A growing assortment of words and definitions used in the Early Modern era. See the Guide for more information.
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Milking of cows. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (BIOGRAPHIA LITERARIA, 1817) looked for a good servant, scientific in vaccimulgence. Latin vacca, cow; whence also vaccarage, vaccary (from the 15th century), a pasturage for cows; a dairy farm. For vaccicide, see Stillicide. Vaccine, of course, was first associated with the cow: variolae vaccinae, cow pox, drawn from the hands of a milkmaid by Dr. Edward Jenner in 1796.


Emptiness. A form in 18th century dictionaries; a variant for vacuity. Vacuation was also used (16th and 17th centuries) in this sense; but also as short for evacuation. Also vacive, vacuous. Vacuefy meant to create a vacuum, to make empty.


(1) A variant of ford (wade?) , a shallow place in a river. (2) An early form of fade, quite frequent from 1500 to 1650. Shakespeare, in RICHARD II (1593) declares: One flourishing branch of his most royall roote . . . Is hackt downe, and his summer leafes all vaded. Latin vadere, to go, whence also invade, evade, and also (3) vade, to go away, depart. Braithwait in BARNABEES JOURNAL (1638) warns: Beauty feedeth, beauty fadeth; Beauty lost, her lover vadeth. Hence also, vading, transitory, fleeting, passing away. Vadosity, the state of being fordable (17th century).


Literally (Latin) go with me: a companion; a handbook; a guide, See Vadosity. Often Vade Mecum was used as or in a book's title. The Odéon Theatre in 1797 planned a literary journal, said the MONTHLY MAGAZINE, to be a valuable vade-mecum for such persons as are not in the habit of deciding on the merits of theatrical performances. Each member of the audience was thus supplied with a pocket critic.


The condition of being vadable, vadeable, fordable. Latin vadosum; vadum, a ford. A vade, q.v., was (16th century) a shallow stretch of a river, across which one might wade. Old English wadan, wade, like Latin vadere, first meant to go, to walk, then to walk through water. From the Latin came vademecum (literally, go with me) used from the 17th century for a guide or handy reference book. Henry Fielding in THE GRUB STREET OPERA (1731) recommended the husband's vade-mecum . . . very necessary for all married men to have in their houses. And Byron in DON JUAN (1818) called Aristotle's rules The vade mecum of the true sublime Which makes so many poets, and some fools.


Craftiness. Listed in Bailey (1751), but not in O.E.D. -- which does list vafrous, sly, crafty. Latin vafrum, cunning, crafty. Hall in his CHRONICLES (1548, HENRY VII) speaks of the Englishmen, accordyng to their olde vaffrous varletie.


(1) To lower, in sign of submission or respect (one's eyes; a banner, a lance), or to take off (a hat, or other headdress). Also vayle, vaill, veil. Hence, to acknowledge surrender or defeat; to yield. Thus Kyd in his translation (1594) of CORNELIA has: valing your christall eyes to your faire bosoms. Coryat in his CRUDITIES (1611) gives instance of figurative use: She will very near benumme and captivate thy senses, and make reason vale bonnet to affection. (2) To have power, to prevail; to be of use. Via Old French from Latin valoir, to be of value. Cp. vailable.


A fur, very popular in the 13th and 14th centuries, used for trimming or lining garments, also for slippers. It was then the fur of a squirrel with gray back and white belly. Old French vair; Latin varius, parti-colored. The fur was later replaced by miniver and ermine; the word vair (though retained in heraldry, and revived in the 19th century by Scott, Swinburne, and more) dropped from the common speech. The same lapse occurred in French; hence, in the Cinderella story, the fairy slippers of Cinderella, made of vair, made sense to the people listening as verre, and became, in English translation, not fur but glass slippers.


Short for avalanche. The a was dropped in French, when folk usage turned I'avalanche into la valanche; cp. napron. Smollett in his TRAVELS IN FRANCE AND ITALY (1766) observed: Scarce a year passes in which some mules and their drivers do not perish by the valanches.


