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


Tennis. The 16th and 17th century term, from Flemish caestespeel, from French chasse, chase + speel, play. Also the Dutch kaats, place where the ball hits the ground. There were many spellings -- cachepule, kaichspell, cachespale, etc. -- in the 16th century, before the French name for the game, tennis, took its place.


A depraved condition: of a person -- body or mind -- or of a state, as MACMILLAN'S MAGAZINE of November 1883 said that Ireland lies fretful and wrathful under a grim social cachexy of distressful centuries. From Greek kakos, bad + exia, exis, habit, state, exein, to have, to be in a condition. Hence also cachectic, cachectical, cacexicate, cachexicate. Other English words come from Greek kakos, bad. Cack, to void excrement (see cacafuego); Cranmer in 1549 tells of a man who cacked out the Devil. The fish cackerel was a small Mediterranean fish, eaten only by the poor, so-called in scorn; others, as Johnson records in 1755, say that eating it is laxative. cacodaemon, an evil spirit, a nightmare; cacodemoniac, one possessed; cacodemonic, bringing misfortune, cacochyme, cacochymic, full of evil humors, cacodorous. cacodox, holding evil opinions: cacodoxy. cacoethes (4 syllables) , an evil habit, an 'itch' to do, as the insanabile cacoethes scribendi (incurable itch to write) Joseph Addison(1713) quotes from Juvenal, saying it is as epidemical as the small pox. cacolike was a 16th and 17th century scornful perversion of Catholic, cacology, ill report; bad speaking, cacomagician, sorcerer. There are others, in medicine and prosody (cacophonous, cacorhythmic, etc) . Jeremy Bentham, countering More's UTOPIA, supposes a Cacotopla or worst possible government. The O.E.D. (1933) probably errs in calling Bentham mistaken. Erasmus, when he wrote IN PRAISE OF FOLLY, was living with More, and the Latin title is a pun on More's name (as though IN PRAISE OF MORE: ENCOMIUM MORIAE) . More punned in his title UTOPIA: the beautiful (eu-) place that is no (ou-) place. The world must be ever vigilant, to avoid Cacotopia. cacozelia (perverse imitation, like "copying the cough of genius" or the manners and tactics of a Hitler) is quite pervasive, easily caught. It is sometimes spelled cacozeal, which is, more properly, misdirected zeal; whence cacozealot; cacozealous. cacozelia (the term) was used especially in the 16th and 17th centuries, as by Edmund Spenser and Puttenham; Bulwer (1644) warns lest imitation degenerate into cacozeale, developing a left-handed Cicero.


To laugh loud and long, immoderately. From the 15th century, through Robert Browning (THE RING AND THE BOOK, 1868) ; the practice extends farther. Walter Scott, in GUY MANNERING (1815) mentions the hideous grimaces which attended this unusual cachinnation. Also cachinnator; cachinnatory. Sometimes in the theatre one can sympathize with Hawthorne, who in MOSSES FROM AN OLD MANSE (1846) threatened instant death on the slightest cachinnatory indulgence.


Pointed; of a tree, pyramidal in shape. Latin cacuminem, point, peak, top. Hence cacuminate, to sharpen, especially at the top, as with a stake; to shape like a pyramid; also cacumination. M. Collins in PEN SKETCHES (1879) wrote of Luminous books (not voluminous) To read under beech-trees cacuminous.


A cheap article for sale, especially prepared to ensnare the undiscriminating. A 19th century term from cad. Before its current meaning of a vulgar person, cad grew through several senses. In the 17th century, it meant a goblin, a familiar spirit, as when Bishop King wrote in his POEMS (1657): Rebellion wants no cad nor elfe But is a perfect witchcraft of itself. In the 18th century, it was used for an unbooked passenger in a coach, whose fare was pocketed by the driver; in the 19th, for an assistant or helper; a cheap laborer; an omnibus conductor (Hood; -, PICKWICK PAPERS; Charles Dickens, THE BOOK OF SNOBS) ; then as a school term (Eton, Oxford; in Scotland, caddie) for a fellow that did odd jobs, as around the sporting fields, then contemptuously, for a townsman (as opposed to a gownsman). Hence, the current use.


