A growing assortment of words and definitions used in the Early Modern era. See the Guide for more information.
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Teamster not for hire


Goods (said Bailey, 1751) that a thief drops or leaves behind him, when overcharged or close pursued, which belong to the King or the Lord of the Manor, unless the owner convict the thief within a year and a day; if so, he shall have his goods again. Also weif, wayve, wayff; earlier gwaif. Used from the 13th century in Anglo-Latin, in English since 1375, often in the phrase waif and straif (stray). Often used figuratively as by John Donne in DEVOTIONS (1624): What a wayve and stray is that man that hath not Thy marks upon him! -- thus revived by Walter Scott in PEVERIL OF THE PEAK (1823): You are here a waif on Cupid's manor, and I must seize on you in name of the deity. In the sense of a lost or homeless or neglected child, waif remains in use.


An early (and now poetic) form of wagon. Old English waen, waegen, related to way. A waner, wainman, a wagoner. Also wainful, wagon-load, and other combinations. Thus wainscot meant originally a fine imported oak, from wagon + schot, load (?) . A wainwright was a wagon builder.


A prostitute. Women in the 16th and 17th centuries wore a waistcoat, a camisole or bodice, under their gown. The waistcoateer managed without the gown. A rebuke in Beaumont and Fletcher's WIT WITHOUT MONEY (1616) runs: Doe you thinke you are here, sir, amongst your wastcoateers, your base wenches that scratch at such occasions? you're deluded.


As a noun: (1) a period of waiting; especially, in the theatre, intermission; also, an actor's time between appearances onstage. (2) A watchman, sentinel, spy; a body of guards. In particular, a watchman of the royal household that sounded the watch, on trumpet, fife, or other wind instrument. Hence, the waits, a group of wind instrumentalists maintained by a city. The word is related to Gothic wahtwo, English watch; Old French wait, guait, guet, watch, spy. Common since the 14th century. Henry Machyn in his DIARY (1553) said that the new Lord Mayor was attended by the craftes of London, toward Westminster, with trumpets blohyng and the whets playing. Hence, in general, wind instruments (hautboys, shawms, flutes). (3) By extension, a band of street singers and players of Christmas carols, in expectation of gifts. Thus the sound of the waits, says Washington Irving in THE SKETCH BOOK (1820), breaks upon the mid-watches of a winter night. John Greenleaf Whittier in THE PENNSYLVANIA PILGRIM (1872) tells how On frosty Christmas eves He closed his eyes and listened to the sweet Old wait-songs sounding down his native street.


As a noun, "a woman," said Nathan Bailey (1751), "outlawed for contemptuously refusing to appear when sued in law. She is so called as being forsaken [a waif, q.v.] of the law, and not an outlaw as a man is, because women not being sworn in leets to the King, nor in courts as men are, cannot be outlawed." The earliest (13th century) meaning of the verb waive was to punish by depriving of the protection of the law. Cp. Leet.


In addition to current uses (to mark the flesh with wales or weals, etc.) wale was a verb, to choose (also with out; to wale by, to select and put aside); a noun, the act of choosing, the chosen, choice, the best; and an adjective, chosen, choice, excellent -- from the 13th century. Common forms through the 16th century, they were renewed by Walter Scott (GUY MANNERING, 1815: The Bertrams were aye the wale o' the countryside!) and others in the 19th. Thus Thomas De Quincey in his NOTES ON LANDOR (1847) states: Our Arab friend, however, is no connoisseur in courts of law: small wale of courts in the desert. The verb form of wale was used by Robert Burns, Thomas Carlyle, Scott, and others. The adjectival use was not revived; it may be seen in THE DESTRUCTION OF TROY (1400): She went up from that worthy into a wale chamber.


To feel nausea; to twist about; to walk unsteadily; (of water, or blood) to seethe, to boil. While along one course the form wamble is related to Latin vomere, to vomit, the meanings may have come from different roots. In the first sense, the word was also used figuratively as when John Lyly in ENDYMION (1591) spoke of the rume of love that wambleth in his stomacke and Thomas Middleton in A GAME AT CHESS (1624) declares that his soul can digest a monster, without cruditie, A monster weightie as an elephant, And never wamble for it.


Despair. Used since the 13th century; often in a religious sense, despair of salvation; then, in love poems using religious imagery. Thus Thomas Wyatt (in Richard Tottel's MISCELLANY, 1542): Renewyng with my suit my pain, My wanhope with your stedfastnesse.


