A growing assortment of words and definitions used in the Early Modern era. See the Guide for more information.
LetterFind:   Selected:  



Energy; activity; capability. Shortened from audacity; Latin audax, audacem, spirited. William Sampson in THE VOW BREAKER (1636) declared: I have plaid a major in my time with as good dacity as ere a hobby-horse on 'em all.


Things, according to Nathan Bailey (1751) "which excite tears from their acrimony, as onions, horseradish, and the like." A number of English medical terms have been formed from Greek dacry, tear. Hence, dacryopoetic, producting or causing tears, like a 'tear-jerker' screen-play.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- using a suspended ring.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- using finger rings.


Rotted wood. Blount (1674), and Nathan Bailey after him, call it "the heart or body of a tree thoroughly rotten," and suggest the word is a corruption of dead oak. Its etymology is unknown.


Skilful, inventive. From Daedalus, the legendary inventor and architect, who built the Labyrinth for the Minotaur in Crete. When King Minos imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus (they first devised the Labyrinth, then showed Ariadne how Theseus could escape from it) , Daedalus fashioned wings on which they flew away. Despite his father's warning, the presumptuous Icarus flew too near the sun; his wings melted off, and he fell into what was thereafter known as the Icarian Sea. Daedalus landed safely in Sicily. The word daedal was also applied to the earth, as inventive of many forms; variously adorned, as in Edmund Spenser's THE FAERIE QUEENE (1596): Then doth the daedale earth throw -forth to thee Out of her fruitful lap abundant flowers. Hence also daedalian, skilful, ingenious. Both these forms are also occasionally used in the sense of labyrinthine, mazy -- as daedalian arguments; or as in John Keats' ENDYMION: By truth's own tongue, I have no daedal heart! Hence daedalize, to make intricate.


(1) A person deficient in sense or in courage; one who is daft. So Chaucer, in THE REEVE'S TALE (1396). Hence to daff, to play the fool; to make sport of. (2) to remove, to take off. A variant of doff, to do off. Thus William Shakespeare in THE LOVER'S COMPLAINT (1597) has There my white stole of chastity I daff'd. Hence, to thrust aside, as Shakespeare in HENRY IV, PART ONE (1596) speaks of Prince Hal that daft the world aside; or to put off, as in OTHELLO (1604) : Every day thou dafts me with some device, Iago. Daffing the world aside was a frequent phrase, after Shakespeare. Johnson, misunderstanding Shakespeare's usage, erroneously taking the past form for the present, put in his DICTIONARY (1755) a non-existent verb, to daft.


A poetic-- and to some extent still a popular -- form of daffodil, which itself is a variant of affodill, which is a corruption of asphodel, which is directly from Greek asphodelos. Strew me the ground with daffadowndillies, cried Edmund Spenser in THE SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR (1579); the inevitable rhyme appears in Henry Constable's poem DAIPHENIA (1592) : Diaphenia like the daffadowndilly, White as the sun, fair as the lily, Heigh ho, how I do love thee! Fair flower of spring.


A pendant; anything short and pointed, as the straight horn of a young stag. Diminutive of dagger, from French dague, dagger. Hence (1) the points of a cloak or dress slashed at the bottom as an ornament (Chaucer and the 15th century) . (2) The top of a shoelace (I5th to 18th century). (3) A lock of wool about the hinder parts of a sheep, dirty and draggling. (4) A hand-gun or heavy pistol (of the 16th to the 18th century). In the 16th and 17th century dag and dagger was a frequent phrase; Samuel Johnson (1751) hence mistakenly defined dag as dagger. For an instance of its use, see slop. Note, however, French dague, dagger; and to dag meant to stab (14th century) before it meant to shoot. There is also a word dag of Norse origin, used from the 17th century (and in dialects) to mean dew, or a gentle rain or mist.


As a noun. Estimation, honor; delight, joy. By extension, fastidiousness. Old French dainté, pleasure, titbit; Latin dignitatem, worthiness; dignus, worthy, whence also dignity, indignation. (Eliezer Edwards, in WORDS, FACTS, AND PHRASES, 1881, says that the first meaning of dainty was a venison pasty, from French daine, a deer. A pleasant thought, but oh dear!) In the sense of fastidiousness, Shakespeare has, in HENRY IV, PART TWO (1597) : The King is wearie Of daintie, and such picking grievances. As joy, William Dunbar in TWA MARYIT WEMEN (1508) : Adew, dolour, adew! my daynte now begynis. Also, to make dainty, to hold back, scruple, refuse. Shakespeare has, in ROMEO AND JULIET: ah ha, my mistresses! which of you all Will now deny to dance? She that makes dainty, she, Til swear, hath corns.