Here is a word that, especially in surviving forms, shifted until it came to mean its own opposite. Its first use in English was as meaning good health; from Latin valetudo, valetudinem; valere, to be well. Rolland in THE COURT OF VENUS (1560) declared: There was worship with welth and valitude. Then it came to mean, in general, the state of health; Henry Cockeram in 1623 defines it: valetude, health or sicknesse. Then it moved on, to mean ill health; Tomlinson in his translation (1657) of Renodaeus' MEDICINAL DISPENSATORY reported the valitude of many, and the death of more. Hence valetudinous, valetudinarious, valetudinary, invalid, weakly; valetudinarian (still current); a valetudinary (17th century) was an infirmary, a hospital. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, in THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL, 1777, observes that there are valetudinarians in reputation as well as constitution.


Flogging. Latin vapulare, to be flogged, to receive a lashing -- also, a tongue-lashing. Hence vapulate, to beat; to be flogged; there are blunders, said Samuel Parr in a letter of 1783, for which a boy ought to vapulate. Also vapulary, vapulatory, relating to flogging. E. Ward in THE LONDON SPY (1706) said: Like an offender at a whipping-post . . . the more importunate he seems for their favorable usage, the severer vapulation they are to exercise upon him. In the school and the Navy, as well as the vocabulary, vapulation has grown obsolete.


A 17th century variant of vase. Evelyn in a CHARACTER of 1651, stated: One of their spurs engaged in a carpet . . . drew all to the ground, break the glass and the vasas in pieces.


Emptiness, desolateness; later (17th century) vastness, immensity. Hence vastitude, laying waste; later, immensity. Also vastation, very common from 1600 to 1660, then supplanted by devastation. To vast (15th century) , to lay waste, to destroy; vastator, destroyer. In all these forms waste, to lay waste, was the earlier meaning. Latin vastus, empty, void; hence the void of space, the vast reaches, therefore immense. Frequently vast was used as a noun, meaning space; Shakespeare in THE TEMPEST (1610) and in PERICLES: Thou god of this great vast, rebuke these surges; John Milton, Blake, John Keats, Tennyson. Shakespeare also uses vastidity (MEASURE FOR MEASURE), immensity. A use of vast that shows the shift in meaning, or rather a combining of immensity and waste, is in Shakespeare's HAMLET: In the dead vast and middle of the night.


A shortened form of advance, in its various senses; frequent in the 16th century. Also vaunce-roof, vance-roof, a garret. Thomas Raymond, in his AUTOBIOGRAPHY (1658) claimed that the "fayned names of your fellow Cavaliers" he was accused of having (at his trial for treason) were only the names of such symples as I had caused to be gathered and hung up adrying in the vance-roof at my house. The term was used figuratively by Gurnall in THE CHRISTIAN IN COMPLEAT ARMOUR; OR, A TREATISE OF THE SAINTS WAR AGAINST THE DEVIL (1655): Canst thou hide any one sin in the vance-roof of thy heart?


Full of folly; senseless; mad. Latin vecordia, madness; ve, not, without + corda, a harp-string (hence, harmony); influenced by cor, cordem, heart. Not in O.E.D., which lists vecordy, vecord, madness. The 1788 translation of Emanuel Swedenborg's WISDOM OF THE ANGELS said: Hence too the terms concord, discord, vecord (malicious madness}, and other similar expressions. Caxton in the PROHEMYE to his POLYCRONICON (1482) stated: Historyes moeve and withdrawe emperours and kynges fro vycious tyrannye, fro vecordyous sleuthe [sloth], unto tryumphe and vyctorye in puyssaunt bataylles.


Rapid. Used in the 17th and 18th century; the noun velocity has survived, as also the velodrome, a speedpalace. Latin velox, velocis, swift. The velocipede lingers in memory, but the velociman, a speedy traveling-machine worked by the hands, scarcely survived the 19th century. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known in literature as Lewis Carroll) reported (in his LIFE by Collingwood; 1882): Went out with Charsley, and did four miles on one of his velocimans, very pleasantly. In 1819 there was advertised a velocimanipede, worked by hands and feet. The extremities, at least, were velocious. C. Nesse in A COMPLEAT AND COMPENDIOUS CHURCH HISTORY (1680) said: Satan was seen to fall like lightning from heaven, to wit, viewably, violently, and velociously.


