Perhaps the one word that best applies to and describes traditional Regencies is their CIVILITY. Coarse language, poor manners, improper behavior and/or dress – any of these things can quickly derail your Regency story, but the absolutely one thing that will betray you is – the language.
Speech mavens, historians, traditionalists—all have argued for more than two hundred years about the use of ‘cant’ (yes, the apostrophe is missing – on purpose!) in books set during that special era – the Regency era. Strictly speaking this consists of the years in which Prince George served as Regent in place of his father King George III, who was ill and unable to fulfill the duties of King.
Therefore, as long as the old king still lived, Prinny (as he was known to his intimates) was the designated King, moving up to becoming the absolute monarch henceforth known as King George IV when the old king died in 1820. He’d become Regent in 1811. All that excitement took place during these nine brief years!
Even if his over-extravagance and other unpopular traits overshadow his monarchy, we’ll always be grateful for one action he took – he championed the works of A Lady otherwise known to the world as Jane Austen. Generally speaking, at that time, it was almost entirely unheard of for a lady’s name to be emblazoned on a book as the author.
Of course, some sections of society used slang. See the Dictionary of Historical Slang by Eric Partridge. It’s HUGE!! Like most historical dictionaries, it covers written (and spoken) English through WWI, and is wonderfully entertaining. This special language, popular among young men (even those of the upper classes) is known as ‘cant’, and if used unwisely in the drawing room might see the speaker promptly ejected! Heaven itself wouldn’t be able to help a young woman who might indulge—improperly.
And yes, the infamous ‘four-letter-words’ of today did exist then, but were NOT ever spoken in front of a female. Neither did they enter the written word – in fact almost none of them were until after WWII.
Some of the still-famous (or infamous?) personages who lived during that era are Lord Byron, the Duke of Wellington, Napoleon, Sir Walter Scott, Beethoven, John Constable, Beau Brummel, plus of course, Jane Austen and the Shelleys -- Mary Wollstonecraft, and hubby Percy Bysshe. Pierce Egan was among the very first-ever sportswriters. Among the more famous fictional characters are Dracula, Frankenstein, Ivanhoe and of course, the ever-luscious Mr. Darcy!
Although she didn’t live then (actually, she was born in 1902) Georgette Heyer really made the Regency era her own. For an enormous number of years, she produced a book that headed both the NYTimes and London Times best-seller lists! Read any of her books, and you’ll soon see why. For a delightful look at the language she created for her books, here’s a great resource: http://www.georgette-heyer.com/slang.html.