A growing assortment of words and definitions used in the Early Modern era. See the Guide for more information.
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A raw recruit. Later, a beggar, a rascal. Shakespeare in HENRY VII, PART TWO remarks that Great men oft dye by vile bezonians. And Massinger, in THE MAID OF HONOUR (1632) , speaks of the slut who would, for half a mouldy biscuit, sell herself to a poor bisognion. The word was originally besonio. It is from the Italian bisogno, need, want, applied in derision to the raw soldiers who came to Italy from Spain, in the 15th and 16th centuries, without proper equipment or means. Robert Johnson, in his translation (1601) of Botero's THE WORLD, AN HISTORICALL DESCRIPTION, speaks of a base besonio, fitter for the spade than the sword. Both forms, after a lapse of two centuries, were revived in historical novels: Walter Scott in THE MONASTERY (1820) : Base and pilfering besognios and marauders; Edward Bulwer-Lytton in THE LAST OF THE BARONS (1843) : Out on ye, cullions and bezonians!


(1) An early form of endure, used from the 13th through the 17th century. The form during, now used as a preposition, was originally a participle of dure. French durer, to last; Latin durare, to harden, be hardened, last; durus, hard. Hence also, as an adjective (2) hard. Related to dour. Even in the 19th century, Edward Bulwer-Lytton (in HAROLD; 1848) wrote: In reply to so dure a request. Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Nashe in DIDO (1594) had: I may not dure this female drudgery.


Unlucky, ill-omened. See faust. A fairly common word, 17th into 19th (Edward Bulwer-Lytton; James Russell Lowell) century. Peter Anthony Motteux, in his translation (1708) of Rabelais, exclaimed O most infaust who opiates there to live!


This word is forgotten less often than its meaning, as it is often used when nymphomania is intended. Nympholepsy is a state of rapture inspired in men by nymphs; hence, an urge toward something unattainable. De Quincey in his RECOLLECTION OF THE LAKES AND THE LAKE POETS (1839) said: He languished with a sort of despairing nympholepsy after intellectual pleasures. And Edward Bulwer-Lytton in GODOLPHIN (1833) said that the most common disease to genius is nympholepsy -- the saddening for a spirit that the world knows not. Hence nympholept; Edward Bulwer-Lytton in RIENZI has: The very nympholept of freedom, yet of power -- of knowledge, yet of religion! and Birrell in OBITER DICTA (1884) : The nympholepts of truth are profoundly interesting figures in . . . history. Also nympholeptic. Thus a nymphomaniac is a woman obsessed with sex; a nympholept is a devoted and often ascetic man.


Proud; swelling, violent; splendid. Also orgillous, orgueilous, orguillous, orgullows. From orgueil, orguil, orgul, pride. Orgueil is direct from the French (12th century) , presumably from an Old High German form urguol, renowned. Orgueil has not been used since the 16th century, save as a fresh borrowing from the French. The 15th century also used orgulity, pride. Shakespeare used the adjective in TROILUS AND CRESSIDA (1606): From iles of Greece The princes orgillous, their high blood chaf'd Have to the port of Athens sent their shippes. The word then dropped from the language, until revived by Robert Southey (1808), Scott (1820), Edward Bulwer-Lytton (in HAROLD, 1848: This our orgulous Earl shall not have his triumph) and subsequent journalists.


Originally, to rebuke, scold, blame. Common from the 9th to the 16th century, thereafter persisting in country speech; revived in the 19th century (Walter Scott, Charlotte Bronte, Edward Bulwer-Lytton). Also threpe, threep, threppe, threip, thraip, and the like. Various meanings developed. To dispute, to inveigh (against) , to haggle, to contend. Hence, as a noun, threap, quarreling, contention, contest. To threap with kindness was rarely used in the sense of to treat with kindness; more often, to attribute kindness to, to urge to the exercise of kindness. To threap upon, to impose upon, to try to press one's beliefs upon; to press (something) upon one, to urge one's acceptance or acquiescence. Failing that, to threap down, to beat down resistance, to silence by vehement or persistent assertion, as R. W. Hamilton observed in NUGAE LITERARIAE (1841): A man will say of a clamorous talker, he did not convince me, but he threaped me down. The form threapen, in addition to these uses, borrowed the sense of threaten as well; threapening, threatening. Thence, threapland, land of disputed ownership. In the sense of strongly affirming, persisting in a (challenged) point of view, Chaucer uses the word in the Prologue to THE CANON YEOMAN'S TALE (1386): Sol gold is and Luna silver we threpe. Thus also Scott in THE ANTIQUARY (1816): He threeps the castle and lands are his ain as his mother's eldest son. Beaumont in PSYCHE (1648) has the fair nymph cry: Behold how gross a ly of ugliness They on my face have threaped!


Horrid, loathsome. Frequent almost to the 17th century; revived by Walter Scott in THE ANTIQUARY (1816): Like an auld dog that trails its useless ugsome carcass into some bush or bracken. Then used by Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Robert Browning. Also ugglesome; uglisome (16th century); cp. yglesome. A stronger form of ugly (which Chaucer in THE CLERK'S TALE, 1386, spells igly).


A gem. The word, which Edward Bulwer-Lytton uses twice, is an error; he misunderstood the Old English symbol for dg which looks like a z, thus reading zimm for gimm, gem. Thus in HAROLD (1848): Taking from his own neck a collar of zimmes . . . of great price.
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