The Roman goddess of love, especially sensual love; Greek Aphrodite. Hence, desire for sexual delights; see venery. Also beauty, charm; a beautiful woman; a quality that excites desire, a charm or grace; Middleton in YOUR FIVE GALLANTS (1608) pictures a pretie, fat eyde wench, with a venus in her cheeke. The second planet from the sun, between Mercury and Earth, Cp. Diana. The girdle (zone] of Venus made its possessor irresistible.


To strike so as to make sound; to strike so as to cause pain, to flagellate. Latin verberare, verberatum, to beat; verber, a lash, scourge; a whipping. Hence also, reverberate, which is current. Shirley in LOVE TRICKS (1625) cries out: You shall be verberated and reverberated, my exact piece of stolidity! T. H. Croker, in his translation (1755) of ORLANDO FURIOSO uses it for Italian tremolar, to vibrate: A fragrant breeze . . . Made the air trem'lous verberate around. Her mother, said the PALL MALL GAZETTE of 1 August, 1866, was a strict disciplinarian of the verberative school.


See Stillicide. Holmes in THE AUTOCRAT AT THE BREAKFAST TABLE (1858) applied the term verbicide to punning, of which he was often guilty.


To keep on talking. Latin verbi-, word + gerere, to act, carry on. Hence, verbigeration. Listed in 17th and 18th century dictionaries. The words are now used for a psychopathological repetition of a word or phrase.


A judicial officer of the King's forest, charged with its preservation and maintenance, also against trespassers and poachers. A medieval post, though later for certain forests, notably New, Epping, and Dean. An extended form of verder, with the same meaning; via Old French verd, vert, from Latin viridus, green. The Medieval Latin name of the officer was viridarius. In English, also verdour, viridary. From the veridarii of the Bishop's Forest of Mendip, the term verderer came to be applied to a petty constable of a town; hence, certain towns and cities were divided into constabulary districts, each called a verdery. There were four verderies, e.g., in Wells. The form viridary, in addition to a verderer, might mean a viridarium, a pleasure garden, such as was attached to a villa of ancient Rome. Evelyn in his DIARY for 10 November, 1700, noted: We went to see Prince Ludovisio's villa where was formerly the viridarium of the poet Sallust.


Modest, shy. Latin verecundus; vereri, to reverence, stand in awe. Also, verecundious, verecundous. Hence, verecundity, verecundness. Used in the 17th and 18th centuries. Henry Wotton (RELIQUIAE WOTTONIANAE, 1639) said: Your brow proclameth much fidelity, a certain verecundious generosity graceth your eyes.


This word had a wide range of meanings, extending from the primal sense (Latin virga) , a rod. Among these are: the organ of virility; a chariot-pole; a whip; a watch (short for a verge-watch, one with a rod-like spindle for the balance, used in the 18th century). But especially, the verge was a rod or wand carried (by the Sergeant of the Verge) as a sign of authority; also a rod held by a man swearing fealty to a lord, or becoming a lord's tenant. From these political uses, a whole new series of meanings arose. Within the verge meant within the authority of; the verge of the Lord High Steward (16th and 17th centuries) extended for twelve miles around the King's court. Queen Elizabeth I was within twelve miles of Deptford when Christopher Marlowe was killed there, 30 May, 1593; the fight thus occurred within the verge, hence it was a royal inquiry that exonerated Ingram Frizer, on grounds of self-defence. In the 18th century, within the verge usually meant the precincts of Whitehall as a place of sanctuary. Hence, verge came to mean: the bounds, limits, or precincts of a place; the rim, or edge; margin, brink, border; hence also the space within a boundary, room, scope: John Dryden in DON SEBASTIAN (1690) says: Let fortune empty her whole quiver on me, I have a soul that like an ample shield Can take in all, and verge enough for more. Shakespeare uses the word in several senses, also as a rim or circle, in RICHARD III (1594): The inclusive verge Of golden metal,, that must round my brow. The word survives in the expression on the verge of, as in They were on the verge of coming to blows.


Truth-speaking. Also vertloquous. Latin veri-, truth (whence verity} + loquentem, speaking, loqui, to speak. Hence, veriloquy (accent in all of these, on the second syllable). Used in the 17th century, but rare -- as it still seems to be. Also veridic, veridical, veridicous. The nouns veridicality, veridicalness, veridity were used in the 18th century; verity, used from the 14th, dropped largely out of use in the 18th, but in the 19th century verily superseded the other forms.


