A growing assortment of words and definitions used in the Early Modern era. See the Guide for more information.
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A tax. Used in the 15th and 16th centuries as gabel, gable; related to gavel, q.v. The word was then forgotten; revived as a foreign word (French gabelle), referring to Italy and France; especially, the tax on salt in France before the French Revolution. Charles Dickens, in A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1859) calls the farmer-general (tax collector) M. Gabelle.


A loose upper garment of coarse material, as worn by pilgrims, hence, by beggars; after William Shakespeare in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (1596) , applied to Jews. In THE TEMPEST Shakespeare has Trinculo, come upon Caliban in the storm, for protection creep under his gaberdine, whence the word is sometimes used to mean protection, as when Lord Bentinck in the CROKER PAPERS for 8 September, 1847, said: They have crawled into the House of Commons under the gabardine of the Whigs.


Originally, a companion, from the Old English gaed, fellowship + ling (diminutive personal suffix, as in darling, duckling). Then it was applied to a companion on a trip; hence, to a traveler, and finally to a vagabond. From the sense of wanderer, by back-formation came the verb to gad, whence also a gadabroad and the more frequent gadabout Gadling appears from BEOWULF (10th century) through the 17th century, as in a poem by Thomas Wyatt in Richard Tottel's MISCELLANY (1542) : The wandring gadling, in the summertide, That finds the Adder with his reckless foot.


An old man, a "grandfather." Sometimes used as a title or form of address, to a man below the rank of Master, as when Walter Scott in THE FAIR MAID OF PERTH (1828) says: You have marred my ramble. Gaffer Glover. Gaffer was probably a contraction of godfather, with the vowel changing to a because of association with grandfather. So, for the female, with gammer, q.v. Occasionally used humorously, as when Thomas Randolph in HEY FOR HONESTY (1651) says: This same gaffer Phoebus is a good mountebank and an excellent musician.


A variant form of gaping. The ending -and was frequent for -ing in early Northern and Scottish words. In a lyric of William Dunbar (1508) we are reminded that Deth followis lyfe with gaipand mowth.


An early form (in Chaucer; in Edmund Spenser's THE SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR, 1579) of galosh. Also golosh, galoge, galache, galoshoes, etc. The galage was a wooden shoe or sandal with leather thongs; later (17th century) , an overshoe. Spenser's gloss explains galage as 'a start-uppe or clownish shoe,' clownish meaning peasant's.

Galanty show

A shadow show; shadows of miniature figures are thrown on a wall or screen. Also gallantee, gallanty; accent usually on the ant. Performed in the early 19th century, by 1860 Mayhew declared (in LONDON LABOUR AND THE LONDON POOR): The galantee show don't answer, because magic lanterns are so cheap in the shops. It has, however, survived in children's play.


(1) A plant, the bog-myrtle, also called sweet gale, from the twigs of which gale-beer is made. Crabbe in THE BIRTH OF FLATTERY (1807) says: Gale from the bog shall yield Arabian balm. (2) The current sense of a very strong wind was long softened, in poetry and figurative discourse, to a gentle breeze. Joseph Addison, in THE SPECTATOR (No. 56, 1711) : He felt a gale of perfumes breathing upon him; Philip Massinger, in THE DUKE OF MILAN (1623): One gale of your sweet breath will easily Disperse these clouds; Marvell in a letter of 1669 hopes for some unexpected gaile of opportunity. (3) A periodical payment of rent, or the rent thus paid. Hanginggale, rent in arrears. Used from the 17th into the 19th century; perhaps a contraction of gavel, q.v. (4) Singing, a song; merriment. This sense is related to Old English galen, to sing; Italian (and thence English) gala -- but this sense died in the 14th century; KYNG ALYSAUNDER in the 13th century said: The nyghtyngale In woode, makith mery gale.