A yarn; a worsted tape, used for garters and the like; hence, short for caddis ribbon or caddis garter. William Shakespeare uses it in THE WINTER'S TALE (1610) : He hath ribbons of all the colors i' the rainbow, points more than all the lawyers in Bohemia can learnedly handle, though they come to him by the gross -- inkles, caddises, cambrics, lawns; and in HENRY IV, PART ONE.


(1) a barrel, from Latin cadus, a large earthenware vessel. From the 14th through the 18th century, especially a barrel of herrings holding six great hundreds (6 score in a great hundred); later the cade held 500. (2) A pet; a lamb or a foal raised by hand; hence, a spoiled or petted child. See Cosset. (3) A kind of juniper bush, yielding cade oil, used by veterinarians. To cade may mean, from (1), to put into a keg or, from (2), to pamper.


Falling. Latin cadentem, falling; cadere, to fall. William Shakespeare in KING LEAR (1605) : With cadent tears fret channels in her cheeks.


A cloth, of rich silk, popular in the 16th century. Also capha. The Wardrobe Accounts of King Henry VIII (for 18 May, 1531) list white caffa for the Kinges grace. George Cavendish in THE LYFFE AND DEATHE OF CARDYNALL WOOLSEY ( (1557) spoke of Woolsey's habytt, which was other offynne skarlett or elles of crymmosyn satten, taffeta, dammaske, or caffa, the best that he could gett for money.


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).


A piper. From Latin calamus, reed, which is used in English as the name of various reeds and rushes, especially the sweet flag. In Whitman's LEAVES OF GRASS, the section of 45 poems first published in 1860 is called CALAMUS. Possibly from the curling leaves of rushes came Latin calamistrum, curling-iron, whence 17th century English (John Burton, ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY; 1621) calamistrate (accent on the mis) , to curl or frizzle the hair. Also in the 17th century: calamize, to pipe or sing.


In addition to its still current senses (in use since the 14th century) calendar was used to mean a guide, a model -- Chaucer (LEGEND OF GOOD WOMEN; 1385); Shakespeare (HAMLET; 1602): He is the card or calendar of gentry. Also, a list, as of canonized saints (17th century) or of prisoners awaiting trial (16th century) ; a record; William Shakespeare (ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL) : The kalender of my past endevours. Also, a record in the sense of a sign; Lodge (EUPHUES GOLDEN LEGEND; 1590) : Nor are the dimples in the face the calendars of truth.


A tropical disease afflicting sailors, who in delirium fancy the ocean to be a green field and wish to leap into it and play. It is also used figuratively, of a burning passion or zeal, as in a poem (1631) of John Donne: Knowledge kindles calentures in some. Pure chastity, Bishop Thomas Ken piously observed in 1711, excels in gust The calentures of baneful lust. William Congreve in LOVE FOR LOVE (1695) uses the word to mean the victims of the disease, as Ben exclaims: I believe all the calentures of the sea are come ashore.


A mixture of rum and spruce beer, imbibed by misguided Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries; as L. de Boileau described it in his RECOLLECTIONS OF LABRADOR LIFE (1861), "more of the former and less of the latter."


In the latter part of the eighteenth century, Jonathan Witherspoon, president of Princeton, used campus, the Latin word for field, (frequently for pugilistic contests) to describe the open area around his college's buildings.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- using altar smoke.


(1) An iron collar used for punishment, in the 13th through 16th centuries. (2) An ornamental collar or neckline, later called a carcanet. In the PROGRESS of Queen Elizabeth I, of 1572, we read that she received one riche carkanet or collar of golde, having in it two emeralds. Richard Stanihurst's AENEIS (1583) speaks of a garganet heavy. Carcanet was sometimes used for a circlet for the head; it might be, as in Robert Herrick's HESPERIDES (1648), a carkanet of maidenflowers, or even (1876) a carcanet of smiles.


A poultice, plaster -- in the 17th century made with herbs and flour, or (1612) of bread crumbs, milk, and a little saffron. In the 19th century (1866), the well known mustard plaster or cataplasm. William Shakespeare knew it too; in HAMLET (1602), Laertes puts a poison on his sword So mortal that but dip a knife in it, Where it draws blood no cataplasm so rare. Collected from all simples that have virtue Under the moon, can save the thing from death That is but scratched withal.


