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

Alkahest

The universal solvent sought by the alchemists. Also alcakest, alchahest; cp. alembroth; alexicacon. The word alkahest was created by Paracelsus (cp. bombast), as though from an Arabic form; a number of English words begin with Arabic al, the. Hence alkahestic, alkahestical. It has also been suggested, however, that alkahest is (1705) from the German word Al-gehest, which signifies all spirit. There remains the old query: if the universal solvent be found, what container will hold it? The word has also been used figuratively, as of love; Thomas Carlyle (MISCELLANEOUS ESSAYS; 1832) said Quite another alcahest is needed. Alger in THE SOLITUDES OF NATURE AND OF MAN (1866) spoke neatly of an intellectual alkahest, melting the universe into an idea.

Eleutherian

Pertaining to freedom; as a noun, a deliverer. Greek eleutheros, free. Eleutherian Jove, Jove (Zeus) as the protector of freedom. Hence eleutherism, a zeal for freedom; W. Taylor in 1802 spoke of a Miltonic swell of diction and eleutherism of sentiment. When excessive, this is called eleutheromania. Thomas Carlyle in THE FRENCH REVOLUTION (1837) says: Eleutheromaniac philosophedom grows ever more clamorous . . . nothing but insubordination, eleutheromania, confused, unlimited opposition in their heads.

Fream

To rage, to roar. We are told (through the 16th and 17th centuries) that, especially at rutting time, an hart bellows, a buck groyns ... a boar freams. Hence frement, roaring; fremescence, a rising sound; Thomas Carlyle in THE FRENCH REVOLUTION (1837) says: Fremescent clangour comes from the armed Nationals . . . Confused tremor and fremescence, waxing into thunderpeals, of fury stirred on by fear.

Gigman

A narrow-minded, conventional member of the middle class. This was not a nobleman, said Thomas Carlyle (MISCELLANY, 1830), or gentleman, or gigman, but simply a man! Carlyle, who coined the word, explained it by quoting from a trial (of Thurtell) : "What do you mean by 'respectable?" "He always kept a gig." [This gig is not 'a romping girl,' but 'a light two-wheeled one-horse carriage.'] Hence, the gigmania of the times; gigmanism, the typical middle-class attitude; gigmanity, the group that manifests this attitude. Mrs. Grundy was a gigwoman.

Ignavy

Sluggishness, sloth. (Accent on the first syllable.) From Latin ignavus, idle, sluggish; in, not + gnavus, busy, industrious. Thomas Carlyle, in a pamphlet of 1850, exclaimed: Nations, sunk in blind ignavia, demand a universal-suffrage Parliament to heal their wretchedness.

Incroyable

A dandy, a fop; first used in 1795 of the French. Via French, literally, unbelievable -- as one was, to behold -- from Latin in, not + credere, to believe. Supposed to have been borrowed from or influenced by a favorite phrase of the time: C'est vraiment incroyable, It's really incredible! Thomas Carlyle in SARTOR RESARTUS (1831) asks mockingly: Wert thou not, at one period of life, a buck, or blood, or macaroni, or incroyable, or dandy, or by whatever name ... such phenomenon is distinguished?

Nescient

Ignorant. Also nescious. Latin nescire, to be ignorant; ne, not + scire, to know. Hence nescience. Used since the 17th century. Thomas Carlyle in SARTOR RESARTUS (1831) speaks of the miserable fraction of science which united mankind, in a wide universe of nescience, has acquired.

Perscrute

To investigate thoroughly; to examine minutely. Also perscrutate; perscrutation; perscrutator. Latin per, through + scrutari, scrutatum, to examine; whence also scrutiny and the inscrutable ways of providence. Thomas Carlyle in PAST AND PRESENT (1843) exclaimed at Such guessing, visioning, dim perscrutation of the momentous future!

Plangent

Making the noise of waves breaking on the shore; loudsounding, used of a metallic or of a plaintive sound; hence plangor, loud lamentation; plangorous. Latin plangere, to strike noisily, beat the breast, bewail. Hence plangiferous, producing or accompanied by the sound of beating, like a lively plangiferous flagellation. Plangency might be either pleasant or unpleasant: Thomas Carlyle in FREDERICK THE GREAT (1858) says: Friedrich Wilhelm's words, in high clangorous metallic plagency . . . fall hotter and hotter; Stevenson in THE ARABIAN NIGHTS (1882) says: Her voice had charm and plangency.

Quipu

The communications system or device of ancient Peru. Also quipo, quippu, quippo; Quichan quipu, knot. An arrangement of knotted and colored cords, that transmitted messages, and recorded such items as population, crops, number of workers, and tribute. Thomas Carlyle remarked (1830) that history has been written -with quipo-threads, with feather pictures, with wampum-belts. The quipu system never attained the status of writing, unlike the neighboring hieroglyphics of the Maya -- who also computed time accurately back some ninety million years, and set one date at 400 million years ago. They achieved this a thousand years before Archbishop Ussher (1581-1656) calculated that the creation of the world occurred 4004 B.C., which date for a long time after his determination was printed in the Authorized Version of the BIBLE.

Wiggery

(1) Wigs collectively, or the practice of wearing them. (2) From the law-court wigs, wiggery was used by Thomas Carlyle to mean empty formality or 'red tape,' as in PAST AND PRESENT (1843): Some wisdom among such mountains of wiggery.
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