For instance, in the fifth installment of Mr. B Speaks! Mr. B describes lurking in a closet to spy on Pamela. This closet would not be the type of closet we have in our houses today--complete with shelves and clothes on hangers. Rather, as Leslie Quinn will tell the judge later, "A closet was a small room like a breakfast nook. With a door. It often contained books and a desk."
|An 18th century prostitute:|
|what "sauciness" led to in the 18th century.|
What has changed is the word's connotation--the emotions and images associated with the word. The connotation for saucy in the 18th century were far more negative than it is now.
Changing connotations is an unique, lingual phenomenon that has occurred--in the modern world--with words like handicapped. The word's meaning hasn't changed in the last twenty years; rather, the word has accumulated negative feelings; in an effort to dump the negative feelings, handicapped became special (very briefly) which then became disabled. The problem, of course, is that being handicapped/disabled (and even, frankly, "special") kind of stinks, so the replacement words will continue to accumulate negative emotions, no matter how often they are changed (however, this is less true than it is used to be since there are fewer social stigmas associated with being disabled than there used to be).
Likewise, racism unfortunately exists whether someone is referred to as Negro, black, or African-American. A change in terminology cannot single-handedly effect a change in attitude.
The introduction of new terms to counteract negative connotations often leads to confusion over the current courteous and/or politically-correct term. As P.J. O'Rourke writes in All the Trouble in the World, regarding a discussion of Huckleberry Finn in a college classroom:
There was a great deal of fumbling with racial terms, among white and nonwhite students both. No one seemed exactly sure whether or when to say "black" or "African-American." How much better if we just called each other by our names.An interesting example of reverse negative association is "Indian." I was taught in school to say Native American rather than Indian. Now the terms are used interchangeably by Native Americans and non-Native Americans alike. (It does get confusing when one is actually talking about inhabitants of India.)
My own practice is to be polite and call people what they want to be called. (I have black friends who don't like "African-American." After all, I don't refer to myself as "Anglo-Celt-American.") And also to give people a break when they get confused.
Now-a-days, of course, the term has a far more positive, and youthful, connotation: "The little girl was saucy to her mother."
When it came time for me to describe Pamela, I relied on Pamela's explanation of her behavior from Pamela II. In answer to a letter from her sister-in-law, Pamela describes her faults, including her sauciness:
I am naturally of a saucy temper: and with all my appearance of meekness and humility, can resent, and sting too, when I think myself provoked.What would you expect, she goes on to write, when I have to defend herself against so many detractors?
In other words, Pamela gets provoked and lashes out with witty barbs before she remembers herself/her station and retreats. This is the characterization I utilized, making Pamela neither as flirtatious nor as manipulative as detractors often paint her to be.
I should note that despite (or because of) the word's negative associations in the 1700s, Mr. B enjoys Pamela's sauciness, even when he is exasperated. Whatever society's views, a writer--in this case, Richardson--can make the language work for him: at least, within the confines of the text.