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


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).


Scurrilous and violent abuse. By the 16th century Billing\'s Gate, London, brought inevitably to mind the foulmouthed workers (women as well as men) in the fish-market there, and by the midnth century the name of the gate was being used for the language there spoken. The Third Earl of Shaftesbury, in CHARACTERISTICKS (1710) speaks of philosophers and divines who can be contented to . . . write in learned billingsgate. The word is quiescent, but the practice still is loud. Nathan Bailey (1751) defines a billingsgate as "a scolding impudent slut." THE PRESENT STATE OF RUSSIA (1671) stated: If you would please a Russian with musick, get a consort of billingsgate nightingales, which, joyn'd with a flight of screech owls, a nest of jackdaws, a pack of hungry wolves, seven hogs in a windy day, and as many cats with their corrivals . . .


A dealer in grain. Found only in the dictionaries (Nathan Bailey, 1751) . Blaed was Old English, from a common Teuton form, for blade (of grass, as opposed to leaf) -- though influenced by Latin bladum, Old French bled, corn, wheat. By the 11th century blade was transferred from plants to the broad flat part of an oar, a spade and the like; and by the 14th, to the blade of a knife and a sword.


A braggart; a spitfire (etymologically, the second letter of spitfire should be h: Latin cacare, Spanish cagar, to void excrement + Spanish fuego, fire) . The word came into English as a term of contempt because it was the name of the Spanish galleon Drake captured in 1577. Nathan Bailey explains it, in 1731, as the name of a Spanish fly that by night darts fire from its tail. Fletcher in THE FAIR MAID OF THE INN (1625) cries: She will be ravished before our faces by rascals and cacafugos, wife, cacafugoes!


A captive; later, a poor wretch; a despicable wretch, a villain. In many spellings, including caytive, chaytif, via French from Latin captivus, captive. A very common word from the 13th through the 17th century. Also caitifhede, wretchedness; wickedness; caitifly; caitifty, captivity; wretchedness; villainy. Wyclif and Chaucer use the verb caitive, caytifue, to imprison. Caitisned, chained, listed in Nathan Bailey's DICTIONARY (1751) and elsewhere as used by Chaucer, is a 1560 misprint for caytifued, in Chaucer's TESTAMENT OF LOVE (1400).


An instrument anciently used (Nathan Bailey, 1751, says by the Egyptians) to measure time by the running of water out of one vessel into another; a water-clock. Similarly, the instrument using the fall of grains of sand to tell time was a clepsammia. Clepsydra is from Greek kleps, from kleptein, to steal (whence also kleptomaniac) + hydor, water.


"A fluid medicine of different qualities," says Nathan Bailey (1751), "to be injected into the bowels by the fundament." From Greek klyster, from klyzein, to wash, drench. Sometimes for nutrition, usually as an enema -- the common word for enema, 14th through 17th century. Also clister, or beginning with g. Also used figuratively, as by Greene in GREENES MOURNING GARMENT (1590) : My purse began with so many purging glisters to waxe not only laxative, but quite emptie. In the interlude of THE FOUR P'S (see palmer) the 'pothecary's lie is a story of a man with an eight days' constipation; when a clyster is administered the result is so violent that a stone wall miles away is knocked down and the stones tumble into a stream so that one can walk over dry-shod.


"Things which give beauties not before in being, as paints to the face; differing from cosmetics, which are only to preserve beauties already in possession." Thus Nathan Bailey's DICTIONARY, 1751: not in the O.E.D. A usable word, save that every woman wishes to be thought "in possession/'


Things, according to Nathan Bailey (1751) "which excite tears from their acrimony, as onions, horseradish, and the like." A number of English medical terms have been formed from Greek dacry, tear. Hence, dacryopoetic, producting or causing tears, like a 'tear-jerker' screen-play.


Rotted wood. Blount (1674), and Nathan Bailey after him, call it "the heart or body of a tree thoroughly rotten," and suggest the word is a corruption of dead oak. Its etymology is unknown.


A child born when the parents are old. So Nathan Bailey, in 1751. The O.E.D. suggests that it may be a corruption of darling (little dear), applied to the youngest child. In country dialects (dilling pig), the word is applied to the weakling of a litter.


