A growing assortment of words and definitions used in the Early Modern era. See the Guide for more information.
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Like a bean. Latin faba, bean. Used in the 18th century. Figuratively, lanky, 'skinny.'


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.


One that does, acts, performs. Latin facientem, present participle of facere, to do, to make. Bishop Hacket in his MEMORIAL TO ARCHBISHOP WILLIAMS OF YORK (1670) inquired: Is sin in the fact, or in the mind of the facient?


Extremely wicked, infamous; grossly criminal. The word, naturally, is accented on the sin. From Latin facinorosus, full of bad deeds; facinus, a (bad) deed; facere, to do. Also facinerose (in the dictionaries) , facinerious, facinorious, as in William Shakespeare's ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL (1601) : He's of a most facinerious spirit.


A deed, a thing done. Latin facere, factum, to do. Hence, used of a noble deed or exploit (earlier fait; this sense survives in feat) ; also as an evil deed, a crime. The last was the most common meaning in the 16th and 17th centuries; it survives in the phrases accessory after (before) the fact. In the very fact, in the very act. The current sense, of a thing that is so, developed in the 17th century. Fact was also, more rarely, used to mean guilt, as when Philip Massinger in THE EMPEROR OF THE EAST (1632) said: Great Julius would not rest satisfied that his wife was free from fact, but, only for suspidon of a crime, sued a divorce.

Factor Agent

Also Commission Merchant. One who acts or transacts business for another; Scottish steward or bailiff of an estate


Eloquent; also a noun, eloquence; facundity. Latin facundus. Hence facundious, fluent, glib, facundate, to make eloquent (a 17th century term; not to be confused with fecundate; Latin fecundus, fruitful) . The words are from a form of Latin for, fari, fatum, to speak; whence also the forum and one's fate: that which has been spoken. Lord Berners (Sir John Bourchier) in his early 16th century translations used simple terms, apologizing for not using fresshe ornate polysshed Englysshe on the ground that he was unequipped with the facondyous arte of rethoryke. William Warner in ALBION'S ENGLAND (1606) knew how often eloquence displays but facundious fooles.


A very common verb, from the late 16th century. (1) To fit, be suitable, to fit in with; to get along well with. (2) To agree; to fit together; to piece together (fadge up). (3) To fit in with; hence, to get along, thrive. It won't fadge, it won't succeed. Fadging, well matched, well suited, fitting. There is also a noun fadge, with the basic sense of something flat: a fiat bundle (of pieces of leather, etc.) ; a large flat loaf; a dumpy person. Hence fadgy, unwieldy; corpulent. Thomas Fuller in THE HISTORY OF THE WORTHIES OF ENGLAND (1661) : The study of the law did not fadge well with him; John Milton, in the Preface (1643) to his treatise on DIVORCE: They shall . . . be made, spight of antipathy, to fadge together; William Wycherley in THE COUNTRY WIFE (1675) : Well, sir, how fadges the new design?


Beans; kidney beans. From the Italian. Ben Jonson in CYNTHIA'S REVELS (1600) says: He doth learn to make strange sauces, to eat anchovies, macaroni, bovoli, fagioli, caviare. Bovoli are periwinkles, snails.


Still occasionally in use, meaning a bundle of sticks, tied together for firewood, fagot had various other meanings. Its origin is unknown, though its meaning is similar to Latin fascis, which in the plural, fasces, was applied to the bundle of rods with an axe in the middle, carried before the highest magistrate as a symbol of his authority, the revival of which in modern Italy gave name to the Fascist Party. In England faggot is the preferred spelling; other forms were faggat, faget, fag(g)ald. Forgotten meanings include: An embroidered figure of a bundle of firewood, which recanted heretics had to wear on their sleeve, as a sign of what they had deserved. Similarly, to fry a faggot, to be burnt alive; fire and faggot, the stake, burning alive; to bear a faggot, to carry a faggot, to have renounced heresy. Fagot was also used of bundles of other things, in general. Also (from the shape) a rolled cake of chopped liver and lights, mixed with gravy and stuffed into a sausage-skin (19th century) . From the 16th into the 19th century, a term of abuse for a woman; Lodge in CATHAROS (1591) tells us: A filbert is better than a faggot, except it be an Athenian she handfull. (Filbert, a term rather of endearment, after the color and comparatively low height of the hazel tree.) In the 17th century, fagot came to be used of a man quickly hired to answer "Here!" in a shortage of soldiers at mustertime; hence, one used to fill a deficiency; also, a dummy. From this came the 19th century use faggot, faggot-vote, one manufactured to help carry an election, as by temporarily transferring to persons not otherwise qualified enough property to entitle them to vote. Thus in the DAILY NEWS of 16 April, 1879, a candidate averred that he had not the slightest doubt he would win, unless he were to be swamped by faggots. Bishop Montagu, in one of his DIATRIBES (1621) cried out: You deserved to fry a fagot!


