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


Fighting of dogs and bears; bear-baiting, Greek kynos, dog + arctos, bear + machia, fighting. Samuel Butler in HUDIBRAS (1663) declared That some occult design doth ly In bloudy cynarctomachy. [The arctic region is the region not of the polar bear but of the Great Bear constellation.] The Batrachomyomachia, the battle of the frogs and the mice, is a mock epic written in ancient Greece in Homeric style; it is sometimes used as a symbol of a war over trivial things, like the Big-endian and Little-endian war (over which end of the shell of a soft-boiled egg to open, to eat it from the shell) in GULLIVER'S TRAVELS (1726; LILLIPUT): The books of the Big-endians have long been forbidden. Thomas Carlyle (in FRASER'S MAGAZINE; 1832) said: Its dome is but a foolish Big-endian or Little-endian chip of an eggshell compared with that star-fretted dome.


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.


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.


Raging with fury. Also furybound, furebund. Ben Jonson in THE POETASTER (1601) includes furibund in a list of inkhorn words; Thomas Carlyle in THE FRENCH REVOLUTION (1837) speaks of a waste energy as of Hercules not yet furibund.


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.


A stew of various meats and vegetables. Also hotchpot, hotch-potch, hodgepodge. The earliest form was hotchpot, hotch, to shake, mix + pot. It was changed to hodge probably because of the wide use of the name Hodge to mean a farmer or countryfellow in general. Hodge is a nickname for Roger. Hence, hodge-razor, a razor to sell to a greenhorn; hence Thomas Carlyle used the term to mean something only to sell, a sham -- in his MISCELLANEOUS ESSAYS (1843; DR. FRANCIA) : Hodge-razors, in all conceivable kinds, marketed, 'which were never to but only to be sold!' The other meanings of hodge-podge are still used. Cp. Olio.


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.


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?


Latin for tears; used by Beaumont and Fletcher; see sippet Lacrima (lachryma, lachrymae) Christi, a strong, sweet red Italian wine; sometimes just lacrima (lacrimae): literally, the tears of Christ. Also lachrymable, tear-worthy; lachrymabund, with tears ready to fall; lachrymation, weeping, lachrymental, mournful. (All these, instead of chry, may be spelled cri or -- naturally -- cry). Caxton has a rare use of the verb, in his translation (1490) of THE BOOK OF ENEYDOS: Thenne she began somewhat for to lachryme and sighe upon the bed. Henry Fielding in THE AUTHOR'S FARCE (1731) boasted: Tokay I have drank, and lacrimae I have drank. Archaeologists have guessed that the tiny phials found in ancient Roman tombs were intended to hold tears, and call them lachrymatories (accent on the lack, which refers to evidence) . Thomas Carlyle in his MEMOIRS OF LORD TENNYSON (1842) declared: There is in me what would fill whole lachrymatories, as I read. The word was humorously applied to a lady's handkerchief, as in THE NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE in 1825: Women will be stationed in the pit with white cambric lachrymatories, to exchange for those that have become saturated with the tender tears of sympathy.


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.


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!


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.


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.


In addition to current uses (to mark the flesh with wales or weals, etc.) wale was a verb, to choose (also with out; to wale by, to select and put aside); a noun, the act of choosing, the chosen, choice, the best; and an adjective, chosen, choice, excellent -- from the 13th century. Common forms through the 16th century, they were renewed by Scott (GUY MANNERING, 1815: The Bertrams were aye the wale o' the countryside!) and others in the 19th. Thus De Quincey in his NOTES ON LANDOR (1847) states: Our Arab friend, however, is no connoisseur in courts of law: small wale of courts in the desert. The verb form of wale was used by Robert Burns, Thomas Carlyle, Scott, and others. The adjectival use was not revived; it may be seen in THE DESTRUCTION OF TROY (1400): She went up from that worthy into a wale chamber.


(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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