A growing assortment of words and definitions used in the Early Modern era. See the Guide for more information.
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(1) A wizard. Hebrew obh, a necromancer. (2) Short for obolus, a Roman coin; used in English of a halfpenny. Thus in William Shakespeare's HENRY IV, PART ONE (1596) Pointz reads a list: Item, sack, two gallons . . . 5 s. 8d.; Item, anchovies and sack after supper ...2s. 6d.; Item, bread . . . ob. and Prince Hal cries: O monstrous! but one half-pennyworth of bread to this intolerable deal of sack! (3) In the phrase ob and sol, abbreviated in old books of divinity: objection and solution; therefore, subtle disputation. John Burton in THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY (1621) Speaks of a thousand idle questions, nice distinctions, subtleties, obs and sols. An ob-and-soller is a subtle disputant, as in Samuel Butler's HUDIBRAS (1678): To pass for deep and learned scholars Although but paltry ob-and- sollers. (4) ob. Abbreviation of obiit, died; used in lists to indicate the date of a person's death. (5) ob-. The Latin preposition, used in many words as a prefix; also in many English (17th and 18th century, some earlier) words, as an intensive, or with the meaning, in the opposite direction. Thus (Chaucer) obombrid, clouded over. Among words thus formed in English are obacerate, to stop one's mouth, 'shut one up'; obambulate, to walk about; obcaecation, blindness (mental or moral) ; obdulcorate, to sweeten thoroughly; obnubilate, to hide or cover as with a cloud, used also of mental obfuscation; obreptitious, containing a falsehood for the sake of obtaining something, obreption, seeking something by deceit, from ob + repere, to creep. The converse of this is subreption, seeking something by suppressing the truth. [Obscene is from ob + scaena, stage, scene: not to be put on the stage, indecent.] Also obserate, to lock up; obstipate, to block or stop up, to stuff, to produce constipation (mental, moral, or physical) ; obstreperate, to make a loud noise -- Sterne in TRISTRAM SHANDY (1765) has: Thump -- thump -- obstreperated the abbess . . . with the end of her goldheaded cane against the bottom of the calash. Other forms of this word survive, e.g., obstreperous. Obstupefaction is an emphatic form of stupefaction. Obtemper, obtemperate (since the 15th century), to obey, comply. Obumber, to overshadow, obscure (Chaucer's obombrid) ; but obumbilate is probably a scribe's error for obnubilate; obumbrate, to overshadow; obvelate, to veil over, to conceal, also obvele. Obvolve, to wrap around, muffle up, disguise. (6) In the German phrase als ob, as if: the philosophic and aesthetic doctrine of Hans Vaihinger, formulated in 1878, the idea that things should be accepted 'as if' they were so.


A light-house; light-bearer. Greek obeliskos, a small spit (whence also obelisk) + lychnion, lamp-stand. Accent on the penult, like. Peter Anthony Motteux in his translation (1694) of Francois Rabelais says: We were conducted . . . by those obeliscolychnys, military guards of the port, with high-crown'd hats.


The act or fact of doing away with, or of so being done. Replaced by obliteration. G. Hickes in TWO TREATISES ON THE CHRISTIAN PRIESTHOOD (1711) spoke of a perfect obliterature of all injuries.


To announce that the omens are unfavorable (as might a Roman magistrate, thus preventing or voiding some public action) . Obnunciation, the announcing of bad news or ill omens; hence, the dissolving of the (Roman) assembly. To obnundate is defined, in 17th century dictionaries, to tell ill news.


To put under obligation. Latin ob, upon, over + stringere, strictum (whence also strict, constrict, etc.), to bind. Hence obstrictive, obstriction. John Milton in SAMSON AGONISTES (1671) tells that God hath full right to exempt Whomso it pleases Him by choice From national obstriction. The translation (1660) of Amyraldus' TREATISE CONCERNING RELIGION shows the background of a later Soviet practice: It was never lookt upon as unjust or strange, for those who are obstringed one to another by those bonds to partake in the punishment of their relatives.