Glad, well-pleased. Also fagen, fein, fayen, feene, vein, vayn, fyene, feign and more. Full fain, glad and fain. In the phrase fain to, glad to; then, content to, as the lesser of two evils; hence, necessitated, obliged, as when D'Israeli in THE AMENITIES OF LITERATURE (1841) remarks that Ascham, indeed, was fain to apologise for having written in English. Also apt, wont; favorable, well-disposed; Edmund Spenser, in THE FAERIE QUEENE (1596) : Whose steadie hand was fain his steed to guyde; Rossetti, in DANTE AND HIS CIRCLE (1850): I . . . saw Love coming towards me, fair and fain. I would (had) fain, I would gladly . . . Fain was also a verb, to be glad (of, on) ; to make glad, hence to welcome; to rejoice in. There was an old proverb (echoed by Walter Scott) : Fair promys maketh fools fain.


A trimming for petticoats and other garments; a flounce. Also falbeloe, fallbullow; furbelow. (Origin unknown; not from a fur trimming, fur below.) In the plural, furbelows, it came to be used (in the 18th century) of overdecorative, showy trimming or ornaments; hence figuratively, rhetorical furbelows. NEW CRAZY TALES (1783) lists things to be found in London's second-hand shops, on Monmouth Street: The rags of peasants, and the spoils of beaus, Mix'd with hoop-petticoats and falbeloes . . . Here on one hook I oftentimes have seen The warrior's scarlet and the footman's green; And near a broken gamester's old roqu'laure The tatter'd pawn of some ill-fated whore; Hats, bonnets, scarves, sad arguments of woe, Beavroys and riding-hoods make up the show.


A blacksmith, one who shoes horses.




Favorable, propitious, gentle. Latin Favonius, the west wind. From 1650. John Keats (1821) : Softly tell her not to fear Such calm favonian burial.


(1) To whip. A 17th century word; the 16th century has the term bumfeage, to spank. Etheredge in SHE WOULD IF SHE COULD (1668) says: Let us even go into an arbour, and then feague Mr. Rakehell (2) To finish off, 'do for'; William Wycherley in LOVE IN A WOOD (1672) plans a sly intrigue That must at length the jilting widow fegue. To feague a horse was (1785, Francis Grose's DICTIONARY) "to put ginger up a horse's fundament, to make him lively and carry his tail well." (3) To feague away, to set in brisk motion (as violins) ; to stir in one's thoughts. To feague it away, to work at full power, as Villiers in THE REHEARSAL (1672) : When a knotty point comes, I lay my head close to it . . . and then 1 fegue it away i' faith. Feague (also Feak) as a noun, was used of a slattern, a sluttish woman.


A dangling curl of hair. CenErr6752, in THE METAMORPHOSIS OF PIGMALIONS IMAGE (1598) speaks of a man that Can dally with his mistress dangling feake, And wish that he were it. Feak is also a variant form of DictErr1404, #1 Also, in falconry, feak, to wipe the beak after feeding. Also (16th into 19th century) to twitch, to pull (as one's vest) ; to fidget, busy oneself with trifles.


A corruption of fay, faith, used in exclamations and as a mild form of swearing. Also i'fegs, q.v. Sometimes in forms with -kin, a diminutive (as in odds bodkins, a corrupt euphemism for God's bodykin) . Many variants have been used, especially by the playwrights: Ben Jonson (1598, EVERY MAN IN HIS HUMOUR) : By my fackins! (1610, THE ALCHEMIST) : How! Swear by your fac? Thomas Heywood (1600, EDWARD I, PART ONE) : No, by my feckins! John Vanbrugh: By my facks, sir! Thomas Middleton: No, by good feggings. Also faiks, faix, fecks, fags. These forms led to confusion with faex, fex, dregs, excrement (Latin faex, faecem; the plural of which, faeces, is the form that has survived in English), faeces, feces, which may also have been in the minds of the playwrights.

Fell Monger

One who removes hair or wool from hides in preparation for leather making.


