A growing assortment of words and definitions used in the Early Modern era. See the Guide for more information.
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A lostell

Disperse! A command for a crowd to go to their homes, or soldiers to their quarters; used also by heralds to the finished fighters at a tournament. From Old French a I'ostel (whence English hostel), to your quarters. The Kyng, said Edward Hall's CHRONICLES (1548) caused the heraldes to cry a lostell, and every man to departe. Old ostel, hostel, became hotel, and gave Sarah Bernhardt her one pun. When she became famous, the public wished to know whether she was married to the man she was living with. No one dared ask, but one reporter ventured to inquire: "Where were you married, Madame Bernhardt?" Knowing his intent, the actress mischievously replied: Naturellement, a l'autel! (Naturally, at the altar -- altar, in French, having the same sound as hotel). Cp. hostelity.


One who steals cattle in herds. From Latin ab, away + agere, to drive. Hence, abaction, cattle-stealing. Hammond in his commentary ON PSALMS (1659) speaks of abactors, whose breaking in . . . is attended with the cattles passing through or going out. Lamb, in a letter of 1829, refers to an abactor's wife. There is no English verb to abact, but Nathan Bailey's ETYMOLOGICAL DICTIONARY of 1751 includes abacted, drawn away by stealth or violence.


To estrange; to make mad. From Latin ab-, away + alienare, to estrange, to give to another; alienus, belonging to another. John Gaule in PYSMANTIA THE MAG-ASTRO-MANCER (1651) says: Extasies of prophets did not so abalienate their minds as that they apprehended not what they did. S. Clark in his LIVES (1683) states: Neither difference of opinion, nor distance of place, nor seldomness of converse, nor any worldly respect, did cause the least abalienation. Note that one meaning of alienation (from 1450 on) is also loss of mental faculties; Lord Brougham on THE BRITISH CONSTITUTION (1862) speaks of a state of mental alienation.


A state of always desiring more. In the 1731 edition of his ETYMOLOGICAL DICTONARY, Nathan Bailey traces this to a medieval Latin word abartia, insatiableness. The word, in both languages, seems to be the lexicographer's invention.


To report or disclose a secret crime. The word seems another invention of the fertile Nathan Bailey in his ETYMOLOGICAL DICTIONARY (1751).


A lazy monk; a fat sluggard, a porridge-belly. A term used in scorn by the anti-Catholics of the 16th and 17th centuries. Thus Cotgrave in 1611 defined archimarmitonerastique: an abbeylubber, or arch-frequenter of the cloyster beefe-pot. THE BURNYNGE OF PAULES CHURCH (1563) said it was a commen proverbe to call him an abbey-lubber, that was idle, wel fed, a long lewd lither loiterer, that might worke and would not.


A secret place, especially for hiding things. Also abditory. From the Latin abdere, abditum, from ab, away + dare, to put. The word is used of a chest in which religious relics are kept, or money -- but also, by Dr. Robinson in EUDOXA (1658) to say: In the center of the kernel of grain, as the safest abditory, is the source of germination. Hence also abditive, remote, hidden.


An alphabet book; a primer. Used from the 15th to the 18th century; also abscedary, absedary. ABCDary; accent on the see. Also used as an adjective, relating to the alphabet; needing the alphabet, illiterate. Also abecedarie; abecedario (plural abecedarii) , a teacher, or a learner, of the ABC's. Cp. abece; abseybook. Florio in his translation (1603) of Montaigne said: There is a kind of abecedarie ignorance preceding science; another, doctorall, following science.


To ride away. Latin ab, away + equus, horse. In 17th century dictionaries.


A waiting-woman. In the BIBLE (FIRST BOOK OF SAMUEL, XXV. 24-31) Abigail of Carmel throws herself at the feet of King David, calling herself "thine handmaid ... I pray thee, forgive the trespass of thine handmaid . . . thine handmaid" -- until he marries her. In Beaumont and Fletcher's play THE SCORNFUL LADY (1610) the "waiting gentlewoman" is named Abigail; from the popularity of the play, the name became the common term for a maid-servant. Tobias Smollett in HUMPHREY CLINKER (1771) speaks of an antiquated abigail, dressed in her lady's cast clothes. William Congreve in THE OLD BACHELOR (1693) indicates another role she often played: Thou art some forsaken abigail we have dallied with heretofore.