To deafen; to dull the hearing or the wits. Used in the 17th century.


An imitation silver; hence, a base metal. Also used figuratively, as when Sir Francis Palgrave in 1857 spoke of the dawning spirit of conventional honour gilding the ockamy shield of chivalry. The word is a corruption of alchemy, by which it was sought to convert base metals into silver and gold.


Sloth. Via French from Latin ocium, otium, ease; whence also otiose; otious (17th century), leisurely, idle, at ease. Cp. otiation. In English, otium is occasionally used; Thackeray in PENDENNIS (1849) says: Mr. Morgan was enjoying his otium in a dignified manner, surveying the evening fog, and enjoying a cigar. Walter Scott (THE MONASTERY; 1820) and others have used the Latin phrase otium cum dignitate, dignified ease. The term otiosity usually puts more emphasis on the idleness, the state of being unemployed. This form was earlier ociositie; Caxton in POLYCRONICON (1482) spoke of alle thoos men whiche thurgh the infyrmyte of our mortal nature hath ledde the moost parte of theyr lyf in ocyosyte, rebukingly; but Thackeray in VANITY FAIR referred with but mild satire to a life of dignified otiosity such as became a person of his eminence.


To set eyes on. Latin oculus, eye. In the play EVERY WOMAN IN HER HUMOUR (1609) we hear of Diana bathing herself, being occulated by Acteon. Oculation also meant the same as inoculation, to put in little eyes or buds (like the 'eyes' of a potato).


(1) A euphemistic shortening of God, used in mild imprecations, especially in the 17th and early 18th centuries. William Congreve in LOVE FOR LOVE (1695) ejaculates: Odd! I have warm blood about me yet. Also used in many phrases, mainly as a possessive: od's bodikins, od's wounds (odsoons), odzooks (hooks') and many more fantastic. In some cases -- as in Shakespeare's THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (1598): od's me -- the od's may be short for God save. (2) od, a supposed force permeating all nature, especially manifest in magnets, heat, light, and mesmerism. Postulated by Baron Von Reichenbach (1788-1869) and widely discussed if not accepted in the 19th century, before electricity (as in atomic energy) moved the notion into more scientific channels. Hence odic, relating to the force called od; Reichenbach photographed odic lights. The form was used in compounds to indicate specific aspects of the universal force: biod, the pervasive force in animal life; chemod; heliod (of the sun), etc. Elizabeth Barrett Browning in AURORA LEIGH (1856) mentioned That od-force of German Reichenbach Which still from female finger-tips burns blue.


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


Also Oinomancy. Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- using wine.


A drink, wine mixed with honey. Favored of the ancient Greeks; oinos, wine + meli, honey. Used figuraatively, as by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (WINE OF CYPRESS; 1844) : Those memories . , . Make a better oenomel.


To increase by interest (of money); to lend at interest; to take interest. From the 12th to the 15th century, usually mentioned as an abomination or a crime. Also as a noun, usury. Old English wokor, increase, related to Latin augere, auctum, to grow, increase, whence also augment and auction. Also ocker, okyre, ocur, ockar, okker, and more. Hence okerer, usurer, one that takes interest for lending money. Lyndesay in 1552 links fornicatoris and ockararis; Skene in 1609 recorded: All the gudes and geir perteining to ane ockerer, quhither he deceis testat or untestat, perteins to the King.


Among the meanings at one time acquired by this common old word, from the notion of long practice and experience it came to mean experienced, skilled, as when Daniel Defoe said in COLONEL JACK (1722): The Germans were too old for us there. And from the notion of long continuance old came to mean abundant, plentiful, as in the quotation under Blowen, and when William Shakespeare has, in MACBETH (1606) : If a man were porter of hell-gate, he should have old turning the key. This sense also appears in THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, and-- News! old news! -- THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. In KING LEAR, in Edgar's song on the heath, old is used for wold, forest, wooded downs; open country.