A close friend. In Tudor times, cousin was used by close friends, without blood relationship; in AS YOU LIKE IT William Shakespeare has Rosalind and Celia say, Sweet my coz. Ben Jonson suggests that cater-cousin meant quarter-cousin, "from the ridiculousness of calling cousin or relation to so remote a degree," but there is no ridicule intended, in the use of the word. It may be from cater, to care for, to feed, cater-cousins being those that have eaten together, as companions means those that have broken bread together. Shakespeare used the expression in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (1596) : His maister and he (saving your worships reverence) are scarce catercosins; and writers since have followed him.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- using mirrors.


One who filled up cracks in ships or windows or seems to make them watertight by using tar or oakum-hem fibre produced by taking old ropes apart.


A crafty device or trick; trickery; a precaution. Cautela, in Roman law, was an exception made as a precaution, from caut~, the past stem of cavere, to take heed (cp. caveat] ; this also gives us English caution, but the two forms developed different meanings. Cautelous means wary, heedful (cautious) , but more commonly deceitful, wily, as in William Shakespeare's CORIOLANUS (1607) : Your son . . . caught With cautelous baits and practice.


Suitable for felling, as a straight tree or a battered prizefighter. Latin caeduus; caedere, to fell. Used in the 17th century. Cp. caducous.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --using ashes.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- using melted wax on water.


Carriage maker


Candlemaker. Also dealer or trader; one who makes or sells candles; retailer of groceries, ship supplier


(1) A fickle person; a waverer; a turncoat. (2) A person or thing secretly substituted for another. Especially, of a child -- particularly, of an ugly or stupid child -- supposedly left in infancy, by the fairies, in exchange for the real (and of course beautiful and bright) child stolen. Hence, a half-wit (as in Samuel Pepys' DIARY, 28 December, 1667) . Shakespeare in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (1590) has the King of the Fairies say: I do but beg a little changeling boy, to be my henchman. [Note that Oberon refers to the child taken; the word usually refers to the child left amongst us humans.]


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --using clouds.




Wig maker


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- by reading palms.


A cavalier servente; a recognized gallant of a married woman. In Italy, 15th through 18th century. Pronounced chi-chis-bay-o. Mentioned by Richard Brinsley Sheridan in THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL (1777), but the pious Wesley exclaimed (1782) : English ladies are not attended by their cicisbys yet; nor would any English husband suffer it. The practice was a growth from the troubadour days of medieval southern France.


To tame; to render mild or harmless. Latin cicur, tame. Sir Thomas Browne in PSEUDODOXIA EPIDEMICA (1646) tells of poisons so refracted, cicurated, and subdued, as not to make good their . . . destructive malignities. Cotton Mather, in THE ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF NEW ENGLAND (1702) : Nor did he only try to cicurate the Indians. The verb was sometimes shortened to cicure. Hence circuration, domestication.


Short for citizen. Also citt. Feminine (used by John Dryden, 1685) , citess; Johnson (1751) used cit as a feminine. Cit was used in the 17th and 18th centuries, usually with some measure of scorn, for a townsman as opposed to a squire, or a tradesman as opposed to a gentleman. Alexander Pope in a SATIRE of 1735 asks Why turnpikes rose, and now no cit or clown Can gratis see the country or the town. The Prologue to Hannah Cowley's THE RUNAWAY (1776) pictured the Londoner, still seeking the countryside, scorned by the actor: Let cits point out green paddocks to their spouses; To me, no prospect like your crowded houses.




A key; especially, to a cipher. A 17th and 18th century term, directly from Latin clavis, key. Hence also clavicular, pertaining to a key (also to the clavicle, 'little key," the collar-bone) . The clavicymbal, a 15th to 17th century name for the early harpsichord; clavicytherium, a sort of harpsichord, an upright spinet, of the same period. A claviger, a key-keeper; one that carries a key -- but also (Latin clava, club) one that carries a club; also clavigerous. Clavis, key, from the sense, key to a cipher came also to mean a glossary (key to a language).


To call; to call on, appeal to; to summon; to call to witness; to speak to; to name. A very common word with a range of meanings, used in many forms from the 8th through the 18th century: clipian, clep, cleap, clip. Especially frequent in the 16th century was the form yclept, named; as in William Shakespeare's LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST (1588) : Judas I am, ycliped Machabeus; this has survived as an archaism, as in Edmund Spenser's DON JUAN (1823) : Microcosm on stilts, yclept the Great World. The forms occur throughout early literature, frequent in Chaucer, in George Gordon Byron -- VISIONS, 1591: I saw the fish (if fish I may it cleepe) . . . the huge leviathan -- and in Shakespeare -- HAMLET, 1604: other nations . . . clepe us drunkards. Hence cleper, one who calls; cleping, a name; a vocation; Wyclif in 1382 urged that ye walk worthily in the cleping in which ye ben clepid.


