A growing assortment of words and definitions used in the Early Modern era. See the Guide for more information.
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Revelry; drunkenness. From the Bacchantes, revelers at the festival of Bacchus, Roman god of wine (and father of Hymenaeus, god of marriage) . There is also a verb, to bacchanalize (accent on the first syllable), as well as the adjective bacchant. Thus Thomas Moore in his translation (1800) of the ODES of Anacreon: Many a roselipped bacchant maid Is culling clusters in their shade; and Byron in DON JUAN (1821) : Over his shoulder, with a bacchant air, Presented the o'erflowing cup. The word bacchanal, still used of the revel (bacchanalia) was earlier used of the reveling person; by extension, one whose emotions are out of control. Thus Thomas Nashe in NASHES LENTEN STUFFE, OR THE PRAYSE OF THE RED HERRING (1599) tells jestingly the story of Hero and Leander, which Musaeus (500 A.D.) and Christopher Marlowe (1598) had more seriously told. Nashe ends, when the tide carries the corpse of Leander away: At that Hero became a franticke bacchanal outright, and made no more bones but sprang after him, and so resigned up her priesthood, and left worke for Musaeus and Kit Marlowe.


A toy, a rattle. Hence, an empty talker, one who rattles on. Latin crepundia, a rattle, from crepare, crepitum. to rattle, tinkle; whence crepitare, to crackle, etc. (see creve) and English crepitation, crackling; crepitate, to crackle, (17th and 18th centuries) to break wind. Although idle talk continues, crepundian was used mainly in the 16th and 17th centuries. Thomas Nashe (Greene's MENAPHON, 1589) speaks of our quadrant crepundios, that spit 'ergo' in the mouth of every one they meet.


(1) An early form of endure, used from the 13th through the 17th century. The form during, now used as a preposition, was originally a participle of dure. French durer, to last; Latin durare, to harden, be hardened, last; durus, hard. Hence also, as an adjective (2) hard. Related to dour. Even in the 19th century, Edward Bulwer-Lytton (in HAROLD; 1848) wrote: In reply to so dure a request. Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Nashe in DIDO (1594) had: I may not dure this female drudgery.


See Cunctation. Propertius used the phrase licens Fabius of the Fabian priests of Pan, who had the privilege of licentious conduct at the Lupercalia; hence late 16th century references (Florio; Thomas Nashe) to a flaunting fabian, a roisterer.


(1) Chance, fortune; hence, good fortune (whence the present meanings of happily and happiness; haply still means by chance). Chaucer, in THE LEGEND OF GOOD WOMEN (1385) says: Hap helpeth hardy man alday. John Milton, in PARADISE LOST (1667), said the serpent wish'd his hap might find Eve separate. Hap was also a verb; Shakespeare says, in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (1596) : Hap what hap may, I'll roundly go about her. (2) To cover; James Hogg, in THE QUEEN'S WAKE (1813) pictures Her bosom happed wi' flowerets gay. Especially, to cover to keep warm; Thomas Nashe in A WONDERFULL, STRANGE, AND MIRACULOUS ASTROLOGICALL PROGNOSTICATION (1591) says that he shall hop a harlot in his clothes all the year after. This was perhaps slantwise reference to the word hap-harlot, used in the 16th and 17th century to mean a coarse or ragged coverlet. (3) To seize (Dutch happen, to snatch). In 16th and 17th century legal writings. (4) To turn to the right. A Scotch term, used as a call to a horse; opposite of wynd, to turn to the left. Hence the 18th and 19th century expression neither to hap nor to wynd, meaning without turning, on a straight course.


To bend; to slope; to bow to, to submit; to sink, decline, fall; to bend one's course; to turn aside; also, to bend toward, to incline to, to favor. Used literally or figuratively, from the 9th to the 16th century. Also used transitively: to bend something; to pour out (by tilting the container) ; this too was used figuratively, as to hield his wrath. The word hield was likewise used as a noun, meaning a slope, an incline; on held, in a bent-over posture. Hence, figuratively, an inclination; also, a decline, as in Thomas Nashe's LENTEN STUFFE (1599) : His purse is on the heild. Among other spellings of this common word were heald, heeld, helde, hulde, heel (in nautical use, as when a ship inclines, heels over).


A swashbuckler, braggadocio; person (that thinks he is) of importance. From kill + cow, the cow being the most unwarlike of creatures. Richard Harvey in PLAINE PERCEVALL THE PEACE-MAKER OF ENGLAND (1590) exclaimed: What neede all this stir? this banding of kilcowes to fight with a shadow? Thomas Nashe in return (cp. bum; gallimaufry) calls Gabriel Harvey the kilcow champion.