As a noun, a servile person; one cast off, an outcast. Latin abicere, to cast off; ab, away + iacere, iactum (in compounds iectum, whence also conjecture and many an object). Shakespeare in RICHARD III (1592) speaks of the Queen's abjects; Percy Bysshe Shelley in PROMETHEUS UNBOUND (1818): The subject of a tyrant's will Became, worse fate! the abject of his own.


To send abroad; to send far off, as used to be done with a son in disgrace. Latin ab, away + legare, legatum, to send on a message, whence legate. An ablegate is (still) a messenger of the pope, that brings his insignia to a newly appointed cardinal. Hence ablegation, despatch, dismissal. Used in the 17th century.


A foreboding, especially of ill. Also to abode, to presage, to be ominous; an abode was also (17th century) a prediction. William Shakespeare has both noun and verb in HENRY VI, PART THREE (1590): The owle shrieked at thy birth, an evill signe, The night-crow cryde, aboding lucklesse time . . . Tush man, aboadments must not now affright us.




Acedia comes from a combination of the negative prefix a- and the Greek noun kedos, meaning "care, concern, or grief." (The Greek word akedeia became acedia in Late Latin, and that spelling was retained in English.) Acedia initially referred specifically to the "deadly sin" of sloth. It first appeared in print in English in 1607 describing ceremonies which could induce this sin in ministers and pastors, but that sense is now rare. Acedia now tends to be used more generally to simply imply a lack of interest or caring, although it sometimes still carries overtones of laziness.


Indifference. Accent on the aff. Also adiaphoricy; Greek a, not + diaphoros, differing; dia, apart + pherein, to bear. The form adiaphorism was used especially of religious indifferentism. Hence adiaphorist, adiaphorite, one that is indifferent (as of religious matters, or among the creeds) ; also adiaphoral, adiaphorous, adiaphoristic. An adiaphoron is a matter of indifference; specifically, a practice or belief for which there is no church decision, which is therefore left to the will of the individual. John Smith[3] (SELECTED DISCOURSES; 1652) said: These we may safely reckon, I think, amongst our adiaphora in morality, as being in themselves neither good nor evil.


From Latin ad, to + vesper, evening: advesperascere, advesperatum, to draw toward evening; this word means to grow toward night. It exists in 17th and 18th century dictionaries.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- by appearances in the air.


An unexpected blow after one has ceased to be on guard, a further disaster when it seems life can bring no more, a misfortune that 'caps the climax.' Used from the 15th century. Samuel Butler in HUDIBRAS (1663) knows the unrelenting drive: What plaguy mischiefs and mishaps Do dog him still with afterclaps.


A source of inspiration; poetic power. Aganippe was a fountain on Mount Helicon, sacred to the Muses. THE LIFE OF ANTONY A WOOD (1695) said: Such towering ebullitions do not exuberate in my aganippe.


A sea-monster. So-called in early dictionaries, and so felt to be in Tudor times: later identified with the eager, a tidal bore, also eagre, q.v. The bores (unusually high tidal waves) were found especially in the estuaries of the Humber, Trent and Severn. John Lyly in GALLATHEA (1592) said of Neptune: He sendeth a monster called the agar, against whose coming the waters roare, the fowles flie away, and the cattel in the field for terrow shunne the bankes. Sprigge in 1647 neatly defined eager, a sudden surprisal of the tide.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- by sharp points.


A young, thoughtless person; a coxcomb. Also earling. Ben Jonson in CATILINE (1611) says: Some more there be, slight airlings, will be won With dogs and horses.


A meteorite. A letter of 1608 said: They talk of divers prodigies, as well in these parts as in Holland, but especially airstones.