This word has had odd shifts of sense. Latin feria, holiday, was originally applied, in ecclesiastical English, to weekdays (as opposed to the Sabbath) that called for certain observances, as Ash Wednesday. Hence, a weekday; then, a weekday on which no holy day or holiday falls. Thus ferial, pertaining to a weekday, as opposed to a festival. But there also continued in use the sense of a weekday to be especially observed; hence ferial, pertaining to a holiday; from the 15th through the 17th century, a ferial day, ferial time meant that the law courts were closed; Mrs. Byrne in UNDERCURRENTS OVERLOOKED (1860) said that Admiral Mackan ordered that all works in the navy should be suspended on ferial days. Hence feriate, feriot, vacation, holiday; also ferie; in his THRE LAWES (15S8) John Bale spoke of Sondayes and other feryes. And the rare verb ferie, fery, to keep holiday; To abuse the sabbothe, cried Hooper in A DECLARATION OF THE TEN HOLY COMMAUNDEMENTES (1548), is as mouche as to fery unto god, and work to the devill. Also feriation, cessation of work, holiday taking. Sir Thomas Browne in PSEUDODOXIA EPIDEMICA (1646) exclaimed scornfully: As though there were any feriation in nature!


A twig, a small piece of straw -- sometimes used in allusion to the Biblical mote in one's neighbor's eys. Hence, a small stick or pointer used to help children learn. Common 14th through 17th century. Also as a verb, fescue, to guide in reading, with a stick (which may be a pointer or used to rap one over the knuckles) ; John Milton in ANIMADVERSIONS . . . SMECTYMNUS (1641) speaks of a child fescu'd to a formal injunction of his rote-lesson.


Hasty. From Latin festinare, to hurry; festinus, in haste, quick. William Shakespeare in KING LEAR (1605) has Advise the Duke where you are going, to a most festinate preparation. Festinate is also a verb, to hasten -- mainly of the 17th century, but used by Percy Bysshe Shelley in a letter of 1812. Shakespeare also uses the adverb, in LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST (1588) : Bring him festinatly hither. To Suetonius we owe the caution Festina lente, make haste slowly, also rendered The more haste, the less speed. Noun forms are festinance, festinancy, festination, haste -- as when one proceeds with festination towards one's destination.


An early form, replaced by fetch. Also in phrases: to fet again, to bring to, restore to consciousness. To fet in, to take in a supply of. To fet off, to pick off (as a marksman does), to kill. In fine fet, short for fettle, q.v. Used from Beowulf; in the 15th and 16th centuries, mainly in the past forms. Chaucer, in THE SOMPNER'S TALE (1386) : Forth he goth . . . and fat his felaw. Udall, in RALPH ROYSTER DOYSTER (1553) : Shall I go fet our goose?


A figure-caster, an astrologer. Figure-casting, said Archbishop Abbot in his EXPOSITION UPON THE PROPHET JONAH (1600) , to judge of nativities . . . is a lying vanity. Figure-flinger is a term of contempt for one who indulges in such practices; it was used from the 16th into the 18th century. Hearne in his REMINISCENCES (1723) stated: Being much addicted to astrology, he gave over his trade and set up the trade of figure-flinging and publishing of almanacs. Both terms were also applied (figure-casting by Swinburne in his STUDIES OF SHAKESPEARE, 1880) to persons that took a literal view of the world, 'casting,' calculating, with numerical figures only.


The color of a dead leaf. The word is a 17th century corruption of French feuille morte, dead leaf. Also in the forms feuillemort, fillemort, foliomort, philemort, philamot. Robert Browning in SORDELLO (1840) says: Let Vidal change . . . His murrey-coloured robe for philamot, And crop his hair.


(l)"Hemp early ripe"; so Nathan Bailey, 1751. A corruption of French femelle, female; in popular terminology, the female hemp. Actually, what is called the fimble is the male plant of hemp, which yields a shorter and weaker fibre than the carl hemp or female plant. Popularly, the weaker fibres were called female, fimble; the stronger, carl, male. (2) A ring for fastening a gate. (3) (As a verb) to touch lightly and frequently with the tips of the fingers, as a woman may fimble a jewel at her breast; to move over or through without harming, as a scythe may fimble (i.e., not cut) the grass.


Mouldiness; mould. Also as a verb, to grow mouldy, to make mouldy. Finewy, finewed, mouldy. The last form existed (16th-18th century) in many variations: fenowed, finnowed, vynued, vinewed; vinnowed, vinnied, whinid; William Shakespeare in TROILUS AND CRESSIDA (1606) has: Speake then you whinid'st leaven, speake!