The Bellis perennis, "a familiar and favorite flower," says the O.E.D. Old English daeyes eage, day's eye; its white petals fold in at night, hiding its central sun until the dawning. In olden times, it was an emblem of fidelity; knights and ladies wore them at tourneys, and Ophelia gathered them, to be strewn on her grave. There is indeed beauty, as Edmund Spenser sees it in THE SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR (1579) in the grassye ground with daintye daysies dight.


Color-blindness; especially, inability to discriminate red and green. From John Dalton, English chemist (1766- 1844), who developed the atomic theory -- and was afflicted with color-blindness. The word was first used (1827) by Prof. Pierre Prevost of Geneva; it was objected to by the British, in that it associates a great name with a physical defect (as though the crippling from infantile paralysis were called Rooseveltism); the word is therefore seldom used in English, though daltonisme is the current French term. A daltonian is a person afflicted with color-blindness.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- using a laurel tree, or branch therefrom.


One who serves at table; a steward; a waiter. Latin dapem, feast (see dapatical) + ferre, to bear. A 17th and 18th century word.


Mean-spirited; of little worth. A 17th century term (accented on the cadge) from Italian dapoco, of little (value).


A crustade, q.v. From the 14th century; but by 1650 the recipe had changed and a dariole was a cream tart. In that sense Walter Scott revived the word in QUENTIN DURWARD (1823): Ordering confections, darioles, and any other light dainties he could think of.


An umpire, a mediator. Day, as a verb, meant (1) to dawn; in this sense, also daw. (2) to appoint or set a day; hence, to appoint a time for decision, for arbitration. Thus also dayment, daying (15th to 17th century), arbitration. Lupton in 1580 uttered a sound lament: to spende all . . , that money and put it to dayment at last. Hervey in his MEDITATIONS (1747) wrote that Death, like some able daysman, has laid his hand on the contending parties.


Concealed, latent. Latin de, away + latescere, inceptive of latere, to lie hid, whence latent. Used from the 17th century; also delitescence, delitescency. The Preface to an 1805 reprint of Richard Brathwait's DRUNKEN BARNABY speaks of republishing this facetious little book after a delitescency of near a hundred years. Sir William Hamilton in his LECTURES ON METHAPHYSICS (1837) declared: The immense proportion of our intellectual possessions consists of our delitescent cognitions.


Behavior; treatment (of others). Edmund Spenser in THE FAERIE QUEENE (1596) has: All the vile demeane and usage bad, With which he had those two so ill bestad. Cp. bestad. The early form of demeanor. Also a verb, to behave; manage; employ; deal with. The sense of demean, to lower, developed about the 18th century, probably by analogy with debase; the earlier and natural English form for this sense is bemean, which was superseded by demean.


A belt of gold or silver in front, silk or other material behind; a girdle with ornamental work only in front, Latin demi, half; Old French ceint, Latin cinctum, girdle; cingere, cinctum, to bind; cp. ceint. Also dymysen, dymison, demicent. Many 15th and 16th century records refer to such items as a dymysen with a red crosse harnossid with silver wrought with golds; my dymyson gyrdylle and my coralle beydes.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- with the help of demons.


Dark, sombre, solitary; hence, secret; hence sly, deceitful, evil. Chaucer in THE MILLER'S TALE (1386) has: Ye must been ful deerne as in this case. The word appears from BEOWULF (10th century) to Walter Scott who in WAVERLEY (1814) speaks of the dern path. Dern is also used as a noun, in the senses: a secret; secrecy; a place of concealment; darkness. The word was common in Old Teutonic; there is also a verb dern, to hide, to keep secret Other early forms are derned, darned, hidden; dernful, dreary; dernly, secretly; dernhede (1300) and dernship (darnscipe, in the ANCREN RIWLE, 1225), secrecy.


Folly; idle trifling. THE SPECTATOR of 17 September, 1887, spoke of the maturity of sweet desipience. Also desipiency. Latin de, from + sapere, to taste, to have taste, to be wise. Hence sapid; insipid, tasteless, sapience, wisdom. Thus desipient; used since the 17th century; Stevenson in THE TIMES (2 June, 1894) : in his character of disinterested spectator, gracefully desipient.


A table; early variant of dais. Edmund Spenser in THE FAERIE QUEENE (1596) pictures Shamefastnesse, who ne ever once did look up from her desse. Hence the verb desse, to pile in layers, used by farmers (17th-19th centuries) of stacking straw or hay. Hence dessably, well arranged.