To speed up; brighten; to fill with alacrity. Also alacrify. Latin alacris, brisk, lively. Hence alacrative, pertaining, or tending, to alacrity; speeding up; sprightly; also alacrious. William Warner in ALBION'S ENGLAND (1602) spoke of his alacrious intertainments, and upright government.


A form of the French a la mort, to the death; mortally sick, dispirited. Common from 1550 to 1800. Also all amort, amort. Thus Shakespeare in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (1596): What sweeting, all-amort?; John Dryden in THE WIFE OF BATH'S TALE (1700): Mirth there was none, the man was a-la-mort; John Keats in. THE EVE OF ST. AGNES (1820): She sighs . . . all amort.


A simpleton, silly fellow. Ford in his FANCIES (1638) confessed: I am ... an oaf, a simple alcatote, an innocent.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --using the planet that reigns over a nativity; see apotelesm; a form of astrology.


A tippler (used in scorn). Edward Guilpin, in SKIALETHEIA, OR A SHADOWE OF TRUTH IN CERTAINE EPIGRAMS (1598) said: There brauls an aleknight for his fat-grown score.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- by a cock's picking up grains.


An early type of apparatus, used for distilling, especially by the alchemists. From 1500 to 1700 almost completely supplanted by the shorter form limbec, q.v.; then the full form reappeared, often in figurative use, as when Walter Scott in WAVERLY (1814) speaks of the cool and procrastinating alembic of Dyer's Weekly Letter, or Horace Walpole in a letter of 1749, the important mysteries that have been alembicked out of a trifle.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- with dough.


Dearly. Especially in the expression to love alife; William Shakespeare in THE WINTER'S TALE (1610) has: I love a ballad in print alife. Some editions print this o' life, as though it meant as one's life; but it is probably an adverbial form from lief, dear, which survives in the expression I'd just as lief.


The universal solvent sought by the alchemists. Also alcakest, alchahest; cp. alembroth; alexicacon. The word alkahest was created by Paracelsus (cp. bombast), as though from an Arabic form; a number of English words begin with Arabic al, the. Hence alkahestic, alkahestical. It has also been suggested, however, that alkahest is (1705) from the German word Al-gehest, which signifies all spirit. There remains the old query: if the universal solvent be found, what container will hold it? The word has also been used figuratively, as of love; Thomas Carlyle (MISCELLANEOUS ESSAYS; 1832) said Quite another alcahest is needed. Alger in THE SOLITUDES OF NATURE AND OF MAN (1866) spoke neatly of an intellectual alkahest, melting the universe into an idea.


To allure. After the Latin allectare, frequentative form of allicere, from ad, to + lacere, to entice, laqueus, a noose, a snare. Sir Thomas More in HERESYES (1528): To allect the people by preaching. Allectation, found only in old dictionaries, and the once-used (1640) allection were formed from allect, to mean an alluring, enticement. Allective, as adjective and noun, was more frequent in the 16th and 17th centuries; Elyot in THE GOVERNOUR (1531): There is no better alective to noble wits; Gabriel Harvey in PIERCES SUPEREROGATION (1592): Her beautiful and allective style as ingenious as elegant. THE REMEDY OF LOVE (1532) speaks of most allective bait, which has its place and allective power in our time. The same meaning appears with the forms alliciate and allicit. See illect.


Also aililiú. An exclamation, from Irish and rare, expressing distress, horror, surprise, etc. From the late 17th century (in an earlier sense). Apparently from Irish aililiú, interjection indicating surprise or sorrow (although this is first attested later: 1740 or earlier), of imitative origin. An example from Thomas Carlyle: [H]e reels death-stricken; rushes to the pavement, scattering it with his blood and brains!—Alleleu!


The action of dashing against or striking upon. Latin al, ad, to + laedere, laesum, to dash, strike violently, whence the frequent collision. Thus also, to allide. John Donne, in a sermon of 1631, held the old view that the allision of those clouds have brought forth a thunder.