The juice of unripe grapes, crab-apples and the like, used as a condiment or medicine. Old French vert, green + jus, juice. Also veryose, vergus, vergws, vergious, werges, varges, vergesse and more, because the liquor was very popular, from the 14th to the 18th century. Also used figuratively, as in Middleton's A GAME AT CHESS (1624): This fat bishop hath . . . so squelch'd and squeez'd me, I've no verjuice left in me. In THE HISTORIE OF THE TRYALL OF CHEVALRIE (1605) we read: And that sowre crab do but leere at thee I shall squeeze him to vargis. Often the word was used with the sense of sour, bitter: verjuice countenance, wit. Lowell in THE FABLE FOR CRITICS (1848) says: His sermons with satire are plenteously verjuiced. Thus Edward Guilpin, in SKIALETHEIA (1598): Oh how the varges from his black pen wrung Would sauce the idiom of the English tongue!


A bright red. Also vermil, vermeon, vermion. Early and still poetic forms of vermilion, vermillion. From Latin vermiculus, a little worm, a major source of the coloring in early times. The word was used figuratively to mean a blush; blood; also, the dye or coloring to produce ruby lips and rosy cheeks. Moore in his renderings (1800) of Anacreon, speaks of many vermil, honeyed kisses. Barclay had earlier (THE SHIP OF FOOLS, 1509) advised: Take not cold water instead of vermayll wine.


Being eaten by, or infested with, worms; changing into little worms. Latin vermiculus, diminutive of vermis, verminis, worm, whence vermin and the vermiform appendix. Hence vermiculate, to become worm-eaten; vermiculated may mean worm-eaten, or so marked as to seem nibbled or crawled over by worms. Also vermified, infested with worms. John Donne, in one of his LAST SERMONS (1630) , fitly spoke of putrefaction and vermiculation and incineration and dispersion in . . . the grave.


A believer that generation is caused by vermicules, or tiny worms. Latin vermiculus, diminutive of vermis, vermin-, worm. In the 18th century the Italian scientist Spallanzani spoke of the three principal systems respecting the generation of animals, the system of the ovarists, that of the vermiculists, and that founded upon the two liquors.


(1) The kerchief said to have belonged to St. Veronica, with which the face of Christ was wiped on his way to Calvary; His features became marked upon it. This cloth is still venerated as a relic; it is preserved at St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome. (2) Any similar cloth or vessel or ornament thus marked, used for devotion; especially, a token worn by pilgrims. Via Old French from the name Veronica. Also vernycle; veronica, veronicle, veronique, verony. Chaucer in the Prologue to THE CANTERBURY TALES (1386) describes the Pardoner: A vernycle hadde he sowed up on his cappe. Bishop Thomas Ken in his poem PSYCHE (1711) pleaded: My soul, Lord, thy veronique make, That I may thy resemblance take.


Glass; a vessel of glass. Chaucer in TROYLUS AND CRiSEYDE (1374) bids him that hath an head of verre Fro caste of stonys ware hym in the war. French verre, Latin vitrum, glass. Used into the 16th century. Cp. vair.


Relating to the Springtime, vernal. Associated with ver, q.v., but derived from Vertumnus, the Roman god of change, god of the seasons; vertere (vortere) , versum, to turn, whence also revert, convert, controvert, diversion, vice versa. Hence vertumnal, changeable, fickle; but more often in the transferred sense of vernal, as when T. Adams says in EIRENOPOLIS (1622): Her smiles are more reviving than the vertumnall sunneshine.


An early (16th and 17th century) form of investigate. Latin vestigare, vestigatum, to track; search; especially, to follow the trail of. Hence, vestigating, a footprint, as in Sir Thomas Herbert's A RELATION OF SOME YEARS TRAVAILE . . . INTO AFRIQUE AND THE GREATER ASIA (1634), wherein he states that the Cingalese claim that Adam was there created and lived there; they believe it rather in regard his vestigatings are yet imprinted in the earth. Hence also the still current vestige, a footprint, a remainder as a reminder.