Second marriage. Greek deutero-, second + gamos, marriage. Oliver Goldsmith1, in THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD (1766) uses both deuterogamy and deuterogamist. THE ECHO of 7 September, 1869, expressed the English law: We do not allow deuterogamy until the primal spouse is disposed of by death or divorce.


To lynch. As lynch law comes from a practitioner (or place of practice) , so to dewitt comes from a victim. Two victims: the brothers John and Cornelius De Witt, Dutch opponents of William III, Stadtholder of the United Provinces, were murdered by a mob in 1672. Their name was used, in connection with mob violence, into the 19th century, as by Thomas Babington Macaulay in his HISTORY OF ENGLAND (1855) .


A potion prepared from the thorn-apple, employed to produce stupefaction. Also deutery, doutry, dutra, deutroa, dutry; varied from datura; Sanskrit dhattura, the name of the plant (Datura Stramonium) . Its powers were thought similar to those of the nightshade. Samuel Butler in HUDIBRAS (1678) wrote: Make lechers and their punks, with dewtry, commit phantastical advowtry. Fryer (1698) pictures the Indian practice of widow-burning (suttee): They give her dutry; when half mad she throws herself into the fire, and they ready with great logs keep her in his funeral pile. On the other hand, said Ken in HYMNOTHEO (1700) : Indian dames, their consorts to abuse, Dewtry by stealth into their cups infuse.


A dairy woman, dairymaid. Cheese, said Trevisa in his translation (1398) of Bartholomeus' DE PROPRIETATIBUS RERUM, slydeth out bytwene the fyngres of the deyewife. Also deywoman. William Shakespeare (1828, THE FAIR MAID OF PERTH) renewed the use of this form, after CenErr6839's LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST (1588) : For this damsell I must keepe her at the parke, shee is alowd for the day-woman.


The goddess of the moon, patroness of virginity and of hunting. Latin Diana, corresponding to Greek Artemis; French Diane, whence also English Diane, Dian. Used in various ways. As an adjective, unsullied: snow of Dian purity. With reference to Diana of the Ephesians (BIBLE; ACTS 19) ; by making silver shrines for her Demetrius made "no small gain": a source of wealth; (1681) our woolen manufactures which is our Diana. In alchemy (from the color of the moon), silver: Sol, gold; Mercury, quicksilver; Venus, copper; Mars, iron; Jupiter, tin; Saturn, lead. Dian's bud, the wormwort (q.v.) was used as an antaphrodisiac, or a cure for love-blindness, to keep maids virgin.


An early form of jasper. Also diasprie. Not of marble, said R.D. in HYPNEROTOMACHIA (1592), but of rare and hard diasper of the East.


As a noun. Ten; especially as a unit of exchange: a parcel of ten hides or skins. Roundabout (Old English dicor) from Latin decuria, a company or parcel of ten; decem, ten. In trade with the American Indians, dicker became a verb, to deal in skins; hence, to bargain, haggle, barter, trade. By extension, a dicker, a lot, a large but vague number or amount, as in Philip Sidney's ARCADIA (1580) Behold, said Pas, a whole dicker of wit.


Double-bellied. Greek di-, two + gastr-, belly, whence also gastronome, one skilled in what goes into the belly. Gastronomy was first used as the title of a poem by Berchoux (French, Gastronomie, 1801) ; the ending was formed after astronomy. Digastric is used in anatomy, of certain muscles (as that of the lower jaw) that have twin swellings.


Crossing of swords, hand-to-hand fighting; more often, wrangling, verbal disputation. Latin di, dis, asunder + gladiari; gladius, sword, whence also the flower gladiola; gladiator. Also digladiator; to digladiate, to contend, dispute. Used since the 16th century. John Hales [2] in GOLDEN REMAINS (1656) spoke of mutual pasquils and satyrs against each others lives, wherein digladiating like Eschines and Demosthenes, they reciprocally lay open each others filthiness to the view and scorn of the world.


A tearing to pieces. Dilacerate (sometimes delacerate) is an emphatic form of lacerate, from Latin dis-, asunder and lacerare, to tear; lacer, mangled, torn. The riddles of the Sphinx, observed B. Montague in 1805, have two conditions annexed . . . dilaceration of those who do not solve them, and empire to those that do. See dilaniation; DictErr1169, #1


A ripping or cutting to pieces. Latin di-, apart + laniare, laniatum, to tear; lanius, butcher. Frequent, especially figuratively, in 16th and 17th century sermons. We read of the dilaniation of Bacchus, and Overbury in a letter to Cromwell (1535) exclaimed There be many perverse men, which do dilaniate the flock of Christ. See dilaceration.