A dish, originally Spanish and Portuguese, made with pieces of meat and fowl, bacon, pumpkin, cabbage, turnips and what more you will, stewed or boiled and highly spiced. Spanish olla, Portuguese olha (both pronounced olya) , Latin olla, pot. By extension, any dish of many ingredients; see hodgepot. Thence applied to any heterogeneous mixture; Benjamin Disraeli in TANCRED (1847) spoke of an olio of all ages and all countries. Especially, a mixture or collection of various artistic or literary pieces; a musical medley. The Duchess of Newcastle in 1655 wrote a book entitled: The Worlds Olio: Nature's Pictures drawn by Fancie's Pencil to the Life. THE SATURDAY REVIEW of 7 June, 1884, explained a new form: The second part of a minstrel show is the 'olio' -- and this is only a variety entertainment, of banjo-playing, clogdancing, and the like.


(1) A token of peace or good-will, a peace offering. This meaning is drawn from the BIBLE: GENESIS 8, when the dove returns to Noah on his ark, bearing an olive-branch, a sign that the Lord's wrath was slaked. (2) Usually in the plural; olive-branches, children. This is from the BIBLE, PSALM 128 (Myles Coverdale's version, 1535: Thy children like the olyve braunches rounde aboute thy table). CenErr7956 in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1796) reported: The rest of his letter is only about . . . his expectation of a young olive-branch.


A Shakespearean form, for omission. Used in AS YOU LIKE IT (1600 : Omittance is no quittance.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future and gaining mystical insight -- by steadily contemplating one's navel. Also, foretelling how many children a woman will have, by the number of knots in the umbilical cord of herfirst-born. Greek omphalos, navel.


Relating to dreams. Greek oneiros, a dream, has been used for a number of English words. Among these, we may note: oneirocrisy, oneirocriticism, oneirocritics, the art of interpreting dreams; hence, an oneirocritic, onirocritic, such as Joseph in the BIBLE; also oneirocrite, a judge or interpreter of dreams, oneiropompist, a sender of dreams; one that makes another dream (Greek pompos, sending). Also oneiroscopy, oneiromancy. Another term (15th century) for divination by dreams was sompnary, cp.


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


To burden. Also onerate. Latin onerare, oneratum, to load, burden; onus, oneris, a burden. Onus is a current English word. Also onerous; earlier forms of the adjective were onerable, onerarious, onerose. Hence, onerosity. An onerary (18th century) was a ship of burden; oneration (17th century) was the action of loading; especially, of loading the stomach with food. Hobbes in LEVIATHAN (1651) spoke of all onerations and exonerations of the body. In the sense of onus, burden, fault, developed also the still current exonerate, to unload, to clear of fault. Joye in his EXPOSITION (BOOK OF DANIELL; 1545) exclaimed: Behold with how few single pure and easye institucyons Christ ordened and not onered his churche.


A claw. French ongle; Latin ungula, hoof, claw, talon; diminutive of unguis, nail. Caxton in his printing (1484) of Aesop's FABLES said of the lion: within his ongles he took the rat. Used into the 17th century.


Ready to weep: readily weeping; with the eyes full of tears (as though watery from peeling onions). William Shakespeare in ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA (1606) says: Looke they weepe, And I an asse, am onyon-ey'd.


Also Onomatechny.Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- using the letters of one's name.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --using nails reflecting the sun.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --by the inspection of eggs.


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


A maker; a workman. (Accent on the pif.) Also opifex. Latin opus, work, and the forms fex, fic, from facere, to make, do. Thus opifice, the making of a work; the thing made, as an edifice (which has survived). The words were used mainly in the 17th century, though asf late as 1761 Laurence Sterne in TRISTRAM SHANDY said: So many playwrights and opificers of chitchat have ever since been working upon . . . my uncle Toby's pattern.


Rich; plentiful; sumptuous; splendid. Also opimous. Henry More in MYSTERY OF INIQUITY (1664) spoke rebukingly of those great and opime preferments and dignities which thy ambitious and worldly minde so longingly hankers after.