Used in the phrase in the (wild) waniand -- short for in the waniand [waning] moon, supposed to be an unlucky period: an exclamatory term or imprecation, like "with a plague." Used in the 14th and 15th centuries; about 1550, replaced by wanion (wannion, wenyon, wenian); later, with a (wild) wanion. Shakespeare in PERICLES (1607) has: Come away, or Ile fetch'th with a wanion. A (wild) wanion on, with a wanion to, May a curse light upon --. Walter Scott revived the phrases, as in WOODSTOCK (1826): He would have battered the presbyterian spirit out of him with a wanion.


A circuit made by some of a hunting party, to intercept and head back the game. Hence: an appointed station in hunting; an intercepting movement, an ambush; a crafty device or plot. A hunting servant used for intercepting the game was called a wanlasour, wandlessour. Used into the 16th century.


Misfortune, ill fate. Used in the 16th and 17th centuries. Mainly in Scotland; Gavin Douglas in the AENEIS (1513) wrote: I tuik comfort heirof, thinkand but baid That hard wanwerd suld follow fortun glaid.


A subdivision of an English shire; a meeting (later, a court) of such a district. Also wappentake, wapyntak, and many more. The word is from Old Norse vapnatak; vapn, weapon + tak, taking. In Old Norse it meant a brandishing of weapons as a vote at an assembly or gathering of warriors; in Iceland, the picking up of weapons at the end of an assembly. Hence, an assembly meetingplace or district. The shires of England that have wapentakes have large Danish elements in their history: Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Notts, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire; Nottinghamshire (1846) was divided into six wapentakes. Other shire-divisions are the hundreds.


Used by William Shakespeare in TIMON OF ATHENS (1607): This it is That makes the wappen'd widdow wed againe. The meaning can only be guessed; some have suggested the word is a corruption of wappered, worn-out, but that hardly fits the sense. Among the meanings of the word wap are to throw, to envelop; these may afford suggestions.


Originally, an oath-breaker, a traitor. From Old Saxon war, true (Pre- Teutonic root wero, Latin verus) + Old English leogan, to lie. It had many forms, including werlau, warlaw, warlag, warelocke, warlike, warlok, warluck, warloghe, warlo. From the 10th century (and in many uses in CURSOR MUNDI, 1300) warlock was used to mean the Devil. Hence, a devil, spirit of hell; damned soul in hell; a villain, a damnable soul; a monstrous creature -- giant, cannibal, serpent, real or mythical creature hostile to man. By extension, one in league with the devil, a sorcerer, wizard, magician. From Walter Scott's frequent use of warlock in this sense, the word grew again into currency. John Dryden used the word to mean a man invulnerable (by certain metals); he spelled it (in his AENEIS, 1697) as though the word came from war, fighting + luck, fortune, saying of Aeneas: It seems he was no warluck, as the Scots commonly call such men, who, they say, are ironfree, or lead-free. The word was very common from the 9th to the 16th century. Goliath is referred to in these lines from CURSOR MUNDI: Allas! quar sal we find a man that dar the fight, for mi sake, Again yon warlau undertake? Robert Burns used the word several times; in TAM O'SHANTER (1789) he has Warlocks and witches in a dance while auld Nick screwed the pipes and gart them skirl. Stevenson, though, would have disappointed the radio-TV give-away audience; in KIDNAPPED (1886) we read: I'm nae warlock, to find a fortune for you in the bottom of a parritch [porridge] bowl.


A tart or cake built into an elaborate decoration, carried around before a course at a dinner. Used in the 16th century; from to warn, to announce. When Archbishop William Warham was "inthroned" in 1505, the warner before the first course had eight towers, with flowers and battlements; atop each tower was a beadle in full costume. Often, although buttressed with wire and wood, and decorated with feathers, silk, and beads, the warner was eaten. A development of the same sort, wrought mainly of sugar, was the subtlety, from the meaning, an ingenious contrivance. It was often made in a form that alluded to the host's or the guest of honor's name or achievements. As early as 1390 (in THE FORM OF CURY) we read of curious potages and meetes, and sotiltees. They have varied in design from a nested pelican feeding her young to St. George slaying the dragon; their main modern counterpart is the wedding-cake.


A part of a road over which a shallow stream flows. Hence, a road deeper in the middle than at the sides. Also washum (Bailey, 1751). To make washway of (with), to make light of. John Donne in a sermon of 1631 declared: He that hath not been accustomed to a sin, but exercised in resisting it, will finde many tentations, but as a washway that he can trot through, and go forward religiously in his calling for all them.


An outrageous spendthrift. Used first by 17th century playwrights; Thomas Middleton, in A TRICK TO CATCH THE OLD ONE (1608): Hee's a rioter, a wastthrift, a brothellmaister. In 1868 H. Brandreth wrote a book entitled Wastethrifts and Workmen. Of the mode of producing them, and their relative value to the community.


Boatman who plies for hire.


