The term anachronism signifies misplaced and chronologically inappropriate objects, people, phenomena, customs, etc. In other words, it is introducing something that doesn’t belong to the certain time period in a literary work, a movie, and other creative pieces.
In literary works, anachronisms may be placed either intentionally or by mistake. This linguistic device may involve placing a person, an event, an object, an animal, or even a slang word in the time setting where they don’t actually exist in reality. For instance, writing about people driving cars in a novel where events take place in the 18th century is a bright example of an unintentional anachronism. This is the most prevalent anachronism type: when the author places an object in an earlier period of time than it actually started to exists. However, some anachronisms involve introducing objects in the story later, long after they had existed.
The term was first mentioned at the beginning of the 17th century (around 1617). It derives from the combination of the Greek word “chronos” (meaning “time”) and the prefix “ana-“ (meaning “back”, “again”). When the term was first employed in English, it referred to the process of mistakenly dating something (for instance, when mistakenly assuming that a certain event has happened earlier than it actually did).
Oftentimes, anachronisms make a literary work look unrealistic or inharmonious. Numerous readers view anachronisms as a proof of the author’s laziness, inattentiveness, or his or her lack of education. When the writer chronologically misplaces some details of the narration, it may prove that he or she didn’t do a thorough research, which may disappoint the readers greatly.
Being a rather extensive linguistic occurrence that may take many forms, an anachronism may be confused with other related terms. For instance, it may be hard for some readers to distinguish an anachronism from a historical inaccuracy. The latter term signifies the muddling in the historical events or details. Thus, an anachronism is a historical inaccuracy, but not all historical inaccuracies are the actual anachronisms. Describing someone’s relationship as a romantic one in a written work may be a historical inaccuracy if the mentioned people kept their distance in reality, but such an error is not an anachronism since it doesn’t involve placing the details in the wrong time period.
There are cases when the term anachronistic is used to describe an object or a custom that is old, out of date, or obsolete. However, the term archaic suits better to define such words. Archaic words turn into anachronisms only when they are thought to belong to an inappropriate time setting and are being described correspondingly.
Intentional anachronisms, being a rather rare phenomenon, have a couple of purposes. An author may use them as a linguistic tool in order to achieve a specific comedic effect. Some writers may introduce anachronisms in their works to add a more artistic note to the narration and to catch the reader’s interest.
However, anachronisms, in the majority of cases, have an unintentional nature. They are oftentimes viewed as a result of the author’s inattentiveness, carelessness, and improper research. This is typical for historical fiction, where a writer describes a time period that is very different from his or her own. Anachronisms can take numerous forms. An author may misplace a clothing element, a technological device, or even words, behavioral patterns, and mannerisms that are not appropriate for the given time.
Even though the majority of anachronism cases are accidental and based on mistakes, they still may have a certain value. With the help of this linguistic occurrence, readers are able to understand the author better, study his or her assumptions, and comprehend his or her worldview. For instance, when writing about the WWI, an author living in the 21st century already knows the outcome of the events and may unintentionally express his or her feelings about the war by using inappropriate details (for instance, characters’ feelings expressed in a dialogue that presupposes their victory).
One of the most famous anachronism examples can be spotted in the Shakespeare’s work called “Julius Caesar”. While the events in the play occur in around 44 A.D., the author adds such a small detail to the plot as the phrase “the clock has stricken three”. However, this is an unintentional anachronism, since mechanical clocks were not yet invented in that time period.
In one of his works called “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”, Mark Twain employs anachronisms intentionally. Introducing fireworks in the era of King Arthur, the writer supports the major plot idea (time traveling), adds more interesting details to the narration, and manipulates and develops the characters using other anachronisms.
Another example of the intentionally used anachronisms can be found in the work of John Keats called “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. Here, the author introduces the word “ye” instead of the more historically appropriate and suitable “you” in order to enrich the language of the poem, add an artistic touch to it, and interest the readers.