A mildly aromatic root of East India, used in medicines and in cookery. Nathan Bailey in 1736 listed as tasty condiments cardamums, cloves, cubebs, galangal, ginger, mace, and nutmegs. The word is via French and Arabic from Chinese Koliang- kiang, mild ginger from Ko (in Canton province) . Also applied to the English sedge. Especially, a dish seasoned with galingale, as in Beaumont and Fletcher's THE BLOODY BROTHER (1616) : Put in some of this [poison], the matter's ended; dredge you a dish of plovers, there's the art on't; or in a galingale, a little does it. Alfred pictured the land of the Lotus-Eaters (1833) : Border'd with palm and many a winding vale, And meadow, set with slender galingale.


As an adjective: valiant, sturdy; full of high spirits, lively, light-hearted; spruce, light-hearted in looks. Also gaillard, galyeard, gagliard, and more. Chaucer in THE COOK'S TALE (1386) says: Gaillard he was as goldfinch in the shawe. As a noun: (1) A man of spirit; a merry fellow, a man of fashion. (2) A lively dance, in triple time. William Shakespeare asks, in TWELFTH NIGHT (1601) : Why dost thou not goe to church in a galliard, and come home in a carranto? Cp. coranto; pavan. Hence galliardise, gaiety, revelry; a merry prank.


A kind of tight-buttocked wide hose or breeches worn in the 16th and 17th centuries; later, it became a term of ridicule for breeches wide at the knee. French garguesque, from Italian grechesco, Greek style (alia grechesca) . Usually plural; also gaskins; gallybreeches; gailyslops; gallygaskins, garragascoyne, galigascon, and more. Also, from its appearance, the flower the cowslip. Used figuratively in THE POETICAL REGISTER of 1794: While in rhyme's galligaskins I enclose The broad posteriors of thy brawny prose. Laurence Sterne says, in TRISTRAM SHANDY (1761): His whole thoughts . . . were taken up with a transaction which was going forwards . . . within the precincts of his own galligaskins.


(1) To yelp. Caxton's translation (1481) of THE HISTORYE OF REYNART THE FOXE stated: He mawede and galped so lowde that martynet sprang up. Old Saxon galpon, to boast; Dutch galpen, to bark, yelp; yelp is another form of this word. By association with gape, however, galp more frequently (14th to 17th century) meant to yawn, to gape; to vomit forth; also to gape after in desire, as in the AENEIS of Richard Stanihurst (1583), which pictures Charybdis with broad jaws greedelye galping. Chaucer in THE SQUIRE'S TALE (1386) has: With a galpyng mouth them alle he keste.


A keeper of the gaol, a jailer.


To do, to make; to cause, to make (someone) do (something) as What garres thee greete? (q.v..) in Edmund Spenser's THE SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR (1579; APRIL), A common word from the 13th century; later mainly Scotch and dialectal. Robert Burns in TAM O' SHANTER (1790) has: He screw'd the pipes and gart them skirl; Walter Scott in THE ANTIQUARY (1816) : Ye like to gar folk look like fools.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- by using (1) rumbles of the belly a sort of "fatiloquency," said Francois Rabelais (1533), long practiced in Ferrara (2) ventriloquism (3) a child looking into the "belly" of a glass bottle of water.


(1) (Verb) (a) to handle; especially, to fondle or mishandle a female. R. Fletcher, translating (1656) the EPIGRAMS of Martial, said: Each lad took his lass by the fist and . . . squeezed her and gaumed her. Also goam. (b) To smear with a sticky substance. Also gome. Hence gaumy, daubed, smeary; sticky, (c) To stare vacantly, to gawk, to look like a fool. All these were common, shading into dialect use, 17th into the 19th century. (2) (Noun) (a) heed, attention, notice; understanding. More commonly gome (13th to 16th century); but the other spelling lasted into the 19th century in compounds: gaumless, stupid, lacking sense; gaumlike, with an intelligent air; She were a poor, friendless wench, says Mrs. Gaskell in SYLVIA'S LOVERS (1863) , but honest and gaumlike. (b) Gome, also guma, gom, etc., a man. This was a common Teuton word, its root ghomon being related to Latin homo, hominis, man. It survived in poetic use into the 1 6th century, and was the original ending of bridegome, wedding man, later corrupted into bridegroom.