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.


Originally in English (10th century) , an ordained officer of the church. Hence, a person of book learning; one able to read and write; a scholar; a pupil. Greek kleros meant piece of land, estate, heritage; klerikos, relating to an inheritance; by the 2d century this came to be applied to those that carried on the Christian inheritance; i.e., the clergy, the clerics. Caxton in his Prologue to ENEYDOS (THE AENEID; 1490) spoke of that noble poete and grete clerke Vyrgyle; elsewhere he mentioned Plato the sage . . . and his clerke named Aristotle.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- using dice.


The servant of a salesman who stood at the door to invite customers; one who received the matter in the galley from the compositors and arranged it in due form ready for printing; one who makes eyelet holes in boots using a machine which clicked.


Old form of eclipse. Also clips, clypse, clippis, and the like. Thomas Phaer, in his translation (1558) of the AENEID, tells us that Coribantes beat their brasse the moone from clips to cure. Hence clipsi, clipsy, dark, obscure; in the ROMAUNT OF THE ROSE (1400) we read that love is now bright, now clipsi of manere.


"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.


A variety of apple, somewhat tapering; especially, a variety that could be cooked while still unripe. Hence, a raw youth, as when in THE ALCHEMIST (1610) Ben Jonson hails the arrival of a fine young quodling. Also codlin, querdlyng, codlyng, quadling, and more. William Shakespeare in TWELFTH NIGHT (1601) similifies: As a squash is before tis a pescod, or a codling when tis almost an apple. Hot codlings were roasted apples, sold in the London streets from the 17th century. A folk song of 1825 ran: A little old woman, her living she got, By selling hot codlings, hot, hot, hot. By 23 February, 1881, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH lamented: Hot codlings may now be sought for in vain. The word codling may have come from coddle, one meaning of which was to cook (we still have coddled eggs, cooked gently; but coddled pease were roasted; and hot codlings may also have meant roasted peas). Codling also may mean a small cod (fish); also, the scrotum; cp. codpiece. CenErr6867, in his translation (1605) of Du Bartas, wrote of The wise beaver who, pursu'd by foes, Tears off his codlings, and among them throwes.


Cornering the market; buying up the available supplies. Literally (Latin co-, com, together + emere, emptum, to buy: caveat emptor, let the buyer beware; cp. caveat) the word means joint purchasing; Chaucer in his translation (1374) of Bothius thus understood the word: coemptioun that is to seyn comune achat or hying to-gidere. And in ancient Rome, one type of marriage ceremony consisted of the husband's buying the wife and the wife's buying the husband; this too was called coemption. Francis Bacon in his ESSAYS (1625, ON RICHES) said that monopolies, and coemption of wares for resale, where they are not restrained, are great means to enrich.




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.


Coal miner


Money-changer; usurer; miser. Also collibist. Greek kollybistes, money-changer; kollibos, small coin. From 14th through 17th century; Bishop Joseph Hall in his SATIRES (1598) has: Unless some base hedge-creeping collybist Scatters his refuse scraps on whom he list. From the same source (possibly influenced by Latin collibere, to please; col-, together + libet, it pleases), colliby was a 14th and 15th century word meaning a small present.


Peddler of books


A newcomer; anyone not a native to a place; by extension, a novice. Common in 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, used into the 19th, carrying some measure of scorn, as Harrison in THE DESCRIPTION OF ENGLAND (1587) speaks of the comeling Saxons.


A messmate, a boarder. From Latin com-, together + mensalis, pertaining to the table, mensa, table. The eucharist, commented Bishop Joseph Hall (1624) makes us commensals of the Lord Jesus. The word commensal is still used in biology, of a plant or animal that lives attached to or as tenant of another, sharing its food. The host may also be called a commensal The commensal is to be distinguished from the parasite, which eats the body of its host.