Marriage late in life. Greek opse, late + gamos, marriage. J. McCulloch, in THE HIGHLAND AND WESTERN ISLES OF SCOTLAND (1824) said: Nor is there any danger of Donald's being flogged for opsigamy by the Highland nymphs as the Spartans were of old.


As a noun. (1) A church officer or a civil judge who has authority by right of his position; an officer in charge of a convent; a staff of officers in regular service; a church officer whose function was to give the neckverse, q.v., or to prepare the condemned for death. From the 13th century. In the 17th century, a prompter in the theatre. In ordinary (of a ship) laid up for repairs. (2) A prescribed or customary procedure; a regular custom; a church manual. (3) A customary, regular fixed meal; hence, a fixed allowance of anything. By extension (16th century), a public meal regularly offered at a fixed price in a tavern, table d'hote; hence, the persons frequenting such a meal. By further extension, a tavern where such meals are provided; a diningroom. Thence, a gambling game played at a tavern. A very common word. Here, said a book of 1502, endeth the booke named the Ordynarye of Crysten Men . . . emprynted in Flete Strete by Wynken de Worde. For another instance of the word's use, see whetstone.

Ordinary Keeper

Innkeeper with fixed prices.


Characterized by appetite or desire. Used in the 18th and 19th centuries mainly in philosophical and medical works. Greek orektos, longed for; oregein, to stretch out, grasp for, desire. Symonds in THE RENAISSANCE IN ITALY (1881) Speaks of that blending of the reason with the orectic soul which we call will.


Adorned or covered with ore or metal. Owen Feltham in RESOLVES DIVINE, MORALL, AND POLITICAL (1623) cried out upon obscene scurrilities that the stage presents us with . . . or'd and spangled in their gaudiest tyre. Oredelf (ore + delve, dig) was the early term (to the I7th century) for the right a man might claim to the minerals dug in his ground.


A goldsmith (15th century; rare . More common in the 15th century, and revived in the 19th, was orfevrerie, the work of a goldsmith. Via French from popular Latin aurifabrum, a worker in gold. Orfrays, orfray, orphis, offreis, are variant forms of orphrey, which came ultimately from Latin aurum, gold + Phrygius, Phrygian. The original form had an s, but was taken for a plural, so that the forms without s came into use. Orfray meant gold embroidery; a richly embroidered stuff, especially an ornamental border on an ecclesiastical garment. Thynne in 1599 distinguishes between orefryes 'a weved clothe of golde' and 'goldsmythe woorke,' orfevrerie. Chaucer in THE ROMAUNT OF THE ROSE (1366) says Of fyn orfrays hadde she eke A chapelet so seemly on. A York Mystery of 1415 lists orfevers, goldbeters, monemakers.


A syrup, or a cooling drink made therefrom. In the 15th century it was made from barley (French orge, from Latin hordeum, barley) and was apparently not very tasty. As late as 1845 William Makepeace Thackeray (MISCELLANEOUS ESSAYS) speaks of pulling a queer face over a glass of orgeat (pronounced orjaw). Later, the syrup was made from almonds, or from orange-flower water, and presumably made orgyan a more succulent drink. Hannah More (but that was in BAS BLEU, 1786) exclaimed: Nor be the milk-white streams forgot Of thirst-assuaging, cool orgeat.


Proud; swelling, violent; splendid. Also orgillous, orgueilous, orguillous, orgullows. From orgueil, orguil, orgul, pride. Orgueil is direct from the French (12th century) , presumably from an Old High German form urguol, renowned. Orgueil has not been used since the 16th century, save as a fresh borrowing from the French. The 15th century also used orgulity, pride. Shakespeare used the adjective in TROILUS AND CRESSIDA (1606): From iles of Greece The princes orgillous, their high blood chaf'd Have to the port of Athens sent their shippes. The word then dropped from the language, until revived by Robert Southey (1808), Scott (1820), Edward Bulwer-Lytton (in HAROLD, 1848: This our orgulous Earl shall not have his triumph) and subsequent journalists.