A child born when the parents are old. So Nathan Bailey, in 1751. The O.E.D. suggests that it may be a corruption of darling (little dear), applied to the youngest child. In country dialects (dilling pig), the word is applied to the weakling of a litter.


A deep, shady dell, a dingle, q.v. Frequent in 16th and 17th century verse. Ben Jonson in THE SAD SHEPHERD (1637) says: Within a gloomy dimble she doth dwell, Downe in a pitt, ore-grown with brakes and briars. For another instance, see slade.


To divide into halves; to reduce to half. Latin di, dis, asunder + medium, middle; hence also dimidiation. Dimidiated, halved, but also dimidiate as an adjective; Charles Lamb in his POPULAR FALLACIES (ESSAYS OF ELIA; 1825) says that the author of TOM BROWN'S SCHOOL DAYS allows his hero a sort of dimidiate preeminence: -- Bully Dawson kicked by half the town, and half the town kicked by Bully Dawson.


A serpent whose bite was fabled to cause a raging thirst. From Wyclif (1382) through John Milton (PARADISE LOST, 1667: see ellops) and Shelley, who in PROMETHEUS UNBOUND (1821) Say: It thirsted As one bit by a dipsas. The plural is dipsades. From Greek dipsa, thirst, whence dipsomaniacs. Josuah Sylvester in his translation (1618) of Du Bartas says: Gold bewitches me, and frets accurst My greedy throat with more than dipsian thirst.


Pillaging; snatching away; dragging apart (as when a man is tied by the legs to two stallions whipped off in different directions Cp. diffugient) . From Latin di-, asunder + rapere, reptum whence also rape. Fairly common (as was the sacking of captured towns) 15th-18th century.


To efface the outlines of, erase, blot out; to become effaced, to vanish. William Shakespeare in ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA (1606) says: Sometimes we see a clowd that's dragonish, A vapour sometime like a beare or lyon, A towered citadel, a pendent rock . . . That which is now a horse, even with a thoght The racke dislimes and makes it indistinct As water is in water.


Stevedore, dock worker who loads and unloads cargo.


A trifling sum; a very litde. Originally (perhaps via Norwegian dveit, a piece cut off, dvita, to cut) a Dutch coin worth half an English farthing. William Shakespeare in THE TEMPEST (1610) says: They will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar; Mrs. Carlyle in a letter of 1849 exclaimed: As if anybody out of the family of Friends cared a doit about W. Penn!


This common form came into the language from three sources; it has had many meanings. (1) Old English dal, dael, whence also deal. The state of being divided; division. Hence, a portion (16th to 18th century, a portion of a common field) ; one's portion or lot in life: Happy man be his dole. From this meaning came the current uses of dole, a gift made in charity, food doled out. (2) Late Latin dolium, grief, whence French deuil; Latin dolere, to grieve, to suffer; dolor, grief, pain, anguish; also in English, dolor. Hence dolorific, doloriferous, causing pain, suffering grief. Grief, mental distress; mourning; lamentation. To make dole, to lament; dolent, mournful; clothes, weeds of dole, mourning garments. Also pain; also, that which rouses sorrow, a piteous thing. A dole tree (19th century, e.g., Stevenson, dule tree), a gallows, a hanging-tree. From this dole also came indolency, indolence, which first meant freedom from pain, insensibility or indifference to pain; thus, also, an indolent ulcer, one causing no pain. From this came the current meaning of indolent, lazy; Joseph Addison in verses of 1719 wrote: While lull'd by sound, and undisturbed by wit, Calm and serene you indolently sit. (3) Greek dolos, deceit. Guile, deceit; deliberate mischief; in Scotch law, dole means the malicious or evil intent that makes a misdeed a crime. Thus Chambers in his CYCLOPAEDIA (1753) stated: Under dole are comprehended the vices and errors of the will, which are immediately productive of the criminal act. Hence also dolose, intentionally deceitful; maliciously intended; dolosity, hidden malice; deceitfulness. Lord Cranford in THE MANCHESTER GUARDIAN (31 July, 1861) wrote: Without accusing his . . . learned friend of being dolose, he did accuse him of having misled their lordships. -- The word dole took many forms, among them dool, dule, deol, del, doylle, dol, doale, doel, dowle, duyl, duill, dulle. In hunting, said Turberville in his VENERIE (1576), the houndes must be rewarded with the bowels, the bloud and the feete . . . it is not called a reward but a dole. John Milton used the word figuratively in his APOLOGY FOR SMECTYMNUS (1642) : Who made you the busy almoner to deal about this dole of laughter and reprehension? A dole-window was a window from which doles were distributed, as to a breadline.


