I’m working on a new crossword puzzle, this time with a theme of Georgette Heyer slang. Heyer’s were among the first romances I ever read, and to this day, I still find myself measuring any new historical romance I read by that standard.
As I was looking through the list, I saw the now-infamous “Cheltenham tragedy” expression, which Heyer apparently invented to trap plagiarists. She resorted to this when she became increasingly annoyed with other authors — most notably Dame Barbara Cartland — for copying characters, plots, and unique phrases that Heyer had laboriously researched in novels and private letters from the eras she wrote about.
A Google Ngram Viewer search reveals no occurrences of “Cheltenham tragedies” in the books it has indexed in the 1800s and earlier. It only starts cropping up in the latter part of the 20th century. A similar result comes back for variants of “making a cake of himself”, another Heyer plagiarism trap.
I used to work in a large web development studio where we used tricks like this. In one case, we were certain a competitor was spidering our site and plagiarizing news stories they were too lazy to collect themselves, so we planted bogus information on hidden pages only their spiders would find. Then, when our phony data appeared on their site, we were able to make a convincing case that the information could only have come from plagiarism, as there was no way they could have legitimately collected it via their own reporting. So yeah, they stopped after that. 🙂
The image link points to Jennifer Kloester’s excellent 2011 biography of Heyer. FWIW, this is not an affiliate link. I don’t do ads or affiliate programs.