A prayer. From Old French oreisun, orison (French oraison) ; Latin orationem, whence also oration. Common in English from the 12th to the 19th century. Shakespeare in HAMLET (1602) has the Prince say: Soft you now, the fair Ophelia? Nymph, in thy orizons Be all my sins remembered. Less pious is the Thomas Urquhart translation (1653) of Francois Rabelais: To the same place came his orison-mutterer.


A silken fabric popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. The name is from Ormuz, a port near the entrance to the Persian gulf, frequented especially by Portuguese traders. Also ormasi, armosie, armozeen. CenErr10961 in his VOYAGES (1599) speaks of armesine of Portugal. The term armozeen was applied particularly to a plain stout silk, usually black, used for clerical gowns, mourning scarfs, and the like. The Scotch used the form ormasi.


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


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --by the flight of birds.


A large Iute-like instrument, with from six to nine pairs of metal strings, played with a plectrum. Invented, the story goes, by John Rose of London about 1560, the orpharion was popular through the 17th century. Cp. cithern. Ben Jonson in THE POETASTER (1601) cries: Another Orpheus! an Arion riding on the back of a dolphin; and the name orpharion is a combination of Orpheus and Arion telescoping the two mythical musicians. Michael Drayton in his ECLOGUES (1593) said: Set the cornet with the flute, The orpharion to the lute.


A mechanism representing the motions of the planets about the sun. Invented about 1700 by George Graham, made by the instrument-maker J. Rowley, it was named (by Dean Swift) after a purchaser, Charles Boyle, Earl of Orrery. Edward Young in NIGHT THOUGHTS (1742) said of something belittling, it dwarfs the whole, and makes an universe an orrery. James Russell Lowell in his ITALIAN JOURNAL (1854) said; When that is once done, events will move with the quiet of an orrery. Sir John Herschel in his ASTRONOMY (18S3) said, speaking of the magnitudes and distances of the planets: As to getting correct notions on the subject by drawing circles on paper or, still worse, from those very childish toys called orreries, it is out of the question.


Usually in the plural, orts, scraps left over from a meal, or fodder left by cattle; refuse leavings; hence as a term of contempt, to make orts of, to treat shabbily. William Shakespeare uses the word in THE RAPE OF LUCRECE (1593), in TROILUS AND CRESSIDA; and in TIMON OF ATHENS: some slender ort of his remainder; George Eliot, in SILAS MARNER (1861): Their feasting caused a multiplication of orts, which were the heirloom of the poor. Used figuratively in the 17th century, as when would-be wags followed the nimble-tongued for the orts of wit that fell from their mouths.


A rectangle. Greek orthos, right, as in orthodoxy (doxos, opinion). Used in the 17th century.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --using things dug up. Greek oryktos, dug up.


To yawn from drowsiness. Latin oscitare, oscitatum, to gape; os, mouth + citare, to move, actuate. Hence oscitant, yawning, drowsy; oscitation, oscitance, oscitancy. These, however, developed the further sense of inattention, hence negligence. All the forms have been in use since the 17th century. THE NATION (New York, 15 February, 1900) said: That they all went astray owing to a coincidence of oscitancy is clearly beyond belief.


See exosculation. An osculary was something to be kissed; Hugh Latimer in his SERMON BEFORE THE CONVOCATION of 1537 spoke of manuaries for handlers of reliques . . . oscularies for kyssers. A representation of Christ or the Virgin Mary, to be kissed during Mass, was called an oscillatory; this form survives as an adjective, as when William Makepeace Thackeray in PENDENNIS (1849) said: The two ladies went through the oscillatory ceremony. Also osculable, capable of being kissed; worthy of kissing, lovely. osculant, kissing. osculum, a formal kiss; osculum pacis (Latin) , the kiss of peace. osculatrix, a female that kisses; also, the developable surface generated by the tangents of a non-plane curve; osculation is used in mathematics for kissing -- contact -- of a higher order, touching at three or more points.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --using bones


A good Shakespearean form, for which we have substituted elsewhere, some where else. Romeo says of himself: This is not Romeo; he's some otherwhere.