A ford; a fordable stream. Old English waed, wado, the sea, waves; Latin vadum, the sea; a shallow place, a ford, from the root ba, va, to go. A North Riding record of 1610 stated: Forasmuch as Skipton bridge is likely to become ruinous by carriages of great burthen . . . a wath is there made passable.


An entertainment given by a master printer to his workmen, marking the beginning of work by candle-light; usually, "about Bartholomew-tide" (24 August). Later, it became an annual summer festivity of the printer's employees, with a dinner and a trip to the country. Nathan Bailey (1751) suggests that the word is from wayz, straw + goose, a stubble-goose, served at the feast. But there is no tradition that goose was served at these parties, and wase (q.v.), a wisp or bundle of straw, was never spelled wayz except by Bailey. In fact, before Bailey (and after him until people took his word for it), the form was waygoose. It is probably a folk change from an earlier, forgotten, word.


An animal newly weaned. Also wennell, weynelle, weanneL Used since the 15th century; by Edmund Spenser in THE SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR (1579) . It was supplanted by weanling, which Bailey, however, (1751) defines as an animal ready to be weaned. In the 16th century, and later in dialects, weanyer (wanyer, wayner, wenyer) and in the 19th century weaner were also used for weanling.


A weaver, an operator of looms. Used from earliest times; after the 14th century, usually a man. Doughty, however, in ARABIA DESERTA (1888) with reference not to England remarks: Good webster-wives weave in white borders made of their sheep's wool.


A variant though popular form of wit, to know; the past tense forms were wot, wist Cp. wit. Edmund Spenser uses wetelesse for meaningless: That with fond termes and weetlesse words to blere myne eyes doest thinke (THE SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR, 1579); later, it meant ignorant; weetingly, wittingly, knowingly. After about 1550, weet was for 150 years a poetic form, especially in such phrases as I give you to weet. In the 18th century, it was revived in imitation of Spenser, and given new forms: I weet, he weets; weeted -- used so, e.g., by Shelley, Patmore, Swinburne. William Shakespeare uses it but once, in ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA (1606): -- the world to weete We stand up peerlesse.


To wilt, wither, fade; to diminish, shrink; to wane. Also, to welken. Gower, in CONFESSIO AMANTIS (1390) has: The sea now ebbeth, now it floweth, The lond now welketh, now it groweth. Also, to make fade, as in Edmund Spenser's THE SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR (1579): But now sadde winter welked hath the day.


Alas! As an exclamation of sorrow, this dates back at least to Alfred (9th century) and was heard in many forms for a thousand years. Its earliest form was probably wellawo (wail a woe), Old English wa la wa, woe, lo!, woe. It was used as a refrain, Sing wellaway; my song is wellaway. Chaucer in THE BOOK OF THE DUCHESS (1369) tells: Phyllis also for Demophon Henge [hanged] hirselfe, so weylaway. Edmund Spenser in THE FAERIE QUEENE (1596) echoing Gower (1390) has: Ah woe is me and wellaway, quoth hee . . . that ever I this dismall day did see. Other similar exclamations of sorrow -- formed as variants of these -- were welladay, wellanear; in Scotland wellawins. All of these had many spelling variants; wellaway has 70 listed in O.E.D. They might be spelled with one l, or with hyphens, or as three words, e.g., well y weye. The word was sometimes used to mean a lament, as in Shakespeare's PERICLES (1608): His daughter's woe and heavie welladay. If this went on, I might echo Samuel Taylor Coleridge's ANCIENT MARINER (1798): Ah wel-a-day! what evil looks Had I from old and young!


A girl, young woman; a maid-servant; used as a familiar term to a sweetheart, wife, daughter, trusted maid-servant; a disreputable or wanton woman, a mistress, a prostitute. Also weynche, winch. From the 9th to the 14th century, wenchel (wencel, wince] , a child (of either sex); a slave, a servant; a common woman. To wench, to wench out (time), to frequent prostitutes. William Shakespeare uses the forms often: the wenching rogues (TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, 1606); beeing too wenchlesse (PERICLES); and (CYMBELINE) Do not play in wench-like words with that Which is so serious.