"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/'


As an adjective: convenient, suitable. Used in the 17th century. Via French from Latin com, together + modus, measure. Applied to women in the 18th century, meaning accommodating, usually with bad implications. Richard Steele in THE CONSCIOUS LOVERS (1722) speaks of one of those commode ladies who lend out beauty for hire. Hence, as a noun: (1) a procuress. This sense was also used figuratively, as when Colley Cibber in the Epilogue to his version of JULIUS CAESAR (1721) spoke of making the tragic muse commode to love. (2) A small piece of furniture for holding a chamber pot. (3) A tall headdress for women, worn especially in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, built on a wire framework, often with silk or lace streamers hanging over the shoulders. The commode, however (as Joseph Addison pointed out in his essay on LADIES' HEADDRESS IN THE SPECTATOR, 1711, No. 98), never aspired to so great an extravagance as in the 14th century, when it was built up in a couple of cones or spires, which stood so exceedingly high on each side of the head, that a woman who was but a pigmy without her headdress appeared like a colossus upon putting it on. This headdress was also called a fontange (from French Fontanges, the estate of a mistress of King Louis XIV). The olden fontanges, Addison continued, were pointed like steeples, and had long pieces of crape fastened to the tops of them, which were curiously fringed, and hung down their backs like streamers.


A collection to help someone. Welsh cym-, together + porth, support, help. A commorth (comorth) might be made at a wedding, or at the first Mass of a new priest, or to redeem a murderer or felon. Apparently the practice was abused, for laws were passed against taking a commorth, under Henry IV (1402) and again under Henry VIII (1534).


To address (by name), to call, call upon, as one may compellate a saint. Hence compellation, a calling upon; a name or form of greeting, an appellation (the current term in this sense); a reproach, reproof, calling to account. Bastwick in THE LETANY (1637) wrote: The worst things are varnished over with finest names and compellations. Note that compellative means related to address, to a word used as a title; compellatory means compulsory; compellant, compellent mean compelling, constraining; Richard Congreve in ESSAYS (1873) spoke of the compellent contagion of great examples.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- using shells.


To agree. Accent on the second syllable; used since the 16th century. Perhaps originally a facetious substitution of the more formal dog for cur in the verb concur; John Lyly's GALLATHEA (1592) makes that juxtaposition. In Thomas Heywood's THE ROYALL KING (1637) the clown says to the bawd: Speake, shall you and I condogge together?


To join in agreement. French gré, liking. In the 16th century, gree was a common shortening of agree. Agree, ad, to give accord to; congree, com, to give accord together. William Shakespeare in HENRY V(1623 edition) speaks of government congreeing in a full and natural close. The 1600 quarto edition, however, has congrueth with a mutual consent, and Shakespeare's form may be congrue; Latin congruus, agreeing, suitable, congruere, to meet together, whence also incongruous.


Patching together; hence, a heterogeneous gathering; F. Saunders, in the Preface to A SALAD FOR THE SOLITARY (1853) calls the book a consarcination of many good things for the literary palate. Also consarcinate, to patch together; used mainly in the 17th century. The HISTRIOMASTIX (1610) aptly remarks that stage plays are consarcinated of sundry merry, ludicrous officious artificial lies.


Joining of boards to form a platform or floor. Latin com-, together + tabula, table, plank. Hence also the verb, to contabulate. Used in the 17th and 18th centuries.


To despise. Used from the 15th century; surviving in the noun, contempt. Latin con (with intensive force) + temnere, to despise; Greek temnein, to judge. In the 16th century the form to contempne was used. Hence contemner, a scorner; contemnible, despicable. The sense of this verb fused with, or was lost in, that of to condemn.


To make sad. French contrister; Latin com (with intensive force) + tristare, to sadden; tristis, sad. Contristate was used in the 17th century (by Francis Bacon and others) with the same meaning. Bacon also noted, in THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING (1605), that Solomon observed that in spacious knowledge there is much contristation. The shorter verb, contrist, was used into the 19th century, by Thomas Urquhart in his translation (1653) of Francois Rabelais; by Laurence Sterne in TRISTRAM SHANDY (1761); in the 1625 translation of Boccaccio's DECAMERON: that your contristed spirits should be chearfully revived.


One who makes or repairs vessels made of staves & hoops, such as casks, barrels, tubs, etc.


