My wife and I are as hooked on Downton Abbey as everyone else (in fact, we just got the DVDs of the first two seasons so we can see the original U.K. versions and watch them whenever we want), so I’ve been interested to see the recent spate of investigations into the language used. Ben Zimmer has a post at Visual Thesaurus listing “lines that seem a bit questionable” and “assessing their accuracy for the time period”; Ben Schmidt at Sapping Attention (“Digital Humanities: Using tools from the 1990s to answer questions from the 1960s about 19th century America”) has a post with a similar goal but a more comprehensive approach:
So I thought: why not just check every single line in the show for historical accuracy? Idioms are the most colorful examples, but the whole language is always changing. There must be dozens of mistakes no one else is noticing. Google has digitized so much of written language that I don’t have to rely on my ear to find what sounds wrong; a computer can do that far faster and better. So I found some copies of the Downton Abbey scripts online, and fed every single two-word phrase through the Google Ngram database to see how characteristic of the English Language, c. 1917, Downton Abbey really is.
He finds some “egregious, howling mistakes,” and the detailed discussion is quite fascinating. Finally, Mark Liberman at the Log investigates “Just sayin’”. It’s really very hard to get period dialog right, though that’s no excuse for “logic pills” or “get knotted.”