Barren, unproductive; by transference (scantily produced) rare, scarce, uncommon; hence rare, unusual, extraordinary. A common word (gesne, gayson, gesen, etc.), 10th into the 17th century. Cp. peason. Also used as a noun (16th century) : a rarity. Udall in his paraphrase of Erasmus (1548) spoke of precious stones that are gayson to be found. That charming song of 1584, Fain would I have a pretie thing To give unto my ladie, has a stanza: Some goe here and some go there, wheare gazes be not geason, And I goe gaping everywhere But still come out of season. A legended shield was described, in a verse to Bossewell's ARMORIE (1572) : The siege of Thebes, the fall of Troy, in beaten massie golde, dan Vulcan hath set out at large, full geazon to beholde.


A dimple in the cheek that comes with smiling. Greek gelasinos; gelan, to laugh. Sampson Lennard in his translation (1612) of Charron's WISDOME, spoke of the cheeks somewhat rising, and in the middle the pleasant gelasin. Also gelastic, risible, causing or related to laughter. Both, naturally, are pronounced with a soft g. Thomas Brown had a prescription: My friendly pill, he said (WORKS; 1704) causes all complexions to laugh or smile . . . which it effects by dilating and expanding the gelastic muscles, first of all discover'd by myself.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --by observing the manner of laughing.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --using the stars at birth; a form of astrology.


Noble; having the qualities expected of those of high birth, gentle, courteous, (of ladies) graceful. From Latin genitum, past participle of gignere, to beget. From meaning born, the Latin gentum came to mean born of Roman blood; then well-born; hence, noble in conduct. Villiers, in THE REHEARSAL (1672) speaks of a man so modest, so gent. Edmund Spenser, who uses the word 14 times in THE FAERIE QUEENE (1590) there says, for example, He loved, as was his lot, a lady gent. The form gent was supplanted by gentle, from French gentil, and by genteel, re-adopted from gentil in the late 16th century.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --by digging in the earth.


Full; closely akin. Said of children of brothers and sisters, as sister-german, first cousin; loosely used of other kinship, as in William Shakespeare's TIMON OF ATHENS (1607) : Wert thou a leopard, thou wert germane to the lion. Also germain, germeyn, germayne, germane, jarman, jermaine, and the like. Latin germanus, in the same sense; germen, germinem, sprig, sprout, bud; also used in English to mean germ; by Shakespeare first, in MACBETH, and in KING LEAR: And thou all-shaking thunder, Strike flat the thicke rotundity o' th' world, Crack natures moulds, all germaines spill at once That makes ingratefull man. Shakespeare uses german in HAMLET -- The phrase would be more germaine to the matter, If we could carry cannon by our sides -- in the sense of closely connected, pertinent, relevant; this sense has continued, usually with the spelling germane.


(1) A cat, especially a male cat. Gib is a pet name of Gilbert. To play fy gib, to look or speak threateningly (as though scolding -- Fie! -- a cat) . To play the gib (of a woman) , to be quarrelsome; hence gib was used as a term of reproach for an old woman; Michael Drayton in HEROIC EPISTLES (1598) piles it on: Beldam, gib, witch, nightmare, trot. Also your gibship, in scorn of a woman. A gib-cat, gibbed-cat, a gelded male cat. (2) The form gib also (Latin gibba) meant hump -- used from the 15th century; hence gibbous, protruberant; gibbose; gibbousness, gibbosity. (3) Also (16th century) gib, a hook; gibby or gibby-stick, gib-stick, gibbey, a stick with a hooked or curved handle; also a candy in that shape, like a peppermint cane. -- 'Sblood, says Falstaff in Shakespeare's HENRY IV, PART ONE (1597), I am as melancholy as a gib-cat. In HAMLET, the Prince, bitterly taunting his mother, alludes to the King in several ways: For who that's but a Queen, fair, sober, wise, Would from a paddock, from a bat, a gib, Such dear concernings hide?