I. As a noun. (1) A man, a male. (Sanskrit vira, Latin vir, whence virility.) Hence (probably) a werewolf, werwolf, a human changed or able to change into a wolf. (2) A husband. From this sense wer, short for wergeld, (3) man-money: a price set on a man according to his rank, paid as a fine in cases of homicide or other crime, instead of other punishment. Common in llth to 15th century; revived in historical novels. Taylor in EDWIN THE FAIR (1842) quotes a law: He that within the palace draws his sword Doth forfeit an Earl's were. (4) Danger, trouble, perplexity; apprehension, dread; mental trouble, doubt, uncertainty. In were of, in danger of. This sense is from Middle English werre, whence also war, which at first meant perplexity, confusion, and has always meant trouble. To have no were, to be in no doubt. (5) A protector, defender (13th century). II. As a verb. (1) To check, restrain; repel; defend, guard; to ward off. Used in this sense in HANDLYNG SYNNE (1303): Frost ne snogh, haile ne reyne, Of colde ne hete felte they no peyne; Heere [hair] ne nailes never grewe Ne solowed [soiled] clothes ne turned hewe; Thundyr ne lightning did hem no dere, Goddys mercy ded hit from hem were. (2) To support (a cause), to maintain (an opinion). (3) To have, possess. A common Teutonic word into the 15th century, later in Scotland. Also wered, a band, troop, company; wereful, doubtful; werewall, a rampart, a bulwark, also figuratively as in Sir Richard Holland's THE BUKE OF THE HOWLAT (1450): The armes of the Douglass . . . Of Scotland the werewall.


Morbidly sentimental. Like Werther, in THE SORROWS OF YOUNG WERTHER (1774) by Goethe, which initiated an outburst of suicides. Also Werterian; Wertherism.


Owner of a wharf


One who made or repaired wheels; wheeled carriages, etc.


A sharp blow, as a box on the ear. A wherret-stopper, however (18th century) , was a bumper or other device on a boat in case of collision. Wherret was also a verb, to strike, often figurative, as in Swift's JOURNAL TO STELLA (30 September, 1711): The Whigs are in a rage about the peace, but we'll wherret them, I warrant


Figuratively, something that sharpens the wits. Thomas Randolph (WORKS; 1635) had a pedlar at Cambridge bring out a whetstone, and descant: Leaving my brains, I come to a more profitable commodity; for, considering how dull half the wits of this university be, I thought it not the worst traffic to sell whetstones. This whetstone will set such an edge upon your inventions, that it will make your rusty iron brains purer metal than your brazen faces. Whet but the knife of your capacities on this whetstone, and you may presume to dine at the Muses' Ordinarie, or sup at the Oracle of Apollo. Nares states that to give the whetstone "was a standing jest among our ancestors, as a satirical premium to him who told the greatest lie," and quotes TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE (1580) to show there were "jocular games" with the whetstone given as the greatest liar's prize. The passage is, however, obviously satiric, and the O.E.D. states that a whetstone was hung about the neck of a liar, as an actual punishment (London, 1418): He, as a fals lyere . . . shal stonde . . . upon the pillorye . . . with a westone aboute his necke. Thence, of course, many phrases attack such persons as lie for the whetstone, i.e., deserve it for their lies. Mrs. Centlivre in THE BUSIE BODY (1709) said: If you be not as errant a cuckold as ere drove bargain upon the Exchange, I am a son of a whetstone. When Sir Kenelm Digby, boasting that on his travels he had seen the philosopher's stone, was asked to describe it, he hesitated, and Francis Bacon interjected: "Perhaps it was a whetstone."


(1) A smoker of tobacco; usually contemptuous. Used from the 17th to the 19th century; so also (2) a trifler; an insignificant -- or a shifty and evasive -- person. In LADY ALIMONY (1659) we read: Such whifflers are below my scorn, and beneath my spite. (3) One of a body of advance guards, armed with javelin, battle-ax, sword, or staff, and wearing a chain, whose duty it is to keep the way clear for a procession or public spectacle. Since the 16th century; continued well into the 19th, when they were replaced by regular soldiers, constabulary, or police. By extension, a swaggerer, a bully. The earlier spelling was wiffler, wifler, from wifle, a javelin; Sanskrit vip, shaft of an arrow, rod; Indo-European wip, to wave, shake. Joseph Addisonin THE SPECTATOR (No. 536; 1712) said: Our fine young ladies . . . retain in their service . . . as great a number as they can of supernumerary fellows, which they use like whifflers. William Shakespeare uses the word figuratively, in HENRY V (1599): The deep-mouth'd sea, Which like a mighty whiffler 'fore the king. Seems to prepare his way.


Some time ago; recently. Also whyleare; erewhile. Used by Chaucer (1386), Shakespeare (THE TEMPEST III ii 127; 1610), and John Milton (1630); revived in MARMION (1808) by Walter Scott. Edmund Spenser used the word several times, in THE FAERIE QUEENE (1590) , as in the first stanza of Canto VIII: When I bethinke me on that speech whyleare Of Mutability, and well it way: Me seemes, that though she all unworthy were Of the heavens' rule, yet very sooth to say, In all things else she beares the greatest sway. Which makes me loath this state of life so tickle And love of things so vaine to cast away, Whose flowring pride, so fading and so fickle Short Time shall soon cut down with his consuming sickle. [Tickle, from the 14th century, meant uncertain, unreliable; hence insecure, dangerous. Also, in the 15th century, fastidious, squeamish; in the 16th, difficult to deal with. Some of these senses have been taken over by ticklish, as when one finds oneself in a ticklish situation.]


