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


A glossy silk fabric; a garment or ribbon made thereof. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in AURORA LEIGH (1856) : As if you had . . . held your trailing lutestring up yourself. Horace Walpole in his MEMOIRS OF GEORGE in (1797) used the word figuratively, of a very pretty lutestring administration which would do very well for summer wean Hence, to speak in lutestring, to use silken, polished phrases. The word is probably a corruption of lustring, with the same meaning, from lustrine, which is both English and French; named because of the lustre of the fabric. Also, of course, lutestring means a string for a lute.


A dandy, an exquisite of the late 18th century, who affected the fashions and tastes of continental society. The word grew fashionable from the Macaroni Club (1760), which took its name from the Italian food, then little eaten in England, hence highly esteemed by these young blades. For a somewhat different use, see circum- (circumforaneous). Horace Walpole in a letter to the Earl of Hertford (1764) spoke of: The Maccaroni Club (which is composed of all the travelled young men who wear long curls and spying glasses). The OXFORD MAGAZINE of June 1770 elaborated: There is indeed a kind of animal, neither male nor female, a thing of the neuter gender, lately started up amongst us. It is called a macaroni. It talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasantry, it eats without appetite, it rides without exercise, it wenches without passion. Hence also, macaronism, macaronyish. See Macaronic.


The Roman god (Greek Hermes) of traders and thieves, of eloquence and feats of skill; presider over roads; guide of the dead to their new abode; messenger of the gods, and mischiefmaker. Pictured as a young man with winged sandals and hat, holding the caduceus. Hence mercury, a signpost; also, a newspaper; a messenger, a bearer of news (William Shakespeare, RICHARD III, II i; 1594); a go-between, especially, in amatory instances (Shakespeare, THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, II ii). Also a nimble live-by-his-wits; a dexterous thief (Ben Jonson, EVERY MAN OUT OF HIS HUMOUR, I ii; 1599). The planet nearest the sun. Cp. Diana. And used as an emblem of liveliness, wittiness, or inconstancy; wit. William Congreve in THE OLD BACHELOR (1693) said he was as able as yourself and as nimble too, though I mayn't have so much mercury in my limbs (probably with reference also to the element mercury, quicksilver, named after the volatile god). Horace Walpole in GEORGE II (1797) said: He had too much mercury and too little ill-nature to continue a periodical war.
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