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


A shy maiden; a modest girl (literally, little blusher). Ben Jonson in THE STAPLE OF NEWS (1625) Though mistress Band would speak, or little blushet Wax be ne'er so easy. Ben Jonson, who likes the word (and why not?) seems to be the only one who has used it.


A deep, shady dell, a dingle, q.v. Frequent in 16th and 17th century verse. Ben Jonson in THE SAD SHEPHERD (1637) says: Within a gloomy dimble she doth dwell, Downe in a pitt, ore-grown with brakes and briars. For another instance, see slade.


Beans; kidney beans. From the Italian. Ben Jonson in CYNTHIA'S REVELS (1600) says: He doth learn to make strange sauces, to eat anchovies, macaroni, bovoli, fagioli, caviare. Bovoli are periwinkles, snails.


Used in the 14th century as a noun, meaning chatter; then and into the 18th century as a verb, meaning to talk deceitfully, to flatter. Also glavir; cp. glother. To glaver on was to lavish blandishments on. Hence glavery, flattery. Ben Jonson in THE POETASTER (1601) says: Give him warning, admonition, to forsake his saucy glavering grace.


A token of good luck; specifically, a gift as a token of good wishes for the New Year or a new occupation, a marriage, the first sale of the day, and the like. Probably in origin 'a giving of the hands,' a handshake, or a gift in the hand. Also hancel, hansel. By extension, the first sum received (on a new day, or as a first instalment); hence, the first trial or experience or specimen of a thing usually with hope or sense of good luck. Bring him a six-penny bottle of ale, Ben Jonson has in BARTHOLOMEW'S FAIR (1614); they say a fool's handsell is lucky.


Stale urine, used by barbers (15th to 18th century) as a hair wash, etc, Latin lavare, lautum, lotum, to wash, whence also the current form, lotion. Cp. lant. In Ben Jonson's THE SILENT WOMAN (1609), heaping execrations upon a barber, Morose says: Let him be glad to eat his sponge for bread; Truewit adds: And drink lotium to it.


(1) An early name for the bird, the martin, q.v., being its diminutive form. (2) The demon whose function it was to summon (and to dismiss) assemblies of witches. Noted by Ben Jonson in THE MASQUE OF QUEENS (1609). (3) A military engine, for hurling large stones. (4) A system of military drill, devised by General Martinet, of the army of the French King Louis XIV. Hence, the current sense, a strict disciplinarian, a stickler for form.


A promontory, a cape (of land). Also naes, nesse, naisse; nase; related to nose, nese. From the 12th century to the 17th, later in Scotland, nese was used for nose; in the 15th and 16th centuries, it was also used for a headland. Also nese-end, tip of the nose; neselong, face downwards (i.e., the length of the nose) ; to nese, in the 17th century -- Ben Jonson, THE SAD SHEPHERD, 1637-- to smell. BEOWULF has naess; Morris in THE EARTHLY PARADISE (1868) says: We stood Somewhat off shore to fetch about a ness.


An effeminate fellow. Probably a humorous or contemptuous elongation of nymph. Ben Jonson in EVERY MAN OUT OF HIS HUMOUR (1599) queries: What brisk nimfadoro is that in the whit virgin boot there?


To support, establish. Also statumination. Latin statuminem, a sup port; statuere, statutum, to set up, establish; stare, statum, to stand; whence also status, state, statue, stature, statute; institute, the constitution, and the status quo. Ben Jonson in THE NEW INN (1631) says: I will statuminate and underprop thee; If they scorn us, let us scorn them.


A large birdcage. The 17th and 18th century term for an aviary; also, the birds therein. Also volarie, vollary, volery; Latin volare, to fly. Also used figuratively, as in Ben Jonson's THE NEW INNE (1629): She now sits penitent and solitary, Like the forsaken turtle, in the volary Of the light heart, the cage she hath abused; and in UNDERWOODS: I thought thee then our Orpheus, that wouldst try, Like him, to make the air one volary.


To whimper. A diminutive of whine. Also whinnel, whinil. Also as a noun, a whine or a whining person. Ben Jonson in THE SILENT WOMAN (1609) speaks of a whiniling dastard.
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