Lac virginis

(1) A cosmetic; used in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Literally (Latin), milk of the Virgin. Thomas Nashe in PIERCE PENNILESSE HIS SUPPLICATION TO THE DIVELL (1592) said: She should have noynted your face over night with lac virginis. (2) A wine; perhaps a translation of German Licbfraumilch. BLACKWOOD'S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE said, in a poem of 1820: The parsons should grow misty On good lac virginis or lachryma Christi.


A noisy game formerly played at Christmas: each player in turn must leave his seat, which another takes. Played in the 16th and 17th centuries; later called Going to Jerusalem (the route was crowded; Mary had to seek shelter in a stall) . From French (faire) lever le cult to make (someone) lift his buttock. Later, in the interest of decent speech, the game was called level-sice, levell-suse; French assise, seat; as Sylvester in his translation (1608) of Du Bartas wrote: Ambitious hearts do play at level sice. The word came to be used generally: to keep level-coil, to engage in noisy sport or noisy activity or riot. Also, as an adverb, alternately, each in turn, Thomas Nashe, in THE UNFORTUNATE TRAVELER (1594) : The next daie they had solempne disputations, where Luther and Carolostadius scolded levell-coyle. Ben Jonson, in A TALE OF A TUB (1655) : Young Justice Bramble has kept level-coyl Here in our quarters, stole away our daughter.


A state of depression or low spirits. In his mulligrubs; sick of the mulligrubs, sometimes used of the stomachache. The word seems to have been a grotesque invention, but some spellings try to shape it toward meaningful forms: mouldygrubs, male-grubbles, mulligrumphs, and the like. The word was used by Thomas Nashe (1599), Fletcher (1619), and John Dryden (1678); Scott in his JOURNAL for 19 September, 1827, said: Surely these mulligrubs belong to the mind more than the body.


A fine ale, or other good liquor; hence, as an adjective, of prime quality. Also with Latin or Italian endings, nippitato; nippitatum; the most frequent, nippitaty. Thomas Nashe, in SUMMER'S LAST WILL (1600) complained that never cap of nipitaty in London came near thy niggardly habitation! Thomas Urquhart in his translation (1695) of Rabelais, sums up one Weltanschauung (another nearly forgotten word! The world has grown too small): 'Tis all one to me, so we have but good bub and nippitati enough.


(1) An opening, orifice, hole. From the 13th to the 18th century; both literal and figurative. (2) An open, exposed place. Edmund Spenser in THE SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR (1579) has: The wasteful! hylls unto his threate is a playne overture. (3) The opening up of something; revelation, disclosure. Used by Shakespeare in THE WINTER'S TALE, and in KING LEAR (1605): It was he That made the overture of thy treasons to us. The still current sense of a beginning dates from the 16th century; in music, from the mid-17th. In the 16th and 17th centuries, some writers confused overture with overturn, overthrow; thus Thomas Nashe in CHRIST'S TEARS (1593) : Consider, howe his threats were after verified in Jerusalems overture. In a troublesome passage in CORIOLANUS -- When steele grows soft as the parasites silke, Let him be made an overture for th' warres -- overture may mean overthrower: "When a soldier turns flatterer, he brings dishonor on war"; some editors improve matters little by changing the word to coverture, which would seem the opposite of an overture.


A raspscallion (cp. scullion), a ruffian scoundrel. Perhaps related to ramp, q.v. Thomas Nashe in his STRANGE NEWES (1593) advised: Pocket not up this abuse at a rakehell rampalions hands. For an instance in Shakespeare, used of a woman, see catastrophe.

Rounce robble hobble

A representation of the tumult of thunder, in Richard Stanihurst's translation (1582) of the AENEIS: A clapping fyerbolt (such as oft, with rownce robel hobble, Jove to the ground clatreth). Later writers mockingly mimicked the roaring: Thomas Nashe, in Greene's MENAPHON (1589): Then did he make heavens vault to rebounde, with rounce robble hobble of ruffe raffe roaring, and thwick thwack thurlery bouncing; Ben Jonson, in THE MASQUE OF QUEENES (1616): Rouncy is over, robble is under, A flash of light and a clap of thunder.