This is a formal term for an alien; hence, sometimes, with a measure of scorn, a Philistine. It is from Greek allos, other + phyle, tribe. It is mainly a 19th century term. J. Pritchard, in BLACKWOOD'S MAGAZINE of 1844, speaks of the allophylian nations.


Misused for mallycholly, a corrupt form of melancholy (Greek melan, black + choler, bile). Dame Quickly in William Shakespeare's THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (1598) says: She is given too much to allicholy and musing; in his THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA the Host Says to Julia (disguised as a boy): Now, my young guest, methinks you're allycholly. I pray you, why is it? Julia responds: Marry, mine host, because I cannot be merry. To cheer her, he has sung the charming song Who is Silvia?


A dance; also, the music therefor. References in the 17th century and later speak of a slow tempo, and grave or solemn measures, but many references indicate a livelier dance, also called the almain-leap. Thus Ben Jonson in THE DEVIL IS AN ASS pictures a man take his almain-leap into a custard. Also almaun, alman, almane, aleman, almond. The word literally meant German (French aleman, allemand); Almany, Germany, and an Aleman was a German, almain-quarrel, a dispute over nothing, an unnecessary argument, almain-rivets, a flexible type of light armor, first worn in Germany.


An official, in a monastery, or the household of a noble, whose function it was to distribute alms. The word was naturally popular; it took many forms, including almner, aumoner, almoseir, almousser, almaser; almosner, almoisner, almosyner; almener, almonar, almoigner, aumere, amonerer. These are all roundabout from Latin eleemosynarius, relating to alms; Greek eleos, compassion. Almoner was also the purse such a person carried; by extension, a bag, a purse. Other forms for alms were almose, almus, almous. The almonry (see ambry) was the place where the alms were distributed; also almosery. George Cavendish in THE LYFFE AND DEATH OF CARDYNAL WOOLSEY (1557) wrote: Now let us retorne agayn unto the almosyner, whose hed was full of subtyll wytt and pollecy.


In addition to the mountains (which are probably from Latin albus, white, whence also perfidious Albion: the white cliffs o Dover) alp (alpe, awbe, olph) meant (1) a bullfinch; 15th to 17th century; (2) an elephant; elp. Hence alpesbone, ivory; 13th century; (B) a bogie, nightmare; BLACKWOOD'S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE of 1836 mentioned those alps and goblins, those nixies and wood-nymphs.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- with barley meal.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- with dust.


An entertainment where the various courses are served together, the viands and the desserts at the same time. The term was used during the 17th and 18th centuries; the practice continues at parties and picnics.


Relating to friendship; friendly. Also amicous. Used in the 17th century. Latin amicitia, friendship; amicus, friend; amare, amatum, to love. These forms were superseded by amical and amicable; the latter, however, is a late variation of amiable; similarly, appliable existed before applicable.


A wreath, a garland, a circlet of flowers for the hair. Greek ana, together, up + deein, to bind; Greek diadeein, to bind around, gave us English diadem. Used from the 17th century. Percy Bysshe Shelley in ADONAIS (1821) has: Another clipt her profuse locks, and threw The wreath upon him, like an anadem. In the 17th century the form anadesm was used for a surgeon's bandage.


Secretary or stenographer


Compound interest. Term used in the 17th and 18th centuries for the "yearly revenue of usury, and taking usury for usury." From Greek ana-, back, again + tokos, interest. (Literally this tokos meant something produced, from tiktein, tektein, whence all our technologies and techniques, not to mention (puro-, pyro-, fire) our pyrotechnics. Or consult any bank. (The accent falls on the second syllable.)


Doubtful. From Latin an, am, ambi, both (as in ambiguous, ambidextrous) + capit-, head. A 17th century term, used in astrology when a planet hung hesitant over one's birth, whether to tip toward evil or toward good. The form ancipitate is used literally of two-headed things; the form ancipital means having two sharp edges, like certain blades of steel or grass.