A making fit, preparation; that which is fit; one's duty. Used only in Shakespeare before the 19th century; then (often in the plural, fitments, fittings) , in the sense of furniture, furnishings. In William Shakespeare's CYMBELINE (1611) : 'Twas a fitment for The purpose I then followed; in PERICLES the Bard complains of the consistently virtuous Marina: We must either get her ravished or get rid of her. When she should do for clients her fitment and do me the kindness of our profession, she has me her quirks, her reasons, her master reasons, her prayers, her knees; that she would make a puritan of the devil, if he should cheapen [bargain for] a kiss of her.


A bottle or vessel. The 1539 BIBLE (SAMSON) says: Isai toke an asse laden with breed, and a flacket of wyne. Also (possibly from the shape) a puff or bunch of hair, such as might hang on each side from beneath a lady's cap (16th and 17th centuries) .


Unemployed. Used first (16th and 17th centuries) of actors; the playhouse flag was lowered where there was no performance. Rowley in the appropriately entitled THE SEARCH FOR MONEY (1609) included foure or five flag-falne plaiers, poore harmlesse merrie knaves, that were neither lords nor ladies, but honestly wore their owne clothes.


To importune, to demand earnestly. From the 17th century. Hence, flagitation, an earnest or passionate request. (Occasionally has been used in error for .) Latin , to demand earnestly; , eagerness; hence, a passionate deed, a burning shame, an outrage. This shift in meaning was carried over into English. flagitious, extremely wicked, villainous; flagition, flagitiousness, villainy, burning shame. Riches, said J. Keeper in 1598, are the infamous offspring of covetousness, and guilty even of the same flagition.


A large bottle for holding wine or inferior liquors; especially a metal one (carried by pilgrims before scoffiaws) with a screw top. Thomas Urquhart in his translation (1653) of Francois Rabelais points out that the bottle is stopped . . with a stoppel, but the flaggon with a vice. Also, a large bottle for use at table, usually with a handle, a spout, and a lid. Scott, in THE FAIR MAID OF PERTH (1828) , says: He set the flagon on the table, and sat down.


(1) A river. Especially applied, 14th- 16th century, to the Jordan: the flem Jordan. Also, an artificial channel, such as a mill-stream; in this sense the word survives in dialects. Also as a verb, fleam, to flow; thus R. Buchanan wrote in 1863: As the vapours fleam'd away, behold! I saw . . . a nymph. (2) In medical use, a blood-letting instrument, a lancet. Via French and Latin from Greek phlebotomon; phleb-, vein + temnein, to cut.


A mocking look or speech; "a deceitful grin of civility" (Johnson) . As a verb, to laugh in a coarse or impudent manner, to sneer; to smile fawningly. Common from the 17th century; William Shakespeare in OTHELLO (1604) has: Mark the fleeres, the gybes and notable scornes That dwell in every region of his face. Carlyle in his REMINISCENCES (1866) gives us the one use of the word in a pleasant sense, an innocent fleer of merriment.


Exile, flight; a fugitive, an outlaw; to put to flight, chase, outlaw, banish. Common from the 9th to the 16th century; the early noun form from the verb to flee; replaced by flight, from to fly. Hence several Old English words, including (1) flemaflare, the right to forfeit an outlaw's property (in Nathan Bailey's DICTIONARY, 1751); (2) flemensfirth, the entertaining of a banished person; hence, a penalty exacted by the king for such entertainment. Old English flymena fyrmth, entertainment of fugitives. Old charters give this in many forms, as flemenfremith, flemeneferd, flemenefenda.


A maker of arrows; a dealer in bows and arrows. By extension (rarely), an archer. From French fleche, arrow. A common word until the 19th century; it survives as a name.


A light or loose woman. Also flirt-gillian; gill-flirt. Gill (Remember Jack and Jill) is a pet form of Juliana. Not in print before William Shakespeare, who in ROMEO AND JULIET (1592) cries: Scurvy knave, I am none of his fturt-gils; Beaumont and Fletcher, in THE KNIGHT OF THE BURNING PESTLE (1613) : You heard him take me up like a flirt gill, and sing bawdy songs upon me.


Full of, or resembling, waves. Latin fluctus, wave. Used literally and figuratively, since the 16th century. Leigh Hunt in his AUTOBIOGRAPHY (1850) suggests a classification: waves, wavelets, billows, fluctuosities, etc.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- using leaves (of a book; later, tea leaves)


A fool. Also folet, foult. Hence folthead, foltry, folly. Cp. follify. In the 14th and 15th centuries; also as a verb, to folt, to act like a fool; folted, foltish, foolish. Thomas Drant in his translation (1566) of Horace's SATIRES wrote of the foolishe frantycke foultes.