A fantastic object or idea; a trifle of adornment, dress, speech, or whipping-boy fancy. Reduplicated in the same period (16th century) as flimflam, jimjam, and the like, all used for trivial or frivolous objects or concerns. John Skelton in THE TUNNYNG OF ELYNOUR RUMMYNG (1529) pictures a fancy hat After the Sarasyns gyse, With a whym wham, Knyt with a trim tram Upon her brayne pan. Shirley and Fletcher declare in THE NIGHT WALKER (1625): They'll pull ye all to pieces, for your whim-whams, your garters and your gloves. In the 18th century, whimwham was also used for a fancy flourish after one's signature. The word was also used, as a euphemism or double entendre, with sexual intent; thus, by John Taylor, The Water Poet, (1641): He caus'd some formes of flowers . . . 'twixt the beast legges to be painted To hide his whimwham; and by Laurence Sterne in TRISTRAM SHANDY (1759): coaxed many of the oldlicensed matrons . . . to open their faculties afresh, in order to have this whimwham of his inserted. Also, more playfully, whimsy-whamsy. Both whim and whimsy may be shortenings of these forms, originally mock-echoic.


To whimper. A diminutive of whine. Also whinnel, whinil. Also as a noun, a whine or a whining person. Ben Jonson in THE SILENT WOMAN (1609) speaks of a whiniling dastard.


A boy educated along with a young noble, and flogged whenever the princeling did something adjudged to merit flogging, or roused his tutor's ire. Bishop Gilbert Burnet in his HISTORY OF HIS OWN TIME (1715) mentioned William Murray of the bed-chamber, that had been whipping-boy to King Charles the First. William Shakespeare uses whipping- cheer to mean 'a banquet of lashes' in HENRY IV, PART TWO (1598); the Beadle that has arrested Doll Tearsheet says: The constables have delivered her over to me, and she shall have whipping cheer enough, I warrant her. Convicted whores were then publicly whipped, often on a whipping-bench or in the whipping-stocks, or tied to the whipping-pole (-post). It is no wonder that Doll and Hostess Quickly vehemently protest.


A term of reproach, with various shades of meaning: a lively, violent fellow (such as might swing a mean whip); a lascivious or licentious one. William Shakespeare used the term of an insignificant, contemptible fellow, and others (as Charles Dickens, Thackeray, Stevenson) have followed him -- OTHELLO (1604): I am not valiant neither: But every punie whipster gets my sword. Also whipstart; largely replaced, in the last sense, by whippersnapper.


Silent, hushed; free from noise or disturbance. Also a verb, to be silent; to hush. Used by Chaucer (1400), John Milton (1629), Bridges (1890; SHORTER POEMS). Shakespeare uses it in one of his most delightful songs (THE TEMPEST; 1611): Come unto these yellow sands And then take hands. Curtsied when you have, and kist The wild waves whist, Foot it featly here and there And, sweet sprites, the burden bear. Also whister, to whisper; whisterer, a whisperer. The card game whist is said to have come from the demand for silence; but at first (17th century) the game was called whisk; from to whisk, to move lightly and rapidly, as with a whiskbroom. Hence whisker, a whist-player. Lady Bristol wrote in a letter of 1723: The wiskers have promised me some diversion.


A worker in "white iron" a tinsmith; also, one that finishes or polishes metal goods, as distinguished from one, the blacksmith, that forges them; used from the 14th century,


A street sweeper.


A bleacher of cloth


Company of whores. Also whorism, whoredom. Hardy, in TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES (1891) has: If I had known you was of that sort, I wouldn't have so let myself down as to come with such a whorage as this is! From the root of whore, Indo-European qar-, came also Latin carus, dear; Old Irish cara, friend, caraim, I love. Until the 16th century, it was spelled without the w: hore, hoor, howre, heore, and more. William Shakespeare uses whoremasterly to mean lecherous, in TROILUS AND CRESSiDA (1606): That Greekish whoremaisterly villaine. The defiance in JULIUS CAESAR -- The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings -- becomes ironic observation in KING LEAR: An admirable evasion of whoremaster-man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star.


Whence. A contraction of whethen; also quein, qwyne, quhene, wheyn. Used 13th to 16th century.


