A growing assortment of words and definitions used in the Early Modern era. See the Guide for more information.
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This is a word much discussed by commentators, apparently coined by Shakespeare, to mean Begone! He uses it in MACBETH (1605): Aroynt thee, Witch, the rump-fed ronyon cries, and also in KING LEAR. The nearest to an earlier use seems to be an old Cheshire exclamation: Rynt you, witch. The word has been used by writers after Shakespeare; in Sir Walter Scott's works it appears seven times; both Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning used it. In Cheshire, the milkmaids may say to a cow: Roint thee!, whereupon it moves off --"the cow being in this instance," Nares remarks in his 1882 GLOSSARY, "more learned than the commentators on Shakespeare." Ronyon is an alternate spelling for runnion, which Samuel Johnson defines as a mangy creature, from French rogne, the itch. Shakespeare uses it not only in MACBETH but also in THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR: Out of my door, you Witch, you Rag, you Baggage, you Polecat, you Runnion. No one seems to have followed Shakespeare in using runnion as a scornful term for a woman; in the only other recorded use (1655), the word refers to the male organ.


Blessing. A shortening of the Latin benediction, which is now the usual English word. Shakespeare, in KING LEAR (1605), refers to the bountie and the benizon of heaven. Scott in THE FAIR MAID OF PERTH (1828) : I have slept sound under such a benison. Back in 1755 Samuel Johnson in his DICTIONARY said of benison: "not now used, unless luricrously," but the word still survives in historical fiction and in poetry. Cp. malison.


A fool, a simpleton. A frequent term in the 16th and 17th centuries. Also coaks, coax, coxe. The origin is unknown, though the creature is still familiar. The word survives in the verb to coax, which originally meant to make a cokes of, to fool. Ben Jonson In THE DEVIL IS AN ASS (1616) wrote: Why, we will make a cokes of thee, wise master; we will, my mistress, an absolute fine cokes. Samuel Johnson in 1755 called coax "a low word "; it has become gentler if not more genteel.


A pendant; anything short and pointed, as the straight horn of a young stag. Diminutive of dagger, from French dague, dagger. Hence (1) the points of a cloak or dress slashed at the bottom as an ornament (Chaucer and the 15th century) . (2) The top of a shoelace (I5th to 18th century). (3) A lock of wool about the hinder parts of a sheep, dirty and draggling. (4) A hand-gun or heavy pistol (of the 16th to the 18th century). In the 16th and 17th century dag and dagger was a frequent phrase; Samuel Johnson (1751) hence mistakenly defined dag as dagger. For an instance of its use, see slop. Note, however, French dague, dagger; and to dag meant to stab (14th century) before it meant to shoot. There is also a word dag of Norse origin, used from the 17th century (and in dialects) to mean dew, or a gentle rain or mist.


To make tender, soften, mollify. Samuel Johnson prayed, according to James Boswell (23 April, 1753): I hope they intenerate my heart. (Samuel Daniel used the same expression in a Sonnet of 1595, as the well-read Johnson probably knew.) D. Gray in his WORKS (1861) wrote: The teeming South Breathes life and warm intenerating balm. The verb intenebrate, of course, means to darken, to obscure. Latin tener, tender; tenebrae, the shades, darkness. Hence, inteneration, softening; intenebration, darkening, obscuring.


A slight refreshment of liquor, originally taken in the afternoon; then it moved ahead and became equivalent to luncheon, its own hour being given over to afternoon tea. From Middle English none, noon + shench, draught, cup. See shenk. Also nonsenches, nunchings, nuntions (usually with a final s until the 17th century); nuncion, noneshyne, nunching and nunch. Jane Austen in a letter of 1808 wrote: Immediately after the noonshine which succeeded their arrival, a party set off for Buckwell. Thomas Urquhart in his translation (1694) of Rabelais, says there is no dinner like a lawyer's and no nunchion like a vintner's. A monk's nuncheon: "as much as another man eats at a large meal." Defined by Johnson (1755) as "a piece of victuals eaten between meals", nuncheon has been used also by Scott (NIGEL; 1822) , Robert Browning (PIED PIPER OF HAMELIN; 1845). Luncheon was first used in 1580. Lunch (first used in 1591, translating Spanish lonja de tocino, piece of ham) meant a hunk, a piece; it may be a variant of lump (note hump and hunch). Samuel Johnson defined luncheon: "as much food as one's hand can hold". These two words replaced nuncheon for the snack between breakfast and dinner. There was for a long time no formal noon meal, though there was often an afternoon dinner, among the non-working classes, at three, and a supper about ten. The Almacks Club in 1829 declared the word luncheon unsuited to "polished society"; Thomas Babington Macaulay in 1853 objected to the detested necessity of breaking the labours of the day by luncheon.
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