Taking one's ease. Latin otiari, otiatum; otium, leisure. Hence, otiant, at leisure, indolent, doing nothing. Cp. ocivity. Puttenham in THE ARTE OF ENGLISH POESIE (1589) spoke of those that manage to seeme idle when they be earnestly occupied . . . and do busily negotiat by coulor of otiation.


Past of owe, in all its senses. Thus Greville, in THE LIFE OF SIR PHILIP SIDNEY (1652) spoke of his understanding heart that knew what was due to itself, and what it ought to others... the respect inferiors ought to their superiors. A collection of CONCEITS in 1639 mentioned a gentleman who had ought him money a long time.


Originally a name of the blackbird or the thrush; applied to a person of dark hair or complexion. Also ouzel, woosel. "And how doth . . . your fairest daughter and mine, my god-daughter Ellen?" asks Shallow in William Shakespeare's HENRY IV, PART TWO (1597) and Silence replies: Alas, a black ouzel!


(1) To go beyond the bounds (literally) , or (figuratively) to be excessive; to put out of bounds, expel. (2) An old form of outrage, in its various uses. (5) From the 17th century, to flash out as a ray; to excel in radiance. Thus Edward Benlowes in THEOPHILA (1652) has: Thou outray'st all diamonds of the skies. Chaucer uses the word in the first sense, in his BOETHIUS (1374) : They ne sholden not owtrayen or forlyven from the vertues of hyr noble kynrede.


Excessive self-esteem or self-confidence; arrogance; presumptuousness. Via 12th century French outrecuider from Latin ultra, beyond + cogitare, to think. Walter Scott revived the word; in IVANHOE (1819) he has: It is full time . . . that the outrecuidance of these peasants should be restrained. See also surquedry.


To crow over, exult over; to triumph over, subdue. Edmund Spenser in THE FAERIE QUEENE (1590) wrote: Then gan the villein him to overcraw. William Shakespeare in HAMLET (1602) has: The potent poison quite overcrowes my spirit. Walter Scott, reviving the word, gives credit for its earlier use to Spenser.


(1) An opening, orifice, hole. From the 13th to the 18th century; both literal and figurative. (2) An open, exposed place. Edmund SpenserThomas Nashe in THE SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR (1579) has: The wasteful! hylls unto his threate is a playne overture. (3) The opening up of something; revelation, disclosure. Used by Shakespeare in THE WINTER'S TALE, and in KING LEAR (1605): It was he That made the overture of thy treasons to us. The still current sense of a beginning dates from the 16th century; in music, from the mid-17th. In the 16th and 17th centuries, some writers confused overture with overturn, overthrow; thus CenErr6779 in CHRIST'S TEARS (1593) : Consider, howe his threats were after verified in Jerusalems overture. In a troublesome passage in CORIOLANUS -- When steele grows soft as the parasites silke, Let him be made an overture for th' warres -- overture may mean overthrower: "When a soldier turns flatterer, he brings dishonor on war"; some editors improve matters little by changing the word to coverture, which would seem the opposite of an overture.


See ween. Samuel Richardson in PAMELA (1742) notes that Half the misunderstandings among married people are owing to . . . mere words, and little captious follies, to overweenings, or unguarded petulances. The word has survived mainly as an adjective, as in Shakespeare's TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA (1591): Go base intruder, overweening slave. John Aubrey (1697) said: No reason satisfies him but he overweenes, and cutts some sower faces that would turn the milke in a fair ladie's breast.


A drink or syrup of vinegar and honey, used from Saxon times into the 19th century, as a medicine. Greek oxys, sour + meli, honey. Elyot gives one formula in THE CASTEL OF HELTHE (1533): Oximell is, where to one part of vyneger is put double so moche of honye, foure tymes as moche of water.
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