A mixture of meat or vegetables chopped and seasoned for use as a stuffing or garnish. Late 17th cent.: from obsolete force [to stuff,]

Forcible feeble

A weak person who makes great show of strength (physical or moral). William Shakespeare first used the expression as a play on a name, in HENRY IV, PART TWO (1597) ; Shallow calls: Francis Feeble! but Falstaff rejects him as a recruit: Let that suffice, most forcible Feeble. The term came into wider use in the 19th century, as in Benjamin Disraeli's CONINGSBY (1844) : Italics, that last resort of the forcible feebles.


A pair of scissors. The Late Latin word, used humorously in English, as in Alexander Pope's THE RAPE OF THE LOCK (1714), The peer now spreads the glittering forfex wide, To inclose the lock. Note also forficate, shaped like a pair of scissors, and forficulate: (1) shaped like a small pair of scissors; (2) as a verb, to feel a creeping sensation, as though a forficula (earwig) were crawling over one's skin; Bulwer- Lytton said in THE CAXTONS (1849) : There is not a part of me that has not . . . crept, crawled, and forficulated ever since.


Cross, disagreeable; (of a horse) mettlesome, fiery. Also frampard, frampull, frampled, frompered (John Bunyan, 1688). William Shakespeare, in THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (1598) remarks: She leads a very frampold life with him.


A person of free or loose behavior; usually applied to a man; but Edmund Spenser (THE FAERIE QUEENE, 1596) speaks of a woman as a fair franion. Lamb, in a poem of 1810, speaks of Fine merry franions, Wanton companions. Also spelled fronion, frannion, frannian. The old play KING EDWARD IV PART ONE said: He's a frank franion, a merry companion, and loves a wench well.


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.


Strange. More commonly, a stranger, a foreigner, an enemy. Used in the 16th century. Also fren; altered from frend, correctly fremd, a common Teuton term meaning foreigner, enemy; also as an adjective, foreign, wild, hostile, strange, unusual. It is related to from. Child's collection of BALLADS has one that sings: I wish I had died on some frem isle, And never had come home! Edmund Spenser uses frenne, foe, in THE SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR (1579; APRIL) : So now his friend is chaunged for a frenne -- with a gloss explaining that the form of the word was influenced by forenne, foreign.


One who fulls cloth; one who shrinks and thickens woolen cloth by moistening, heating, and pressing; one who cleans and finishes cloth.


A smoked herring (pilchard). Recommended by Thomas Fuller (1661) with oil and lemon. Also fumatho, fumado, fair maid. Spanish fumado, smoked.


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.


Dusky, swarthy, of sombre hue. Latin fuscus, dusky. Used since the 17th century. Thomas De Quincey Alfred in a letter of 31 July, 1855, wrote: Some confused remembrance I had that we were or ought to be in a relation of hostility, though why, I could ground upon none but fuscous and cloudy reasons. Ivor Brown in I GIVE YOU MY WORD adduces an amusing instance from a play, THE DEVIL AND THE LADY, that Lord Tennyson wrote at the age of fourteen. A character, finding the Devil disguised as a woman, exclaims: What jejune, undigested joke is this, To quilt thy fuscous haunches with the flounced Frilled, finical delicacy of female dressf Hast thou dared to girdle thy brown sides And prop thy monstrous vertebrae with stays? In technical terms fusco is a combining form meaning dull, dusky: fusco-ferruginous, dull rust-colored; fusco-piceous, dull reddish-black; fusco-testaceous, dull reddish-brown.


To cudgel. Latin fustigare, fustigatum, to beat to death; fustis, a knobbed stick. Used from the 17th to the mid-19th century; now only for humorous effect. The Earl of Bristol exclaimed, in 1667: Heaven send him a light hand, to whom my fustigation shall belong! Hence also fustigator, whipper.


A fat, frowzy woman (fusty, mouldy + lugs, implying heavy). John Burton in THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY (1621) states that every lover admires his mistress, though she be ... a vast virago, or ... a fat fustylugs. Fusty (from fust, a wine cask, q.v.) was used to mean stale (wine too long in the cask); then mouldy bread; then anything no longer fresh; seedy, dull. William Shakespeare in TROILUS AND CRESSIDA (1606) says At this fusty stuff The large Achilles . . . laughs out a lowd applause. Hence fusty-rusty, out-of-date, old-fashioned; ill-humored.
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