Things that should not be done. Literally (Latin) , things that should be forbidden; Latin vetare, vetatum, to forbid. Hence also vetation, a forbidding (in 17th and 18th century dictionaries); vetitive, pertaining to the veto; having power to forbid. Veto means, literally, I forbid.


Frequently traveling. Via Italian viaggiare, to voyage, from Latin via, way. A viadant (17th century) was a wayfarer. Medwin in THE LIFE OF SHELLEY (1847) remarks upon the viaggiatory English old maids, who scorn the Continent. Hence also viator, traveler; viatorial, viatorian, viatorious, long-traveling; relating to travel. Also viatic, viaticum, a supply (money or provisions) for a journey; also, the Eucharist, administered to one about to set forth on the last journey. Used from the 16th century. T. Taylor in his translation (1822) of Apuleius said: When a few days had elapsed, I rapidly collected my viatica in bundles. The word is also used figuratively: the grace of God is our viaticum, or as in a letter of J. Jekyll (1775): Bunbury's etchings and Sterne's Journey are almost as good viaticums in France as the post book. The religious sense is exemplified in Kingsley's WESTWARD HO! (1855): No absolution, no viaticum, nor anything! I die like a dog!


The act of vibrating gently or slightly. A slight vibration is a vibratiuncle. The words were used in the 18th and 19th centuries, as in Thomas Reid's AN INQUIRY INTO THE HUMAN MIND (1764): Our sensations arise from vibrations and our ideas from vibratiuncles.


A tavern keeper, or one who provides an army, navy, or ship with food.


Things that ought to be seen. The gerundive plural of videre, to see. The same form appears in agenda, things that ought to be done. Sterne in TRISTRAM SHANDY (1760) states: In my list, therefore, of videnda at Lyons this, tho' last, was not, as you see, least. From the same source came the rare (16th century) English vident, a prophet, a seer.


(1) To regard as of little value, to despise; hence, to treat slightingly. Latin vilis, worthless, vile + pendere, to weigh, estimate, consider. This sense was very common in the 16th and 17th centuries, revived by Scott in WAVERLEY (1814): a youth devoid of that petulant volatility which is impatient of, or vilipends, the conversation and advice of his seniors. (2) Confused with this, especially in the 19th century, to vilipend, to vilify, to speak of with contempt, to represent as bad or worthless. Thackeray in VANITY FAIR (1848) says: Menacing the youth with maledictions . . . and vilipending the poor innocent girl as the basest and most artful of vixens. Also vilipender; vilipenditory, abusive; vilipendious, contemptible; vilipendency, the expression of contempt; vilipension, the act of despising.


Pliable; made of pliable twigs or wickerwork. Latin viminem, osier, reed. Hence viminal, good for winding or binding (in 17th and 18th century dictionaries). Also viminious. Matthew Prior wrote, in ALMA (1717) As in a hive's vimineous dome, Ten thousand bees enjoy their home.


Wine-colored, a rosy red. In Pennant's BRITISH ZOOLOGY (1776) we read the description: the rump a fine cinereous: breast and belly, pale chestnut dashed with a vinaceous cast.


A popular musical instrument of the 16th and 17th centuries, with keys; like a spinet but without legs (hence virginal? or because favored by young ladies?). The spinet was triangular; the virginal, rectangular. Usually in the plural, the virginals, referring to one instrument; also a pair of virginals] there were also double virginals, the first in 1581. The triangle (tryangle) and the harpsicon were names for other varieties of the instrument, the harpsicon (also harpsical; an early harpsichord) being the largest. Samuel Pepys, ever gallant, on 16 March, 1663 (his DIARY tells) went home by coach, buying at the Temple the printed virginall-book for her. Pepys delighted in giving music lessons in his household; in the DIARY (19 June, 1666) he gives a teasing account of some delightful and perhaps virginal playing. The instrument was then as popular in England as the piano in pre-radio America; watching the loading of household effects into boats on the Thames during the great London fire (2 September, 1666) Pepys observed that hardly one boat in three that had the goods of a house in, but there was a pair of virginalls in it. The harpsichord, from its earliest days, was not only an instrument but a work of art, with paintings and jeweled inlay, a collector's item; Duke Alfonso II of Modena in 1598, for example, owed fifty-two harpsichords.


