“Stupid Tingmouth Stuff”: Contemporary Language and the Problem of Propriety in Evelina

“Stupid Tingmouth Stuff”: Contemporary Language and the Problem of Propriety in Evelina

Kristin Zodrow, University of California, Berkeley

Author Biography

Kristin Zodrow is a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Berkeley, where she studies eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British literature and ecology. Her research within the environmental humanities has been supported by the University of Chicago and the Dumbarton Oaks botanic garden and archive. Formerly a plant scientist, she maintains an interest in contemporary biological research by writing poetry about it.


New words appear as a result of emergent patterns in contemporary speech and literary works. This essay re-evaluates the well-worn antagonism between living language and coalescing standards of English grammar in the eighteenth century within Frances Burney’s first novel, Evelina (1778), where this conflict emerges as a uniquely gendered problem. I argue that the novel presents the tension between its two senses of “propriety,” correctness in both a social and semantic sense, in its depiction of the speech and behavior of women. Attending to a narrator who calls herself and her compositions “particular” allows us to grasp the import of Burney’s neologisms in Evelina as well as their reception amid the broader aesthetic and philological debates of her time.


Burney, Frances, 1752–1840; Evelina; Johnson, Samuel, 1709–1784; neologism; colloquialism; grammar; dictionary; propriety; particularity; detail; women; gender; philology; novel

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