Honey-dew; manna. Greek drosos, dew; meli, honey. Four syllables, accent on the second. A pleasant word, in Nathan Bailey (1751), although the O.E.D. ignores it.


(l)"Hemp early ripe"; so Nathan Bailey, 1751. A corruption of French femelle, female; in popular terminology, the female hemp. Actually, what is called the fimble is the male plant of hemp, which yields a shorter and weaker fibre than the carl hemp or female plant. Popularly, the weaker fibres were called female, fimble; the stronger, carl, male. (2) A ring for fastening a gate. (3) (As a verb) to touch lightly and frequently with the tips of the fingers, as a woman may fimble a jewel at her breast; to move over or through without harming, as a scythe may fimble (i.e., not cut) the grass.


Exile, flight; a fugitive, an outlaw; to put to flight, chase, outlaw, banish. Common from the 9th to the 16th century; the early noun form from the verb to flee; replaced by flight, from to fly. Hence several Old English words, including (1) flemaflare, the right to forfeit an outlaw's property (in Nathan Bailey's DICTIONARY, 1751); (2) flemensfirth, the entertaining of a banished person; hence, a penalty exacted by the king for such entertainment. Old English flymena fyrmth, entertainment of fugitives. Old charters give this in many forms, as flemenfremith, flemeneferd, flemenefenda.


A swine in America, which has its navel upon its back. So Nathan Bailey's DICTIONARY (1751) ; our folklorists might make something of this back-bellied critter, which the O.E.D. ignores. The nearest the DICTIONARY OF AMERICANISMS (1951) can come is to list the javalina (havalena), a piglike animal of the Southwest.


Verse, usually burlesque, in which are mingled words of various languages; originally, Latin and the native tongue. Nathan Bailey (1751) defines macaronics as verses in which the native words of a language are made to end in a Latin termination. The word was first used in this sense by Teofilo Folengo ("Merlinus Cocaius") for his BOOK OF MACARONICS, published in 1517. In the second edition, Folengo says he took the name from macaroni, "a sort of powdered wheaten paste with cheese, coarse, rude, and rustic." Hence also, as an adjective, macaronic, jumbled, mixed as in a medley. From the desire of the dandy, the exquisite, the fashionable young gentleman of the 1750's and I760's to enjoy what he considered the superior tastes of Europe, came the macaroni (q.v.) . Those that remember the zoot-suit watch chains of the 1940's will smile at the follies of 1780; It is the custom, you know, among the macaronies, said Madame D'Arbley in her DIARY for 9 December, 1783, to wear two watches. As late as 1825, at the horse races, macaroni stakes were those ridden by gentlemen, not professional jockeys. Even earlier, however, the term had come to be used in mockery; THE MONTHLY MAGAZINE (III, 1797) spoke of this fanciful aera, when macaroni philosophers hold flirtation with science; and most dwellers to the west of the North Atlantic recall (though they may have forgotten the meaning of the word) the Revolutionary song Yankee Doodle came to town, Riding on a pony; Stuck a feather in Ms hat and called it macaroni . . . Yankee Doodle dandy.


Liable to wither or fade. Nathan Bailey (1751) lists marcessibility, marcessibleness; marcescent (applied to a plant, withering but not falling off) was more common. Latin marcescere, to fade, the inceptive of marcere, to be faint, droop, wither. Use in the BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER made the negative immarcescible (usually erroneously changed to immarcessible) more common still; there are several 16th and 17th century references (1542, 1548) to the immarcessible crowne of glory (in 1543 uncorruptible was substituted; In 1662, never-fading). In 1640 we find it more strongly: Palms of victory and immarcessible ghirlands of glory and triumph to all eternity. Hence immarcescibleness, immarcessibleness, imperishableness.


Born on the hills, born amid mountains. So in Nathan Bailey (1751). From Latin montem, mountain + gignere, genitus, to beget. (The root gen has given us many English words, from genus and genital to generous and generalissimo.)