The early form of giant, 10th into the 17th century. Via Latin gigantem, from Greek gigas, giganto-. This form of the Greek word survives in gigantic, which was preceded in English by gigantean and gigantal; thus Thomas Urquhart in his translation (1653) of Francois Rabelais says: This gigantal victory being ended, Pantagruel withdrew himself to the place of the flaggons.


A wanton woman; rarely, also, a dissolute man. William Shakespeare in HENRY IV, PART ONE says: Young Talbot was not born To be the pillage of a giglot wench. The influence of the word giggle developed the forms giglet, gigglet, and softened the meaning (18th and 19th centuries) to a laughing, romping girl. Cp. fizgig. Thus Shakespeare cries, in MEASURE FOR MEASURE (1603) : Away with those giglets, whereas in Chambers' JOURNAL OF POPULAR LITERATURE for 1885 we find the query: Why should female clerks in the postal service consist of pert giglets hardly out of their teens? Hence giggly means prone to giggle, but gigly (15th through 17th century) meant lascivious.


A narrow-minded, conventional member of the middle class. This was not a nobleman, said Thomas Carlyle (MISCELLANY, 1830), or gentleman, or gigman, but simply a man! Carlyle, who coined the word, explained it by quoting from a trial (of Thurtell) : "What do you mean by 'respectable?" "He always kept a gig." [This gig is not 'a romping girl,' but 'a light two-wheeled one-horse carriage.'] Hence, the gigmania of the times; gigmanism, the typical middle-class attitude; gigmanity, the group that manifests this attitude. Mrs. Grundy was a gigwoman.


A leg or haunch (of mutton or veal); a slice; a minced meat or sausage. Also, a leg-of-mutton sleeve. From the French; also gigget, jigotte, jigget. Michael Scott in THE CRUISE OF THE MIDGE (1834) said that a good practical sermon should be like a jigot o' mutton, short in the shank and pithy and nutritious. A 1676 recipe for roast gigget of mutton: Take your gigget with cloves and rosemary, lard it, roast it, baste it with butter, and save the gravy, and put thereto some claret wine, with a handful of capers; season it with ginger and sugar, when it is boiled well, dish up your gigget, and pour on your sauce.


A pouch or purse, usually hung from the girdle. Also gypcyere, gypsire, gipciere and the like. Chaucer, in the Prologue to THE CANTERBURY TALES (1386): A gipser al of silk Heeng at his girdel. James Planche's HISTORY OF BRITISH COSTUME (1834) lists A gypsire of purple velvet garnished with gold.


Jesus. A euphemism; also jysse, jis, gisse, gys. Used in mild exclamations, as in mad Ophelia's song in William Shakespeare's HAMLET (1602) : By gis and by Saint Charity, Alack, and fie for shame! Young men will do't, if they come to't; By cock, they are to blame. Note that By cock here is another euphemism, replacing By God -- with one of the bard's bawdy puns.


A musical instrument, like the guitar, strung with wire. Also ghittern, getron, gyterne, guthorne, guiterne; guiterre, whence guitar. Also cithern, q.v. Used from the 14th to the 17th century; revived (the word) by Walter Scott in OLD MORTALITY (1816). Hence, to gittern; a gitterner.


Of a pale green passing into greyish blue. Greek glaukos, sea-color. Percy Bysshe Shelley in PROMETHEUS UNBOUND (1820) has Panthea say Ere-while I slept Under the glaucous caverns of old Ocean. Also glaucy, mainly in poetry, as in Barnes' madrigal in PARTHENOPHIL (1593) : Sleep Phoebus still, in glaucy Thetis' lap.


