Suppose I've written a story that is set in ancient times. And I refer to something quite modern in it. Like I'm writing about the roman empire suppose, and I write 'He looked at the time in his watch...'. We know they didn't have watches at that time. So is this called something? I remember a teacher telling me that many authors used this and it was called something, but I don't remember what. I think even Shakespeare used it somewhere...

  • Shakespeare certainly did it—whether intentionally or not, I can't say. The example I remember from high school is the exchange between Banquo and Fleance at Inverness Castle: Banquo: How goes the night, boy? Fleance: The moon is down; I have not heard the clock. According the textbook I was reading, there were no clocks to hear in Inverness Castle—or anywhere else in that part of the world—during Duncan's reign as King of Scotland (1034–1040). So Fleance's reference to a clock (chronometer though it be) that he has not heard is anachronistic. – Sven Yargs Jan 5 '15 at 7:48
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    @SvenYargs: and yet, not hearing it does not make his statement false, as hearing the clock certainly would have ;) – oerkelens Jan 5 '15 at 8:17
  • What you are describing is not a figure of speech. It is a literary device, when done deliberately, but says absolutely nothing about the way in which you use the language to describe the anachronism. – itsbruce Jan 5 '15 at 11:05

That sounds like an anachronism. Here's a wikipedia page about it.

Merriam-webster says this about it:

something (such as a word, an object, or an event) that is mistakenly placed in a time where it does not belong in a story, movie, etc.

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  • The other important instance from Shakespeare is when the clock strikes in Julius Caesar. – WS2 Jan 5 '15 at 9:57
  • @WS2: But that clock must have been brought by the unicorns! (The ones that were betrayed by trees.) – oerkelens Jan 5 '15 at 10:00
  • Yeah I was thinking about the clock example. – user104084 Jan 5 '15 at 16:57

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