A liquor of honey mixed with water or wine; boiled together, says Nathan Bailey (1751). Latin mulcere, mulsum, to sweeten. A 16th and 17th century word; see mead. In the same centuries a similar drink was called melicrat, melicrate, from Greek meli, honey + kra-, to mix. Such drinks were very popular in ancient times, and for several centuries in England, often being used to offset the bitterness of medicines.


This is the form of the word as coined by Paracelsus; it appears also as nostoch, nostock; Nathan Bailey in 1751 gives nostick. It is a genus of unicellular algae, but more interestingly defined in Charlton's translation (1650) of Van Helmont's PARADOXES: nostoch understandeth the nocturnall pollution of some plethoricall and wanton star, or rather excrement blown from the nostrills of some rheumatick planet ... in consistence like a gelly, find so trembling if touched. Also called, until the 19th century, star slough, or star-shot gelly ... a substance that falls from the stars.


That corrupts or ruins women. Greek thelys, female + phthora, corruption. M. Madan in 1780 wrote a book entitled Telyphthora; or, A Treatise on Female Ruin, in its Causes, Effects, Consequences, Prevention, and Remedy. Fourteen years later Thomas Mathias inquired, in his poem THE PURSUITS OF LITERATURE: Must I with Madan, bent on gospel truth, In telyphthoric lore instruct our youth? The prefix thely-, female, is used in various scientific terms, such as thelytokous, thelygenous, producing only female offspring; hence thelytoky; arrhenotoky, q.v., is the production only of males. Nathan Bailey in his DICTIONARY (1751) lists thelygonum, 'an herb which, when steeped in drink, is said to make a woman conceive a girl' It is equally efficacious when drunk by the man.


(1) A watch or clock of the sort made by Thomas Tompion, in the reign of good Queen Anne. For an instance of the use of the word, see cosins. (2) Another form of tampion (q.v.) , a plug for stopping an aperture; especially, a bung for a cask, "a stopple of a great gun or mortar" (Nathan Bailey, 1751) "to keep out rain." Also tomkin, tampoon, tampkin, tomking.


A fine or tax paid by a male (Spartan, also Roman) citizen for not marrying. Latin uxor, wife; whence also uxorious, henpecked. The word uxorium is in Nathan Bailey (1751); not in O.E.D. Yet bachelors were taxed in England in 1695, to raise funds for the war against France; and since 1798 the British income tax has pressed more heavily upon the bachelor. Various communities in the United States have tried to impose a uxorium.


A liqueur: cherry brandy. Persian wishneh, cherry. An 18th century importation; Nathan Bailey in his HOUSEHOLD DICTIONARY (1736) gives a recipe: "Fill a large bottle or cask with morello cherries . . . and fill up the bottle or vessel with brandy . . ." Or you might buy Turkish visney in London around 1700 at 20 shillings the gallon.


An entertainment given by a master printer to his workmen, marking the beginning of work by candle-light; usually, "about Bartholomew-tide" (24 August). Later, it became an annual summer festivity of the printer's employees, with a dinner and a trip to the country. Nathan Bailey (1751) suggests that the word is from wayz, straw + goose, a stubble-goose, served at the feast. But there is no tradition that goose was served at these parties, and wase (q.v.), a wisp or bundle of straw, was never spelled wayz except by Bailey. In fact, before Bailey (and after him until people took his word for it), the form was waygoose. It is probably a folk change from an earlier, forgotten, word.


Gifts, says Nathan Bailey (1751) "bestowed upon friends, guests, and strangers, for the renewing of friendship." The singular is xenium, such a gift. Also, one made by subjects to their prince when he passes through their estates (usually traditional, often compulsory). Greek xenos, guest, stranger. Also xenagogue, one who conducts strangers, a guide; xenagogy, a guide-book; xenelasy, the expulsion of foreigners; historically, a law that could be invoked at Sparta to achieve that end. Hence xenial, of the relation of host and guest; used of such a friendly relation between two persons of different countries. The xenian Zeus, the god Zeus as protector of the rights of hospitality. A xenophile is one friendly to foreigners or foreign things; the opposite, a xenophobe. Thus xenodochy means the entertainment of strangers; xenodochium (xenodochy), a house of reception for strangers (pilgrims) , a guest-house; in the Dark Ages, often attached to a monastery.
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