One that dotes, a simpleton. A variant of dotard; see doddard. William Shakespeare has, in CORIOLANUS (1607) : Such a decay'd dotant as you seem to be.


One who finds water using a rod or witching stick.


(1) Mistress; wench. From the 14th century (first as slang: the mistress of a beggar or a vagabond) , prostitute; then wench; later, sweetheart. William Shakespeare has a refrain in THE WINTER'S TALE (1611) : With hey, the doxy over the dale. (2) Opinion, especially in regard to religion. Since the 18th century. Warburton, followed by John Quincy Adams (1778) and countless others, remarked: Orthodoxy is my doxy; heterodoxy is the other man's. Greek doxa, opinion.


A medicinal drink, frequently prescribed in the 17th century. John Taylor, The Water Poet, (WORKS; 1630) spoke of dragon-water in most high request.


A dealer in dry goods.


One who drives a long strong cart without fixed sides for carrying heavy loads.


A surgeon's assistant in a hospital.


Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --using dripping blood. Charles Reade in THE CLOISTER AND THE HEARTH (1861) has: I studied at Montpelier . . . There learned I dririmancy, scatomancy, pathology . . . The reference here is to diagnosis rather than divination. The form driry is a variant of dreary, which first (Old Saxon dror; Old Norse dreyri, gore) meant gory, bloody; then horrid, dire, cruel then sad, melancholy, and finally the current dismal, gloomy, BEOWULF shows the first meaning, as does Edmund Spenser in THE FAERIE QUEENE (1590) : With their drery wounds.


Honey-dew; manna. Greek drosos, dew; meli, honey. Four syllables, accent on the second. A pleasant word, in Nathan Bailey (1751), although the O.E.D. ignores it.


One who drives cattle, sheep, etc. to market; a dealer in cattle.


An inert or sluggish fellow, a 'drone/ Also in the names of insects, drumble-, drummel-, dumble-: a drumble-bee, a humble-bee, bumble-bee; drumble-dore, a clumsy insect; hence, a heavy, sluggish, stupid person. Hence, to drumble, to drone, mumble; to move sluggishly. In this sense, used by Shakespeare (MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR; 1598) ; revived by Walter Scott (THE FORTUNES OF NIGEL; 1822) : Why, how she drumbles -- I warrant she stops to take a sip on the road. There are two other verbs, to drumble: (1) to sound like a drum (the drumbling tabor; 17th century). (2) to trouble, disturb; to make drumly or turbid. Drumly, cloudy (of the sky), turbid (of water) was used from the 16th into the 18th century. And from Dutch drommeler, a boat, a heavy-set man, English in the 16th and 17th centuries used drumbler, drumler, for a small but fast boat, especially used as a privateer or by pirates.


(1) A kind of wood used for handles, as of knives; probably boxwood. Hence, a hilt made of this wood; William Shakespeare has in MACBETH (1605) I see ... on thy blade and dudgeon, gouts of blood. Hence, from dudgeon-dagger, shortened to dudgeon, a dagger. (2) Perhaps the same word, from "looking daggers" (?), came to mean resentment, anger. Walter Scott in THE ANTIQUARY (1816) says They often parted in deep dudgeon -- but usually the preceding adjective is high -- no one has ever been seen in low dudgeon. See couth; clapperdudgeon.




In 1711, Joseph Addison wrote in The Spectator that "I exercise myself an Hour every Morning upon a dumb Bell." The word comes from the heavy weights hung on the end of bell ropes to help ringers pull them. The association of this word with a "stupid person" did not appear until the 1920s.


(1) An early form of endure, used from the 13th through the 17th century. The form during, now used as a preposition, was originally a participle of dure. French durer, to last; Latin durare, to harden, be hardened, last; durus, hard. Hence also, as an adjective (2) hard. Related to dour. Even in the 19th century, Edward Bulwer-Lytton (in HAROLD; 1848) wrote: In reply to so dure a request. Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Nashe in DIDO (1594) had: I may not dure this female drudgery.


An undersized creature; a dwarf. Also durgan. Henry Fielding in THE TRAGEDY OF TRAGEDIES; OR TOM THUMB (1730) has a character cry: And can my princess such a durgen wed!
Colonial Sense is an advocate for global consumer privacy rights, protection and security.
All material on this website © copyright 2009-22 by Colonial Sense, except where otherwise indicated.