From Old English copp, meaning "top," "head." About 1700, the word cop came to mean "capture or catch," a definition that evolved into a noun for someone who captures criminals -- a policeman. The form cop was also used in the 15th century to mean spider (as spincop, also spyncop, spincoppe); whence also cobweb.


A person with whom one copes; an adversary. Hence, a love partner, paramour. Hence, a partner or colleague; a partner in marriage, spouse; by extension, a confederate (cheat) at cards or other gaming; more vaguely, often with contempt, a fellow. Also copemate; cp. copeman. Lisle in his translation (1625) of Du Bartas: Fooles, idiots, jesters, anticks, and such copesmates as of naughtworth are suddenly start up. Ben Jonson, in EVERY MAN IN HIS HUMOUR (1598) : O, this is the female copesmate of my son. William Shakespeare in THE RAPE OF LUCRECE (1593) : Mis-shapen Time, copesmate of ugly Night . . . eater of youth, false slave to false delight, Base watch of woes, sin's packhorse, virtue's snare.


A raven. Via Old French corbel from Latin corvellum, diminutive of corvus, raven. The corbel's fee was part of a deer left by the hunters for the ravens (for good luck and propitiation) . From its shape, in profile like a raven's beak, corbel was used by architects in Medieval France and England to mean a projection, jutting out from the face of a wall, to act as a support. It was usually a plain, unadorned architectural feature (although Edmund Spenser in THE FAERIE QUEENE, 1596, speaks of a bridge . . . with curious corbes and pendants graven faire) until Walter Scott seized on the term in THE LAY OF THE LAST MINSTREL (1805) and gave it decorations: The corbels were carved grotesque and grim. Since then, historical novelists (and some historians) have elaborated the decorations.<br><br>Latin corvus, raven, apparently had another diminutive, corvetto, from which a variant of corbel came into English -- corbet, with the same architectural significance. Chaucer used this in THE HOUS OF FAME (1384) : How they hate in masoneryes As corbetz and ymageryes. This passage was misunderstood, and 17th and 18th century dictionaries define corbet and corbel, erroneously, as "a niche in a wall, for a statue, etc." So even Britton's DICTIONARY OF THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE MIDDLE AGES, in 1838.


Shoemaker, originally any leather worker using leather from Cordova/Cordoba in Spain


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- using a sieve.


An 18th century style of stays, named from the maker. Alexander Pope in THE ART OF POLITICKS (1729) inquired: Think we that modern words eternal are? Toupet, and tompion, cosins and colmar Hereafter will be called by some plain man A wig, a watch, a pair of stays, a fan.


A lamb (or other quadruped) brought up by hand, a cade lamb. See Cade. Also cossart. Hence, a pet, a spoiled child. Not used before the 16th century. To cosset, to fondle, to pamper, was used 17th through the 19th century. A cossety child (or cat) is one that expects and likes to be petted and pampered.


Originally an apple-seller -- costard, apple; monger, dealer. Thence, a pushcart salesman; also used figuratively -- Miss Mitford (1812) From all the selected fruits of all the poetical costermongers . . . could ye choose nothing more promising than this green sour apple? -- and as a term of abuse -- William Shakespeare, HENRY IV, PART TWO (1597): Virtue is of so little regard in these costermonger times, (the monger is pronounced mun' fa.) Hence also costermongering, costermongery, costermongerdom. Also, tout court, coster. Various other combinations have been used, such as costerditty, street song; costerwife, a woman with a stall for selling apples and the like. Cp. applesquire.


A light, crisp cracker, usually curved or hollow. Also crackenelle, crackenal, and the like. As Lord Berners (Sir John Bourchier) put it, in his translation (1523) of Frolssart: Whan the plate is hote, they cast of the thyn paste thereon, and so make a little cake in maner of a crackenell, or bysket. In English biscuit; in the U.S., cracknel has been replaced by cracker or cookie.


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.


A style of woman's hair, worn in the 17th century: the curl'd lock at the nape of the neck, and generally there are two of them. Literally, heart-breaker.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- using cake dough and barley.


A potter. As a surname, Rick Hamelin tells us: According to a paper on Crocker and related surnames by David Croker, the name can be traced in use as far back as 1221 in Gloucestershire, England. The author stated that a tax list dated 1313 or possibly a Lay Subsidy included three men of Bristol who were designated 'le Crokkere' (i.e. the crock maker) and one 'le potter' and suggested that from the 14th century, the trademan was called by either name. Those of the trade arriving on the Arbella and Abigail to Massachusetts in the early 17th c. were called 'potters' on the ship's listing.


