronunciation of your fictional vocabulary. Did that make sense?! :) –  Pat Trainor Jul 23 at 3:15

I know the question has been answered, but here are some additional ideas.

On moonrise

or

tofnung (to as in tomorrow, fnung from ǣfnung, Old English for evening)

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Thanks for your ideas! Both of those seem highly usable. Just because I picked an answer doesn't mean that is the only answer that can be considered correct. Since it's kind of an open-ended question, I'd like to encourage people to continue submitting ideas if they have them. –  Jerenda Jul 21 at 19:31

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