Used in the 14th century as a noun, meaning chatter; then and into the 18th century as a verb, meaning to talk deceitfully, to flatter. Also glavir; cp. glother. To glaver on was to lavish blandishments on. Hence glavery, flattery. Ben Jonson in THE POETASTER (1601) says: Give him warning, admonition, to forsake his saucy glavering grace.


Window glassman


The soil; cultivated land; especially, land assigned to a clergyman as part of his benefice. A very common word, 14th to 18th century; thereafter mainly used poetically. Sometimes used to mean a clod, or a small lump (this was the Latin sense: gleba, glaeba, clod) ; also figuratively (1583) : Judas Iscariot, for a gleib of geir, betrayed his Master. Glebose, glebulent, glebous, abounding in clods; clod-like. Gleby soil, however, is rich, fertile soil.


A stiff starched collar, worn in Spain in the 17th century. Also golille, golilia, golila, golillio. Spanish golilla, diminutive of gola (Latin gula, whence gullet) , throat. A gullable (now gullible) person is one who will swallow anything, i.e., believe any tale. Cp. gull William Wycherley in THE GENTLEMAN DANCING-MASTER (1673) said: I had rather put on the English pillory than this Spanish golilia.


(I) A foolish person. See widgeon. (2) A hiss, as in the theatre -- not the more vulgar sound meant today by the expression give him the bird. Also, sibilation in general; Alfred in his MEMOIRS (1897) says that to write good blank verse requires a fine ear for vowel-sounds, and the kicking of the geese out of the boat. When an audience disliked a performance, the actors used to say (18th and early 19th centuries): The goose is in the house. (3) In special combinations: All his geese are swans, He always exaggerates; thus, to turn every (a) goose into a swan. Sound (all right) on the goose (in U.S. politics) , on the right side. The old woman is picking her geese, It is snowing. Also see Winchester goose. To shoe the goose, to spend one's time in unnecessary labor. Goose without gravy (in the British navy) : a flogging that does not draw blood. To say bo to a goose (boe, boh, booh), to speak; usually this expression is used in the negative; Blackmore put it coyly in CRADOCK NOWELL (1866): Bob could never say 'Bo' to a gosling of the feminine gender. (4) A game, also called fox and geese, played from the 16th to the 19th century; on a squared board with counters (17, in 1801) ; every fourth and fifth square pictured a goose, and doubled the move of a player landing thereon. Lord Tennyson in THE DESERTED VILLAGE (1770) refers to the royal game of goose; Oliver Goldsmith1 in DON JUAN (1823) made play with this idea: For good society is but a game, The royal game of goose, as I may say. (5) A tailor's smoothing-iron; the handle had the shape of a goose's neck. Shakespeare plays on this meeting when the porter in MACBETH (1606), opening the gate of hell, extends the invitation: Come in, taylor; here you may rost your goose.


A young man; a serving-man, lackey. Maria Edgeworth In IRISH BULLS (1802) remarks that even the cottiers and gossoons speak in trope and figure. Gossoon is a transformation of garsoon, from from French garçon, boy.


An earhtenware jug, big-lbellled, Hence gotchy, bloated, swollen. Also gotch-gutted, corpulent; gotch-bellied. Used in the 16th and 17th centuries.


Slender, lean. Latin gracilem, slender. Also gracill, gracilent (18th century), gracilious (17th century). gracilescent, growing slender; narrowing, gracility, slenderness, leanness. Not to be confused (as it sometimes is) with graceful, from Latin gratia, thanks, attractiveness; gratus, pleasing, whence also grateful Among poets and fictioneers of the 19th century, the sound of the word affected its sense; it was used as meaning gracefully slender; e.g., in HARPER'S MAGAZINE (April, 1888): Girls . . , beautiful with the beauty of ruddy bronze, gracile as the palmettoes that sway above them.


