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Anachronisms in Downton Abbey

In one of the first episodes I saw, O'Brien looked in the mirror and said to herself This is not who you are. That struck me as very much out of place for the time, ca. 1914. It's definitely a contemporary American thing, and I suppose a British one, too. I kept noticing things like that--characters using idioms that seem far too late-20th/early-21st-century to seem authentic for either rich or poor English people of 1910-20: for instance, Daisy following some remark with "I'm just sayin'." Sunday night, just for fun, I kept a list.

Last time I checked  Used ironically to introduce an obvious or indisputable fact, as in "Last time I checked, the sky was blue." (Come to think of it, the character may have said "Last time I looked," but it was the same idea.)

Get on with her life  Need I say more about this pop-psych tic that ranks with "closure" for the most over-used way of describing the need or wish to put the past behind one?

That's not who we/I/you are/am  Ditto, more or less. It's appeared several times since I first noticed it. I recall hearing this in the '70s, and I suppose it may have been around for a time before then, but surely the whole self-regarding real-me stuff comes from the late 20th century therapeutic mindset.

suck up  I think it's very possible that I could be wrong about this one, but surely even if it were around 100 years ago, would a wealthy young lady have openly announced her intention to "suck up to my mother-in-law"?

I don't think this is a good idea  Not the words themselves, but their ironic use, meaning "I think this is a mistake."

How does that work? Again, not the words themselves, but their context and use: not a simple question about, say, an automobile engine, but an odd present-tense way of pointing out an impending obstacle, more or less equivalent to "That's not feasible," as in "Ride a bicycle in this traffic? How does that work?"

Figuring I'm not the only person to be bothered by these, I Googled "Downton Abbey anachronisms," and sure enough, I'm not, at all. Be careful about any sort of query into the series, though: because season 2 has already shown in Britain, it's easy to stumble onto spoilers. Not that I care very much about that at this point.


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There was something this week that hit me that way, but I can't remember what it was. I don't think it was a something they said, but something they were doing.

I've watched some of the episodes on and some on my Kindle--I had to pay for those. The ones on the K are called something like, "the original UK version," so I wonder if they are slightly different. For instance, the second part of Sunday night's episode was and hour and 7 minutes long.


That's intriguing. Maybe they inserted things like "How does that work?" to make it appeal to Americans more.:-)

These anachronisms are either lazy script writing or modern hubris. They really jar. I don't think I could stand watching such stuff.

A couple of episodes of Foyle's War were almost ruined for me with this kind of thing only it was more about attitudes than speech. DCS Foyle was very tolerant of a young gay man who was in love with Foyle's straight son. Not very likely.

Yeah. Like one of the Brother Cadfael dramatizations, where a young couple have been going at it behind the altar, and Cadfael tells them he's sure God doesn't mind as long as they love each other. To which an equally anachronistic monk might reply "yeah, right."

Oh yes! I'd forgotten that episode! Dreadful.

"suck up to" strikes me as a possible - boarding school slang that a "proper" young lady would use with "chums".

Yes, that's basically why I hedged. I have a very vague idea that I may have heard it in some context like that.

My curiosity aroused, I had a quick look on Google Books and turned up "to suck up to a person: to insinuate oneself into his good graces" in John C. Hotten's "Dictionary of modern slang, cant, and, vulgar words" (1860).

Thank you. I've been resisting the impulse to do that, since I'm at work. Figured I would be off hunting for a while if I did. So, I guess my speculation may have been close: not an anachronism exactly, but possibly an error, if a young lady like Lavinia probably (?) wouldn't have used "slang, cant, and vulgar words" with her mother-in-law. Assuming they still had that status in 1918.

The one that struck me was Anna saying to Bates, an episode or two ago, that the two of them would "be together."

Yes, I remember that. It was like a musician hitting the wrong note. I wasn't sure whether it was really historically out of place or not but it sure sounded wrong.

In fact, it sounds wrong to me even in the present. It makes me nervous when a couple can't specify their relationship more precisely than "we're together."

One hears it frequently, though. Another sign of the times.

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