In the direction opposite to the usual; counterclockwise; against the apparent movement of the sun, hence unlucky. To stand (start) widdershins, (of the hair) to stand on end. Used since the 16th century; also withershins, widdersins, wodsyns, weddirshynnis, and many more; Middle High German widersinnen, to return; wieder, back, again + sind, direction, way. Alexander Montgomery, in THE FLYTING BETWIXT MONTGOMERY AND POLWART (1585) said that Thir venerabill virginis quhom ye wald call witches . . . nine times, wirdersones, about the thorne raid. It was the ritual procedure of black magic to do all things widdershins.


A wild duck; hence, a fool, a simpleton. Also wigeon. So used in the 17th and 18th centuries, as by Samuel Butler in the wordplayful HUDIBRAS (1663); Th' apostles of this fierce religion, Like Mahomet's, were ass and widgeon. The goose, the gull, and the coney (rabbit) have also been slandered in this fashion.


(1) Wigs collectively, or the practice of wearing them. (2) From the law-court wigs, wiggery was used by Thomas Carlyle to mean empty formality or 'red tape,' as in PAST AND PRESENT (1843): Some wisdom among such mountains of wiggery.


I. As a noun. A living being; then, a preternatural or unearthly being; then, a human being, gradually with pity or contempt implied. Also used of inanimate things personified, as by Chaucer in his poem (1399) To yow, my purse, and to noon other wight Complayn I, for ye be my lady dere. Aught and naught are derived from awiht, e'er a wight and nawiht, ne'er a wight. The form was common from the 8th century. William Shakespeare in OTHELLO (1604) has: She was a wight (if ever such wights were) . . . To suckle fooles, and chronicle small beer. II. As an adjective. Strong, valiant; powerful, mighty; violent, of powerful effect; powerful to resist force, strongly built; agile, nimble, swift. Used until the 16th century, by Shakespeare in LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST; revived by Walter Scott, as in THE LAY OF THE LAST MINSTREL (1805): Mount thee on the wightest steed. Also wightlayke, whitling, a brave man, a warrior.


A variant form of will The faculty of conscious and intentional action; the power or exercise of deliberate choice in action. Often in the expression free will, but without freedom will is, in this sense, an empty word. Freud and modern mechanism have done much to discredit the power, and indeed the very notion, of the will; free-wilier (a believer in the will) is a term of contempt. Sir Philip Sidney in THE DEFENCE OF POESIE (1595) made a shrewd distinction between man's erected wit, which enables him to envision the perfect way, and his infected wil, which cannot attain it: our reason suffices, but our combersome servant passion too often proves not servant but master of our will. So true is this, that will came even to mean lust, carnal desire, as in William Shakespeare's THE RAPE OF LUCRECE (1593): 'My will is strong, past reason's weak removing . . . Thus graceless holds he disputation 'Tweene frozen conscience and hot-burning will. Will might be viewed as life's helmsman; reason sets the course; but emotion turns askew the eyes bent on the chart, jiggles the magnetic needle, and sweeps up a storm that leaves the helmsman helpless at the wheel. Rare is the man who is master of helmsmanship . . . Only the minister and the lawyer now have great concern for the will.


An effeminate man. Also will-jill. Hermaphrodite is a telescope of the god Hermes and the goddess Aphrodite; hence English will-gill (William-Gillian), used since the mid-17th century.

Will-he, nill-he

Whether he desires or not. Latin nolens volens. Thus also will-she, nill-she; will-ye, nill-ye; finally shaping as willy-nilly, regardless of one's wishes.


(1) A basket; a fish-trap; (from 1780, also twilly or willow), a machine that revolves, with spikes inside that open and clean wool, cotton, flax. (2) As an adjective: willing; well-disposed. Lydgate in THE TEMPLE OF GLAS (1403) cries Willi planet, O Esperus so bright, that woful hertes can appese. Chaucer calls Venus well-willy, q.v. (3) See Will-he, nill-he.


(1) A gimlet; an auger. From the 13th century. Gilbert White in THE NATURAL HISTORY OF SELBORNE (1789) said that a fieldmouse nibbles a hole with his teeth so regular as if drilled with a wimble. Hence, to wimble, to bore, to pierce; figuratively, to insinuate oneself into; William Leigh in THE CHRISTIAN'S WATCH said he did not know how this spirit hath entred and wimbled into your souls. (2) As an adjective: quick, nimble. Used 16th to 18th century; Edmund Spenser in THE SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR (1579; MARCH) says of Cupid: He was so wimble.

Winchester goose

A venereal swelling. The public brothels of the late 16th and early 17th century, at Bankside in Southwark, were under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester. William Shakespeare uses the term in HENRY VI, PART ONE (1591) and alludes to it in TROILUS AND CRESSIDA: It should be now, but that my fear is this, Some galled goose of Winchester would hiss. Hence, also, a prostitute; THE ENGLISH GAZETTEER of 1778 records in its discussion of Southwark: In the times of popery here were no less than 18 houses on the Bankside, licensed by the Bishops of Winchester to keep whores, who were, therefore, commonly called Winchester geese. Sometimes, in both senses, the term was shortened to goose.