(1) A musical instrument, like a lute, used in the 17th century and in Robert Browning's SORDELLO (1863). (2) a gold coin of France, minted by Louis IX; also by the English King Henry VI in Paris. It bore a representation of St. Michael subduing a dragon. From French angelot, diminutive of Latin angelus, angel; Greek aggelos, messenger (the angels were the messengers of God). (3) a small cheese, first made in Normandy, stamped with the coin, the angelot. Various recipes exist for the making of angelots, angellet . . . and within a quarter of a year they will be ready to eat.


Of a different sort (a different "gate," or way) . Also anothergaines, anotherguess, anotherguise, anotherkins. Philip Sidney in ARCADIA (1580): If my father had not played the hasty fool ... I might have had anothergaines husband. John Dryden[1] in AMPHITRYON (1690): The truth on't is, she's anotherghess morsel than old Bromia. Samuel Butler in HUDIBRAS (1664): When Hudibras about to enter Upon anothergates adventure . . .


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- using human entrails.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- by the observation of personal characteristics.


To turn upside down. The antipodes (Greek anti, opposite + pous, podis, foot) were formerly pronounced with three syllables, thus developed a singular form, an antipod, antipode; Taylor, in MAD FASHIONS (1642) declared: This shewes mens witts are monstrously disguis'd, Or that our country is antipodis'd.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- with flowers (She loves me, she loves me not!).


At any time. We still say somewhere and anywhere, but have lost the convenient and pleasant somewhen, anywhither, and anywhen. (Anywhere used to be written separately; before 1450, its forms were owhere, oughwhere, aywhere.) Carlisle in SARTOR RESARTUS (1831) wished you were able, simply by wishing that you were anywhen, straightway to be then! Similarly, elsewhere calls for as elsewhen; indeed Robert A. Heinlein, on its republication in 1953, changed the title of a story to ELSEWHEN.


A powerful chamber organ, with keys and barrels, invented in 1817. Hartley Coleridge in his ESSAYS (1849) wrote: Sing 'Songs of Reason' to the grinding of a steam apollonicon.


The casting of a horoscope (accent on the pot). Greek apo, off + teleein, to finish; teleos, complete; telos, end, whence teleology, the doctrine of final causes. Literally apotelesm meant (17th century) the result, the sum and substance; one's horoscope settled one's outcome. Also apotelesmatic, apotelesmatical (accent on the mat), relating to the casting of horoscopes.


Sharp; clear. From Latin argutus, from arguere, to make clear, to assert -- whence English argue. Argute tastes are sharp; argute sounds are shrill -- Landor wrote to Barry Cornwall in 1864 of a rich but too argute guitar; argute persons are sharp, subtle, shrewd, especially in details. Thus the QUARTERLY REVIEW of 1818 speaks of argute emendations of texts. Robert Browning, in ARISTOPHANES' APOLOGY (1875): Thou, the argute and tricksy. There is also an adverb, as in Laurence Sterne's TRISTRAM SHANDY (1762): "You are wrong," said my father argutely.


A wretched creature. Old English earm, poor. In the play THE LONDON PRODIGAL (1605), formerly attributed to William Shakespeare, occurs the exlamation: O here God, so young an armine! The word was more frequent in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- by the shoulders of beasts.


This is a word much discussed by commentators, apparently coined by Shakespeare, to mean Begone! He uses it in MACBETH (1605): Aroynt thee, Witch, the rump-fed ronyon cries, and also in KING LEAR. The nearest to an earlier use seems to be an old Cheshire exclamation: Rynt you, witch. The word has been used by writers after Shakespeare; in Sir Walter Scott's works it appears seven times; both Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning used it. In Cheshire, the milkmaids may say to a cow: Roint thee!, whereupon it moves off --"the cow being in this instance," Nares remarks in his 1882 GLOSSARY, "more learned than the commentators on Shakespeare." Ronyon is an alternate spelling for runnion, which Samuel Johnson defines as a mangy creature, from French rogne, the itch. Shakespeare uses it not only in MACBETH but also in THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR: Out of my door, you Witch, you Rag, you Baggage, you Polecat, you Runnion. No one seems to have followed Shakespeare in using runnion as a scornful term for a woman; in the only other recorded use (1655), the word refers to the male organ.