Possessing strength; (of a woman) physically fit for marriage. Latin vir, man, vires, strength + potentem, able. Hence, viripotence, viripotency, (accent on the rip) marriageability. Sir Edward Peyton in THE DIVINE CATASTROPHE OF THE KINGLY FAMILY OF THE HOUSE OF STUARTS (1652) noted that Mary Stuart, when she attained to viripotency, was sought for a consort to the Dauphin of France.


A liqueur: cherry brandy. Persian wishneh, cherry. An 18th century importation; Bailey in his HOUSEHOLD DICTIONARY (1736) gives a recipe: "Fill a large bottle or cask with morello cherries . . . and fill up the bottle or vessel with brandy . . ." Or you might buy Turkish visney in London around 1700 at 20 shillings the gallon.


A variant of visnomy (vysenamy, visenomy), early forms of physiognomy. The form (from the 16th and early 17th centuries) was revived by Scott in THE BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR (1818): The loon has woodie written on his very visnomy, and in KENILWORTH; Lamb and others continued its use.


A parting dish; wine with spices or tidbits, at bedtime or before guests leave. From French voidee, voider (whence also void, avoid): emptying, as by departure. Used from the 14th century (Chaucer, TROILUS AND CRISEYDE; 1374) to the 17th. Sometimes the voidee was quite elaborate; Holinshed in his CHRONICLES (1587) mentioned a voidee of spices with sixtie spice plates.


A large birdcage. The 17th and 18th century term for an aviary; also, the birds therein. Also volarie, vollary, volery; Latin volare, to fly. Also used figuratively, as in Ben Jonson's THE NEW INNE (1629): She now sits penitent and solitary, Like the forsaken turtle, in the volary Of the light heart, the cage she hath abused; and in UNDERWOODS: I thought thee then our Orpheus, that wouldst try, Like him, to make the air one volary.


A woman's headdress; especially, a kerchief wrapped about the head. [Kerchief comes from French couvre-chef, cover-head.] Voluper seems short for enveloper; Old French envelopeur, a kerchief. Chaucer in THE MILLER'S TALE (1386) says: The tapes of her white voluper Were of the same suyte of hir coler. Cranmer in the BIBLE (1539) translates one of the lines of THE SONG OF SONGS (BALLETTES OF SOLOMON): Thy chekes are lyke a pece of a pomgranate within thy volupers.


Relating to or resembling a whirlpool or an abyss or chasm. Also vorageous, voragious; vorage, vorago, a whirlpool, a chasm; Latin vorago; vorare, to devour, whence also voracious, voracity; vorant, devouring; vorax, ravenous. Cokaine in DIANEA (1654) told of a voraginous place, about the banks of which those men appeare that have perished by a violent death. Reeve in GOD'S PLEA FOR NINEVEH, OR LONDONS PRECEDENT FOR MERCY (1657) used the word to mean with the swallowing capacity of an abyss, grieving that we think to get our admission under God with voraginous paunches, and soaked gullets.



Vulcan's brow

A horned brow, the sign of the cuckold. The allusion is to the amours of Mars and Vulcan's wife, Venus. Rowlands, in his satire LOOKE TO IT: FOR ILE STABBE YE (1604), stabbed all sorts of sinners with his pen, among them the "huswife" always demanding money of her husband: You that will have it, get it how he can, Or he shall weare a Vulcans brow, poore man. Ile stabbe thee.


To wound. Latin vulnerare, vulneratum; vulnerem (volnerem), a wound. The adjective vulnerable survives, vulneral, vulnerary, helpful for wounds, vulnerative, likely to produce wounds; W. Taylor in THE MONTHLY REVIEW of 1818 wrote: With a sort of hedgehog hostility, which points its vulnerative quills in every direction alike. Vulnific, vulnifical, causing wounds, vulnerose, full of wounds, badly wounded, vulneration, the act of wounding; the state of being wounded. In the 16th century, vuln, to wound, surviving in heraldry: vulned, represented as pierced by a weapon; vulning, wounding, used of the pelican, always shown wounding her own breast.
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