Heroic (in size, volume); hence applied as noun or adjective to various large things. Also rownseval, rownsifall, rounsefal, rouncifold, runsivill, and the like. We are told that certain large bones of antediluvian animals were formerly taken to be bones of the heroes that fell with Roland at Roncesvalles; hereof, I take it, said Mandeville, it comes that, seeing a great woman, we say she is a rouncival. Blount in his 1674 wordbook suggests that the large 'marrowfat' rouncival pea is so called because it first came from Roncesvalles "at the foot of the Pyrenean Mountains." Dost roare? queried Thomas Dekker in SATIROMASTIX (1602); th'ast a good rouncivall voice to cry Lanthorne and candle-light. As a noun, the word was applied to (1) a heavy fall, a crash; (2) a kind of 'tumbling verse,' used for invective or flyting, not rhymed but alliterative; (3) a monster; (4) a large and boisterous or loose woman. Thomas Nashe in HAVE WITH YOU TO SAFFRON-WALDEN (1596) pictured so fulsome a fat bonarobe and terrible rouncevalL

Small beer

Inferior beer. Thomas Nashe, in FOUR LETTERS CONFUTED (1592) speaks of poetry more spiritless than small beer. Hence, persons or matters of no importance, trivialities. To think no small beer of oneself, to be bloated with self-importance; Is it consistent, asked PUNCH on 18 January, 1873, for a teetotaller to think no small beer of himself? Shakespeare has the line in OTHELLO (1604): To suckle fooles, and chronicle small beer; Thackeray (1844) and others have echoed the phrase. Joseph Addisonin THE WHIG EXAMINER (1710; No. 4) declared: As rational writings have been represented by wine, I shall represent those kinds of writings we are now speaking of, by small beer. Cp. Highgate.


(1) Used figuratively of things resembling a pack of wool, as a spread of white water, a fleecy cloud. Thus in Thomas Nashe's LENTEN STUFFE (1599) we read that when Hero bent over to kiss the drowned Leander, boystrous woolpacks of ridged tides came rowling in and raught him from her. One is reminded of Hugo's line: The fleece of the sinister sheep of the sea. (2) Same as woolsack; especially as the seat, a bag of wool, of the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords; hence, the woolsack, the Lord Chancellorship. Note that Shakespeare (HENRY IV, PART ONE; 1597) refers to fat Falstaff as a woolsack.


A prefix (Old English and German ge-, earlier gi-; Teutonic ga) . It had various uses, the most frequent of which was to form the past tense of verbs. Most of these died in the 15th century. From the mid-16th century poets attempting archaic effects added the prefix y, often without adding any meaning; thus yshrilled (Edmund Spenser); ysprout, ysteer; star-ypointing (John Milton). The most common of the forms, still lingering in poetic use, is yclept, named; see clepe. Often the y was changed to i, as in iclosed, igranted, ipassed. The form is common in Chaucer and Lydgate, but almost completely unused by Gower. Among favorites of later poets are ybent, ybound, ybrought, yclad, ydamned, ydight, ydrad, ywrought. Also yblent, (1) blinded; (2) mingled, confused, blurred, ybrent, burned, ycore, chosen, hence choice, comely, ycoroned, ycronet, crowned, ycorven, carved, ydodded, shorn, ydought, grown strong, ydreght, drawn, yfere (noun) a companion; (adverb) in company, together -- used frequently as a tag in verse, as in Spenser's THE FAERIE QUEENE (1590): O goodly golden chains, wherewith yfere The virtues linked are in lovely wise. yfet, brought, fetched, acquired, yflawe, flayed, yflemed, put to flight; exiled, yfong, taken, seized; received, ygilt, sinned; gilded; Thomas Nashe (in MARTIN'S MONTHS MINDE, 1589): My hope once was my old shoes should be stitcht, My thumbs ygilt, they were before bepitcht. yglent, made radiant, ygyved, fettered, yhabited, clothed, yhaded, yhoded, consecrated, ordained, yhald, yielded. yheedid, headed, yheled, (1) healed; (2) covered, concealed; (3) also yeled, anointed, yhevid, grieved, yhillid, flayed. yholpe(n), helped, yhonge, hanged. yhote(n), called, etc. (from hight). ykremyd, crumbled, ykitt, ykyt, cut. yleof, mutually beloved; hence, a pair of lovers. ylogged, lodged, ymered, purified, ymet, dreamt; met. ynem(p)ned, named. ynome (n) , ynume, taken, ypitte, put. yrerd, raised, yschad, shed, ysesid, yseysed, seized, ysessed, ceased, ysinwed, sinned. yso(c)ht, sought, yteyd, tied, ythrungin, hurled, ytwynned, separated, yvenkessyd, yvenquyst, vanquished, ywaged, hired. ywhyngged, winged, ywived, married. yworewid, worried, ywroken, avenged; punished. There are many more, but most are readily recognized by dropping the y.
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