Delirious Tremors

Anyone can make an embarrassing mistake. During one of my read-throughs of the draft of my novel, I caught a mortifying blunder. “Trent caught only a few words at a time, like taps of MORRIS code echoing through an empty chamber.” Luckily, I caught this or my readers might have wondered what a Morris code was and if it involved Nine Lives cat food.  The point is, when using a word or phrase that you don’t use every day, check and recheck the meaning and spelling to be sure you’ve got it right.

Recently, I was reading a book (name omitted to protect the guilty) that featured two young lovers. The heroine has just rescued her love interest from freezing to death in the snow. The love interest tells her of something strange he’s seen while in a half-dead stupor from hypothermia. She pooh-poohs what he’s seen, telling him “that is what happens when you are sick with delirious tremors”. Since this is part of a quotation, it might be argued that the heroine’s ignorance was the cause of the mistake. Victorian writers often had their lesser-educated characters speak in an illiterate dialect that consisted of similar but incorrect words. An example that comes to mind. Mrs. Southworth’s Katy in Self-Raised; or, From the Depths (published in 1876). Throughout the story, Katy calls the villainess, Faustina, a “whited saltpeter”.  This is in reference to Matthew 23:27: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” Faustina was beautiful on the outside, but within, she was smutted with the soot of sinfulness.

I haven’t the slightest idea what “delirious tremors” might be, but delirium tremens is a condition caused by alcohol withdraw. Since there was no evidence in the story that the heroine’s love interest was an alcoholic, I must assume that the heroine was not only ignorant of the correct spelling of the condition her lover was suffering from but also the cause of it. He just had a bad case of shakes brought on by hypothermia. Since the heroine was not noted, beforehand, for her lack of education, I think the fault may lie with the author, who ought to have done a little research on DTs, before giving his character a case of them.

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