In addition to the contrivance familiar for weighing anchor on a ship, windlass (16th and 17th centuries) was a variant of wanlace, q.v. Also winless, windlace, windelase, windlatch; and used as a verb: to windlass, to act craftily; to decoy, ensnare. My young mind, said Philip Sidney in ASTROPHEL AND STELLA (1586), whom love doth windlas so. To fetch a windlass, to circle round. Hence windlass, a roundabout course of action, a crafty device. Hamlet, in William Shakespeare's play (1602) declares: And thus do we of wisdom and of reach, With windlasses and with assays of bias, By indirections find directions out.


An altered form of window, from the belief that the word originated as a door to the wind. Actually, window is from Old Norse vindauga; vindr, wind + auga, eye. It replaced the Old English eyethurl. Windore was used from the 16th through the 18th century.


Like a wiseacre; of a fool that has an air of wisdom. There was an Old English word witie (9th to 14th century), meaning a prophet; prophetic; and to prophesy. This was confused with wise, and combined with seggher, sayer, taking the forms wiseaker, wiseacre. Hence also wiseacreism, wiseacrery, wiseacredom, wiseacredness. In the 17th century, the acre was occasionally interpreted as referring to land (hence, also, a wiseacres, as a singular) , as though meaning a landed fool, or one that would pass for wise because he is wealthy -- like a dogmatic millionaire. A particularly annoying brand of wiseacre is that which displays what Saintsbury in his CORRECTED IMPRESSIONS (1895) calls ex post facto wiseacreishness.


One that makes witty or caustic remarks, as though snapping a whip of words. Also, witcracker; more mildly, witwright. William Shakespeare in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (1599) says: A colledge of witte-crackers cannot flout mee out of my humour; dost thou think I care for a satyre or an epigram? -- and in the MERCHANT OF VENICE exclaims: What a witte-snapper are you!


Rich, splendid, magnificent. Used from Old English into the 15th century, becoming a conventional epithet in alliterative verse. Also a noun, a beautiful woman; William Dunbar in TWA MARIIT WEMEN (1508) said: The wedow to the tothir wlonk warpit [spoke] ther wordis. By extension, wlonk, proud, haughty; so used in BEOWULF; wlonkhede, wlonkness, pride.

Woe worth

May evil befall! A curse upon! Used especially in the 16th and 17th centuries; especially in such phrases as Woe worth the day! THE MIRROR FOR MAGISTRATES (1563) ran on: Woe worth the ground where grew the tow'ring mast, Whose sailes did beare us through the waters' rore: Woe worth the winde that blew the banefull blast, Woe worth the wave, whose surge so swiftlie bore My tragicke barke to England's fatal shore. Woe worth the mast, the sailes, winde, waves and all That causelesse did conspire poore Alfredes fall.


See wone; won. Wonted (accustomed; sometimes used alone, to mean acclimatized) is a fresh past form developed (in the 14th century) when wont was used as a separate verb in the present tense. Wontedness, habituation, the state of being accustomed; wonting, making (someone) accustomed. Also wontless (q.v.), unaccustomed; unusual. Robert Southey in JOAN OF ARC (1795) has: He . . . all astonish'd at their force And wontless valour, rages round the field. The wonting-penny, wages paid a herdsman to guard beasts in a place until they were used to it and would stay of their own accord.


Unaccustomed. Edmund Spenser in his HYMN (1596) to Beauty, to that great goddesse, queene of beauty, Mother of love, and of all worlds delight, exclaimed: Ah whither, Love, wilt thou now carrie mee? What wontlesse fury dost thou now inspire Into my feeble breast, too full of thee?


Insane, mad. Thence, vehemently excited, uncontrolled; ferocious, furious. Also wod, wode, wyd, void, wodde, and more. Used from the 8th through the 16th century. A woodman, a lunatic; to wood (14th and 15th centuries), to go mad; to rave. Edmund Spenser in THE FAERIE QUEENE (1590) speaks of one Through unadvised rashness woxen wood. William Shakespeare plays on the word in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (1590): Heere am I, and wood within this wood, Because I cannot meet my Hermia. For another instance of its use, see sea.


A wild man of the woods; a savage; a satyr. Used from the llth century. Also, a representation of such a person, as in a pageant or in wood-carving. Also, wodwos, woodwyss, woodose, wodehouse, and the like. Thomas Wilson1 in his RHETORIQUE (1553) declared: Some wente naked, some romed lyke woodoses, none did anye thing by reason.