Originally a variant of errant, wandering, present participle of Latin errare, to stray. The original form is still used in knight errant. In such expressions as thief errant, arrant thief, the term meant a roving robber or highwayman; hence, a professed, manifest thief; hence, anything manifest, downright; thorough (thoroughly bad). The word is quite common from the 14th century to about 1850, and is still used, as by Chaucer, Langland, William Shakespeare, Thomas Fuller, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding -- TOM JONES (1749): The arrantest villain that ever walked upon two legs -- Wahington Irving, a half-dozen times, occasionally without opprobrious implications, as in THE SKETCH BOOK (1820): a tight brisk little man, with the air of an arrant old bachelor. More often there is an implication of evil -- arrant coward -- which sometimes becomes part of the meaning of the word, as in a letter (1708) of Alexander Pope: You are not so arrant a critic . . . as to damn them without a hearing.


To smile at; to please. From Latin arridere, ad, at + I, to laugh, whence also risible. Mainly in the 17th and 18th century, Ben Jonson in EVERY MAN OUT OF HIS HUMOUR (1599) has: 'Fore Heavens, his humour arrides me exceedingly. Charles Lamb in ESSAYS OF ELIA (1823): That conceit arrided us most . . . and still tickles our midriff to remember. The adjective arrident (accent on the long i) occurs, but rarely, meaning smiling, pleasant; Thomas Adams wrote, in 1616, of a pleasing murderer, that with arrident applauses tickles a man to death.


A soldier mechanic who does repairs


A worshipper of bread. Used in the 17th century against the Catholics, as by Lewis Owen in SPECULUM JESUITICUM (1629): Dare you (artolaters) adore a piece of bread, for the living God? Also artolatry, bread worship, from Greek artos, bread + latreia, worship. Used figuratively of one that gives preeminence to his "daily bread/' to the material aspect of living.


A coward; especially, one that stayed home by the fire while his fellows went forth to combat. Swedish aske, ashes + fisa, to blow, to pass wind. Also askebathe. Used from the 13th to the 16th century. There was also a form axwaddle, defined by Nares: One, who by constantly sitting near the fire, becomes dirty with ashes; an idle and lazy person.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --using the position of the stars; a form of astrology.


Courtly; relating to a court. W. Watson, in 1602, contrasted aulicall, martial, and rural. Greek aule, hall, court; cp. aulary. Thomas Adams in his COMMENTARIES (1633; 2 PETER) said: God affects not aulicisms and courtly terms. Aulicism, a courtly phrase. Thomas De Quincey (WORKS, 1853) spoke of investing the homeliness of Aesop with aulic graces and satiric brilliancy.

Aurum potabile

A potion of minute particles of gold in an oil, to be drunk as a cordial. Directly from the Latin: drinkable gold. Francis Quarles in JUDGMENT AND MERCY (1644) puns upon the potion: Poverty . . , is a sickness very catching. The best cordial is aurum potabile.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- by the winds.


To blind; to hoodwink. Via French aveugle from Latin ab, away + oculus, eye. Sharington is quoted (1547) in Froude's HISTORY OF ENGLAND as being so seduced and aveugled by the lord admiral. The still current inveigle is from the same source, although it is suggested that Medieval Latin aboculus is a shortening of albus oculus, blind (literally, white eye).


To pluck off, tear away. Latin a, from + vellere, vulsum, to pluck, pull, whence also convulsion, revulsion. Hence avulsion, the action of pulling away, plucking off; forcible separation; also, a portion torn off. Lamb in a letter of 1822 rejected the literal sense, saying that the eyes came away kindly, with no Œdipean avulsion.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- using a balanced hatchet.
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