A prostitute. One of George Peele's JESTS (1598) is headed: How George gulled a punk otherwise called a croshabell -- a word but lately used, he explains, and fitting with their trade, being of a lovely and courteous condition.


Originally, a small hook (French crochet, diminutive of croche, hook; women still crochet with a small hook; cp. crocheteur). By transference, many other meanings, among them: (1) an ornamental hook, a brooch; Steele in THE TATLER (1710) tells of a crochet of 122 Diamonds, set . . . in silver. (2) a hookshaped symbol for a note in music; (3) a whimsical fancy; a perverse and peculiar notion. William Shakespeare plays on both these senses in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (1599): Why these are very crotchets that he speaks, Note notes forsooth, and nothing. From (3) came (4) a fanciful device or construction. Less literarily and more literally (5) a bracket, in typography [crotchets]. A dealer in odd conceits and deliberately perverse opinions is a crotchet-monger.




(1) Head of hair. Latin crinis, hair. Thomas Chatterton has a roundelay (1778) "My love is dead, Gone to his death-bed All under the willow tree," with the line: Black his cryne as the winter night. The etymological spelling was used by Josuah Sylvester in his translation (1614) of Du Bartas: Priests, whose sacred crine felt never razor; also in prosaic reference in the BRISTOL JOURNAL of October 1768: hose of goatskin, crinepart outwards. (2) To shrink, shrivel. This verb is probably from Gallic crion, to wither. Used from the 15th into the 18th century, it was revived by Walter Scott (THE HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN, 1818) and used in a letter of Jennie Carlyle (1849) : He had grown old like a golden pippin, merely crined, with the bloom upon him.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- by unrevealed means.


Also Cristallomancy.Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- using images in a crystal ball.


A piece cut off; hence, a slice, strip, shred. In the 18th century this became coupon. Also to culpon, to cut, to slice; (16th and 17th centuries) to border or ornament with strips or slices of a different-colored material. Old French colper; couper, to cut; from Latin colaphus, Greek kolaphos, a blow. Chaucer, in THE KNIGHT'S TALE (1386) : He hath anon commanded to hack and hew The okes old, and laie them all on a rew, In culpons well araied for to brenne. A 15th century cookbook recommended: Take eeles culponde and clene wasshen . . .


Delaying; delaying action. From 16th into the 19th century. Robert Herrick, in HESPERIDES (1648), cried: Break off delay, since we but read of one That ever prosper'd by cunctation. The "one" is Fabius Cunctator, the Roman Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, surnamed Cunctator, Delayer; in the Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.) the Fabian tactics of harassing the enemy while avoiding direct combat broke Carthaginian Hannibal's military strength. Hence the Fabian Society in England (founded 1884) which believed in the advance of Socialism by gradual degrees, of which the best known member was Bernard Shaw. Hence also the adjective forms cunctatious, cunctative, cunctatory, prone to delay.


To call as does a quail. An echoic word. Thomas Urquhart in his translation (1693) of Francois Rabelais mentions curring of pigeons . . . curkling of quails.


One who dresses the coat of a horse with a currycomb; one who tanned leather by incorporating oil or grease


In the phrase curule chair, a seat shaped like a camp-stool with curved legs, but of costly wood inlaid with ivory, occupied by the highest magistrates of ancient Rome. Hence, curule, pertaining to high civic office, eminent. The word was used in English in the 17th century; it was revived by Walter Scott in THE HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN (1818); Samuel Butler shifted its application in HUDIBRAS (1663): We that are merely mounted higher Than constables in curule wit.


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.


Licentious, lewd; also, a licentious person; a prostitute. Literally, of Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean, anciently known for the worship of Aphrodite. Used from the 16th century. THE SATURDAY REVIEW in 1859 spoke of the cyprian patrol which occupies our streets in force every night; but forty years earlier J. H. Vaux in his MEMOIRS told of a very interesting young cyprian whom I . . . attended to her apartments.


A boat. From Late Latin cyula, which is from Old English ciol, whence keel, boat. Holland in his translation (1610) of Camden's BRITAIN wrote: Embarqu'd in forty cyules or pinnaces, and sailing about the Picts' coasts . . . in every ciule thirtie wives.
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