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


Frivolous, jesting. Via French badine, silly, from Late Latin badare, to gape. Its only literary use is in Ferrand Spence's translation (1685) of THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE HOUSE OF MEDICIS: a dialog completely bouffon, waggish, and badeen, between the head and the cap. The noun from the same source remains in use, as in Benjamin Disraeli's ENDYMION (1880), which warns: Men destined to the highest places should beware of badinage. We have used other forms: the verb to badiner -- a character in John Vanbrugh's THE RELAPSE (1697) wishes that Loveless were here to badiner a little; badinerie -- William Shenstone, in his WORKS AND LETTERS (1712) laments that the fund of sensible discourse is limited; that of jest and badinerie is infinite; badineur -- Alexander Pope wrote to Swift, on December 19, 1734: Rebuke him for it ... as a badineur, if you think that more effectual. Many a badeen badger (q.v.) has built a reputation on a caustic tongue, as in the play THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER; the more insulting he is, the more his sycophants -- and the audience -- laugh.


Deep-bosomed. Also bathykolpic; Greek bathos, deep + kolpos, breast. Both forms have been used spelled with uk, yc, uc. The word bathos, descent from the sublime to the ridiculous, springs from Alexander Pope's satire BATHOS, THE ART OF SINKING IN RHETORIC (1728) , a travesty of Longinus' essay ON THE SUBLIME. Hence bathetic, fashioned after pathetic; also bathotic. While a plain and direct road is paved to their hypsos, or sublime, said Pope, no track has been yet chalked out to arrive at our bathos, or profund. Other words formed with bathy-, deep, include: bathyal, of the deeper regions of the sea; bathybic, dwelling in the deeps, also bathypelagic.bathylimnetic, living at the bottom of a marsh or lake, like the ondines.


An 18th century fashionable case for a lady's tweezers and the like. Used by Alexander Pope; explained by Arbuthnot in JOHN BULL (1712) as from to bubble a beau, to dazzle or fool a gallant. Also spelled bubble-boy; explained (in THE MONTHLY MAGAZINE of 1807) as probably a misspelling for bauble-buoy, a support for baubles. They now dangle from jingly bracelets or lie concealed in a purse.


Short for citizen. Also citt. Feminine (used by John Dryden, 1685) , citess; Johnson (1751) used cit as a feminine. Cit was used in the 17th and 18th centuries, usually with some measure of scorn, for a townsman as opposed to a squire, or a tradesman as opposed to a gentleman. Alexander Pope in a SATIRE of 1735 asks Why turnpikes rose, and now no cit or clown Can gratis see the country or the town. The Prologue to Hannah Cowley's THE RUNAWAY (1776) pictured the Londoner, still seeking the countryside, scorned by the actor: Let cits point out green paddocks to their spouses; To me, no prospect like your crowded houses.


An 18th century style of stays, named from the maker. Alexander Pope in THE ART OF POLITICKS (1729) inquired: Think we that modern words eternal are? Toupet, and tompion, cosins and colmar Hereafter will be called by some plain man A wig, a watch, a pair of stays, a fan.


A pair of scissors. The Late Latin word, used humorously in English, as in Alexander Pope's THE RAPE OF THE LOCK (1714), The peer now spreads the glittering forfex wide, To inclose the lock. Note also forficate, shaped like a pair of scissors, and forficulate: (1) shaped like a small pair of scissors; (2) as a verb, to feel a creeping sensation, as though a forficula (earwig) were crawling over one's skin; Bulwer- Lytton said in THE CAXTONS (1849) : There is not a part of me that has not . . . crept, crawled, and forficulated ever since.


Without possibility of return. Latin ir, in, not + re, back + meare, to go, pass. This word, used from the 16th century, was sometimes taken as meaning irremediable, without possibility of cure, John Dryden's AENEID (1697) said: The chief without delay Pass'd on, and took th' irremeable way. Alexander Pope in the ILIAD (1720) said: My three brave brothers, in one mournful day, All trod the dark irremeable way. Johnson (widely read but here with different application) wrote in a letter to Mrs. Thrale (3 October, 1767) : I perhaps shall not be easily persuaded . . . to venture myself on the irremeable road Today we think less undeviatingly of matrimony.


This Greek word for intellect (nous, noos, mind) was used in English, 17th into the 19th century, for common sense, intelligence. Alexander Pope in THE DUNCIAD (1729): Thine is the genuine head of many a house, And much divinity without a nous. Also George Gordon Byron in DON JUAN (1819). A story in THE GRAPHIC of 8 November, 1884, said: I am glad that my people had the nous to show you into a room where there was a fire. In early 19th century (university) slang, the nous box was the head.


An illusion; the appearance of a spectre. The word itself was originally a phantomnation; it was first recorded in the dictionaries by a misreading. The original sense appears in Alexander Pope's translation (1725) of the ODYSSEY: The phantome nations of the dead.


A strong material (originally silk, later worsted) used for students', clergymen's, and barristers' gowns and later for the tops of women's shoes. Alexander Pope used the word in his ESSAY ON MAN (1734): Worth makes the man and want of it, the fellow; The rest is all but leather or prunella. The word is also used as the name of a flower (the self-heal) and -- by alteration from brunella, 'the browns' -- was applied to a camp-fever prevalent among the German imperial troops in 1547 and 1566. The word was also used in the forms prunelle, prunello. Prunello is the Italian for little prune; Sir James Edward Smith in his MEMOIRS (1786) said that he Dined at Brignolle, famous for the Prunes de Brignolle, which we have corrupted into Prunellas. They were a noted product of Provence.
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