(1) Used figuratively of things resembling a pack of wool, as a spread of white water, a fleecy cloud. Thus in Thomas Nashe's LENTEN STUFFE (1599) we read that when Hero bent over to kiss the drowned Leander, boystrous woolpacks of ridged tides came rowling in and raught him from her. One is reminded of Hugo's line: The fleece of the sinister sheep of the sea. (2) Same as woolsack; especially as the seat, a bag of wool, of the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords; hence, the woolsack, the Lord Chancellorship. Note that Shakespeare (HENRY IV, PART ONE; 1597) refers to fat Falstaff as a woolsack.


(1) Old present tense of wit, q.v. (2) Short for Wilt thou? Used by William Shakespeare in ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA and HAMLET (1602), where Hamlet cries to Laertes, in Ophelia's grave: Woot weep? Woot fight? Woot fast? Woot tear thyself? Woot drink up eisel? Eat a crocodile? I'll do't . . . Be buried quick with her, and so will I.


A plant (artemisia absinthium) , proverbial for its bitter taste. The name is altered from the earlier wermod; the French form gives us vermouth, the liquor made by steeping wormwood in white wine. (So, for that matter, was absinthe.) The word is used as a symbol of bitter and grievous things, as when William Shakespeare in LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST (1588) wants To weed this wormwood from your fruitfull braine. Wormwood also was used for its medicinal and magical virtues. Wormwood roots under your pillow brought your lover to you in your dreams -- true dreams, issuing from the unpretentious gate of horn, not the illusory dreams from the falsely alluring gate of ivory. A Dian's bud (cp. Diana), wormwood cured one of the madness of love; indeed, wood, q.v., was an early word for mad; wormwood: it cleared your body of worms and your mind of maggots.


A general name for plants used for food or medicine; a pot-herb. Old English wyrt, root, plant. Used until the mid-17th century. It survives as the last syllable of many plants once thus used, as colewort, liverwort. Chaucer in THE CLERK'S TALE (1386) says: Whan she homward cam she wolde brynge Wortes or othere herbes tymes ofte. Chaucer uses the two words as synonymous; Verstegan in 1605 noted: Woortes, for which wee now use the French name of herbes.


(1) A variant form of wreak, q.v. Hence, wrackful, vengeful, angry; wracksome, destructive. (2) An error for rack, as in rack and ruin. Hence, the wracking of criminals; thus also Shakespeare in HENRY VI, PART ONE (1591): like a man new haled from the wrack; wracking whirlwinds (John Milton, PARADISE LOST, 1663). (3) A variant form of wreck. Wreck is from a common Norse form, wrekan, to drive; originally, wreck meant to cast on shore, or anything (not necessarily goods from a ship) cast upon the shore; the North Riding records of 1666 report a warrant against 11 Britton men for riotously taking a whale and other wreck.


Recklessness; heedlessness; neglect. Originally an erroneous form (in Walter Raleigh's HISTORY OF THE WORLD; 1634) of retchlessness, an old variant of recklessness. Thus also wretchless (16th to 18th century), heedless, imprudent; neglectful.


A constructor; especially, a carpenter, joiner or other construction worker. Sometimes (8th to 14th century) applied to the Lord. Also as a verb, to build. Also wright-garth, a joiner's yard; wright-craft, and more. There was also a noun wright, shortened from Old English gewyrht (whence also iwurht), what one deserves; hence praise, also blame, fault. Hence wrightful, having deserved something; wrightlesslike, undeservedly (13th century) . Wright, as a handicraftsman, has survived as a suffix, in such words as millwright, shipwright, wainwright; by extension, playwright.


Wrinkled. As though from a frequentative form of writhe. William Shakespeare in HENRY VI, PART ONE (1591) has the French Countess exclaim in scorn, when first she sees Lord Talbot: It cannot be this weak and writhled shrimp Should strike such terror to his enemies. She soon discovers her mistake.


A female writer. The word belittles the ability of the woman in the field of letters. Thomas Nugent in his translation (1772) of Jose Francisco de Isla's HISTORY OF . . . FRIAR GERUND DE CAMPAZAS asks: Why should it not be said, she was not a common woman, but a geniusess, and an elegant writrix?


Distress; disaster. A variant of ruth, q.v. Also wroth (not to be confused with wroth, great anger, earlier wrethe, and in the 17th century replaced by wrath. Wroth as an adjective, very angry, wrathful, has lasted longer. These words are from the same source as writhe). William Shakespeare in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (1596) has Aragon, after choosing the wrong casket, say: Sweet, adieu. lie keepe my oath, Patiently to bear my wroath.
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