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Colonial Dictionary


This section is an ongoing project dedicated to the words of the Colonial Era. Granted, many of these words would not be used at the local tavern, but may well have been employed in more learned circles. In addition to words used then that are not used now, we also include words that may still be around whose meanings have changed since early America.

Whenever possible, we try to provide a full etymological background of each entry, as well as examples of usage from then-current literature.

Though we use a wide variety of resources for this project, we'd be remiss not to mention Dictionary of Early English by Joseph T. Shipley (Introduction by Mark Van Doren), which you can find in its entirety HERE, readable online, or as a downloadable .pdf file...

Please Contact Us if you have any additions (that we haven't added yet -- this is a work-in-progress) or corrections to these entries...we hope you find this Colonial Dictionary interesting and useful.

-- The Colonial Sense Team

Search Text:    Search Where:  Words Only   Words & Definitions


52 of 1401 Entries
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FabaceousLike a bean. Latin faba, bean. Used in the 18th century. Figuratively, lanky, 'skinny.'
FabianSee 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; Nashe) to a flaunting fabian, a roisterer.
FacientOne 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?
FacinorousExtremely 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 Shakespeare's ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL (1601) : He's of a most facinerious spirit.
FactA 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 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 AgentAlso Commission Merchant. One who acts or transacts business for another; Scottish steward or bailiff of an estate
FacundEloquent; 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. Warner in ALBION'S ENGLAND (1606) knew how often eloquence displays but facundious fooles.
FadgeA 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. Fuller in THE HISTORY OF THE WORTHIES OF ENGLAND (1661) : The study of the law did not fadge well with him; Milton, in the Preface (1643) to his treatise on DIVORCE: They shall . . . be made, spight of antipathy, to fadge together; Wycherley in THE COUNTRY WIFE (1675) : Well, sir, how fadges the new design?
FagioliBeans; kidney beans. From the Italian. 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.
FagotStill 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!
FainGlad, 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; 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 Scott) : Fair promys maketh fools fain.
FalbalaA 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.
FarrierA blacksmith, one who shoes horses.
FavonianFavorable, propitious, gentle. Latin Favonius, the west wind. From 1650. Keats (1821) : Softly tell her not to fear Such calm favonian burial.
FeakA dangling curl of hair. Marston, 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 feague, q.v. 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.
FegsA 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: Jonson (1598, EVERY MAN IN HIS HUMOUR) : By my fackins! (1610, THE ALCHEMIST) : How! Swear by your fac? Heywood (1600, EDWARD I, PART ONE) : No, by my feckins! Middleton: By my facks, sir! Vanbrugh: 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 MongerOne who removes hair or wool from hides in preparation for leather making.
FerialThis 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) 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!
FescueA 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) ; Milton in ANIMADVERSIONS . . . SMECTYMNUS (1641) speaks of a child fescu'd to a formal injunction of his rote-lesson.

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