To make ready, to prepare; hence to equip, to array. In HOBIE NOBLE (in Child's BALLADS, 1775) we hear that Hobie has graithd his body weel. Chaucer uses graith in THE REEVE'S TALE (1386). The word is from Old Teutonic; the Old English form was geraede, the prefix ge + raidh, whence English ready. To graith in the grave was to bury. Graithing meant preparation, hence also furniture, attire; SYLVESTRA (1881) by Annie Ellis says The lass was . . . willing, but sadly in want of graithing. Graithness (not used since the 15th century) meant readiness.


Anger; grief. Also, in the plural, troubles (in the 12th century, devils). Also graim, greme. Grame also was an adjective, sorrowful; and a verb, as in the phrase It grames me. The word is related to grim. Thomas Wyatt in his poem THE LOVER'S APPEAL (1557) inquires And wilt thou leave me thus? Say nay! Say nay! for shame! To save thee from the blame Of all my grief and grame.


Thank you. Also as an exclamation of gratefulness, or surprise: Mercy on us! Old French grant merci, great thanks. No gramercy, no special merit; also What gramercy. . ?, what reason. . . ? In Greene's A NOTABLE DISCOVERY OF COOSENAGE (1591) the coney said to the verser (cp. pedlers French) : "Now gramercy, sir, for this tricke," saith the connie. "lie domineere with this amongst my neighbors." Gramercy Park, New York is from Dutch Krummersee, crooked (arm of the) sea, which, there bent into Manhattan Island.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --by using handwriting.


A rioter, bully, footpad. Latin grassator, from grassari, grassatus, to riot, to lie in wait, to attack. Hence grassation, assault; John Donne (1610) speaks of violent grassations. The verb grassate, to rage, and the adjective grassant, raging, were used mainly of disease, though North spoke in 1734 of thieves,malefactors, and cheats, everywhere grassant.


Foul-smelling, fetid. Latin gravis, heavy + olere, to smell. Hence also graveolence. The accent is on the second syllable, e. Used 17th into the 19th century; applied to rancid butter, bad eggs, hell; also figuratively as in Bulwer- Lytton's ENGLAND AND THE ENGLISH (1833) : He strives to buoy himself from the graveolent abyss of his infamy.


Also gremious. Relating to the lap or bosom; hence, protecting, intimate. (Latin gremium, lap, bosom, therefore shelter.) Hence also, dwelling within the "bosom" of an alma mater; gremials (16th into the 19th century) were resident, active members of a university or society. A 1669 harangue against prostitutes called for a repentance that will snatch you out of their gremial graves.


A color: white and red; pale purple or red. Literally (French gris-de-lin) flaxgrey. Used from the 17th century. Killigrew in THE PARSON'S WEDDING (1663) averred: And his love, Lord help us, fades like my gredaline petticoat.


A blockhead; a 'great noddle.' Also groutnoll, grouthead, growthed, and more. Used from the 16th century; Thomas Urquhart's translation (1653) of Francois Rabelais revels in the forms: Noddie meacocks, blockish grutnols, doddi-pol-jolt-heads.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --by spinning in a circle (divided into zones) until falling from dizziness, the prophecy dependent upon the zone in which one fell. It's simpler to play roulette.


A fetter, a shackle for the leg. Usually in the plural: gives, guives, guyves; the word was probably once pronounced with the g hard, as in give; now the g is soft, as in gem. A common word (and instrument) since the 13th century. The word was often used figuratively. William Shakespeare in THE LOVER'S COMPLAINT (1597) speaks of Playing patient sports in unconstrained gives; Benjamin Disraeli, in CONINGSBY (1844), of the gyves and trammels of office. Gyve was also used as a verb, to fetter; as by Shakespeare in OTHELLO: I will give thee in thine own courtship. CIRCUMCISION (15th century) declared: My wittis be so dull with rudenes, And in the cheynes of ignoraunce gyved.
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