This section is an ongoing project dedicated to the words of the Colonial Era. Granted, many of these words would not be used at the local tavern, but may well have been employed in more learned circles. In addition to words used then that are not used now, we also include words that may still be around whose meanings have changed since early America.
Whenever possible, we try to provide a full etymological background of each entry, as well as examples of usage from then-current literature.
Though we use a wide variety of resources for this project, we'd be remiss not to mention Dictionary of Early English by Joseph T. Shipley (Introduction by Mark Van Doren), which you can find in its entirety HERE, readable online, or as a downloadable .pdf file...
Please Contact Us if you have any additions (that we haven't added yet -- this is a work-in-progress) or corrections to these entries...we hope you find this Colonial Dictionary interesting and useful.
(1) A cosmetic; used in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Literally (Latin), milk of the Virgin. Nashe in PIERCE PENNILESSE HIS SUPPLICATION TO THE DIVELL (1592) said: She should have noynted your face over night with lac virginis. (2) A wine; perhaps a translation of German Licbfraumilch. BLACKWOOD'S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE said, in a poem of 1820: The parsons should grow misty On good lac virginis or lachryma Christi.
To catch in a net or snare; to variegate, streak with color (originally, from gold and silver lace) ; hence, to lash, whip (leaving streaks of the lash); to cut lines along the breast of a bird, for cooking -- laced fowl. Lace is via Old French from Late Latin laciare, Latin laqueare, to ensnare. Cp. laqueat. To lace coffee, from about 1675 to 1725, was to add sugar; Addison, in his satiric notes for A CITIZEN'S DIARY (SPECTATOR; 1711) wrote: Mr. Nisby of opinion that laced coffee is bad for the head. In most instances, a laced beverage is one to which a dash of brandy has been added. Laced mutton (sometimes just mutton), a strumpet, prostitute -- perhaps from wearing a bodice; or, with the waist drawn tight In Shakespeare's THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA (1591), Speed says of Julia: Aye, sir. I, a lost mutton, gave your letter to her, a, laced mutton, and she, a laced mutton, gave me, a lost mutton, nothing for my labour. Lost mutton, of course, suggests the more serious lost sheep, which would also include the laced mutton.
Latin for tears; used by Beaumont and Fletcher; see sippetLacrima (lachryma, lachrymae) Christi, a strong, sweet red Italian wine; sometimes just lacrima (lacrimae): literally, the tears of Christ. Also lachrymable, tear-worthy; lachrymabund, with tears ready to fall; lachrymation, weeping, lachrymental, mournful. (All these, instead of chry, may be spelled cri or -- naturally -- cry). Caxton has a rare use of the verb, in his translation (1490) of THE BOOK OF ENEYDOS: Thenne she began somewhat for to lachryme and sighe upon the bed. Fielding in THE AUTHOR'S FARCE (1731) boasted: Tokay I have drank, and lacrimae I have drank. Archaeologists have guessed that the tiny phials found in ancient Roman tombs were intended to hold tears, and call them lachrymatories (accent on the lack, which refers to evidence) . Carlyle in his MEMOIRS OF LORD TENNYSON (1842) declared: There is in me what would fill whole lachrymatories, as I read. The word was humorously applied to a lady's handkerchief, as in THE NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE in 1825: Women will be stationed in the pit with white cambric lachrymatories, to exchange for those that have become saturated with the tender tears of sympathy.
A person that owns no land; hence, a common person. Cardinal Vaughan in THE WESTMINSTER GAZETTE of 29 August, 1899, declared that the transference of the great commons of England to the rich created a lackland and beggared poor. King John of England, the Plantagenet, who ruled 1199-1216, was called John Lackland, a common appellation of younger sons, said the PENNY CYCLOPAEDIA of 1839, whose age prevented them from holding fiefs.
(1) A variant of lake, q.v., meaning play. (2) A variant of lay, pertaining to the laity, not of the church. Also used as a noun, meaning a layman, one not of the clergy. Lamb in IMPERFECT SYMPATHIES (ESSAYS OF ELIA; 1833) points out that oath-taking creates a sort of double standard of truth: A great deal of incorrectness and inadvertency, short of falsehood, creeps into ordinary conversation; and a kind of secondary or laic truth is tolerated, where clergy truth -- oath truth -- by the nature of the circumstance, is not required.
A medicine to be taken by licking, often given (in the 17th and 18th centuries) on the end of a licorice stick. Latin lambere, lambitus, to lick, whence lambent flames. Also lambative, lambetive; Steele in THE TATLER (1710, No. 266) has: Upon the mantle tree ... stood a pot of lambetive electuary.
Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --using candles or what burns (and how it burns or how the wick floats about) in a lamp.
To pierce, thrust through. Latin lancinare, lancinatus, to tear to pieces, was changed in meaning (in Cooper's THESAURUS, 1565) by association with lance. In the Near East, lancinated chunks of meat are cooked before an open fire. Donne, in a Sermon of I630, declared that Every sin is an incision of the soul, a landnation. An acute, piercing pain Is a lancinating pain.
To make a hell on earth for. Shakespeare thus uses it (unless the text be corrupt) in THE WINTER'S TALE (1611): You are abus'd, and by some putter on, That will be damn'd for't; would I knew the villaine, I would land-damne him.
To fasten with a thong; especially, to tie together the legs of an animal to prevent its straying. Also, as a noun, a thong for such binding; a hobble. Probably from Latin lingula, thong, diminutive of lingua, tongue; but no intermediate French word has been found, Trapp In his commentary (1647) on the BIBLE: ROMANS wrote of this carcase of sin to which I am tied and langold.
A kind of shot for cannon, 17th into the 19th century, of bolts, bars, and other Irregular pieces of Iron, used especially against the rigging and sails of enemy vessels. Also langridge, langrel, langrill. Nelson in 1796 declared: It is well known that English ships of war are furnished with no such ammunition as langrage.
Worthy of being stoned. In 17th and 18th century dictionaries. Phillips (1706), however, defined lapidable as marriageable, fit for a husband. Originally lap meant a fold in a garment; especially a fold of the toga over the breast, serving as a pocket or pouch; the use of this, in such phrases as the lap and bosom of the Church, led to the current sense. Latin lapis, stone, has given us many English forms, e.g., lapidify, to turn to stone; cp.lapidity. lapidescence, turning to stone, as was the lot of those that looked Medusa in the eye; petrifaction (Latin peter, rock, on which the Catholic church stands).
Keeper of the cupboard.
A washerwoman; early and rarely also a washerman. Old French lavandier, lavandiere; Latin lavanda, things to be washed; lavare, to wash, cp. laver, The plant probably derived its name from being used (at least as early as the 16th century) for perfuming baths or for laying in newly washed linen; it may, however, be from lividual, diminutive of lividus, livid, bluish, shifted in form by association with the use. A lavendry (14th to 16th century) was a laundry. To lay in lavender, to store away carefully for future use; hence (15th and 16th centuries) to pawn; to put where one can do no harm, as in prison. References to such pawning are frequent; Chapman in EASTWARD HOE (1605) says: Good faith, rather then thou shouldest pawne a rag more lie lay my ladyship in lavender,, if I knew where. Greene in THE UPSTART COURTIER (1592) pictured a persistent evil: The poore gentleman paies so deere for the lavender it is laid up in, that if it lie long at a broker's housey he seems to buy his apparell twice.
Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --using a bowl of water reflecting candle flames, a practice still current in some Slavic lands, especially at Christmastide.
The art of healing. At leechcraft, under medical care. From leech, to heal; used from the 12th century into the 17th, as by Fletcher in THE LOYALL SUBJECT (1618) : Have ye any crack maidenhead to new leach or mend?; revived by Scott in IVANHOE (1820) : Let those leech his wounds for whose sake he encountered them. Also leche, lichc, leach; from the 9th to the 14th century, Icchne q.v., to give medicine, to heal. Also, 19th century, to leech, to bleed by applying leeches. The blood-sucking worm was probably named because it served as a leech, a physician.
(1) The earlier form of lose, in all Its senses. A common Old English word, continuing through the 16th century. (2) To loose, to relax, to unfasten; hence, to set free, release. This also was used into the 17th century, as by Middleton in YOUR FIVE GALLANTS (1608) : Keep thou thine own heart . . . I leese you again now. From the past forms lorn, loren, came the noun lorel, meaning a 'lost' soul, a worthless fellow, a blackguard, used by Chaucer (1374) and rather frequent (Spenser, THE SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR, 1579: Thou speakes lyke a lewde lortell), often in contrast to lord. A cock-lorel, cocklorel, was a jolly but thorough rogue; Gascoigne in 1577 spoke of a piece of cocklorels musicke . . . such as I might be ashamed to publish in this company. This form came from the name of the captain of the boat containing a varied assortment of rogues, of all trades, in the satiric poem Cocke Lorelles Bote (printed, 1515, by Wynkyn de Worde) From another past tense form of leese, losen (lost) , came a form losel, also meaning a lost one, a scoundrel; later, with weakened force, a ragamuffin, a ne'er-do-well. This form, from the 14th century, lasted longer, being used by Carlyle (1832), and Browning in A BLOT IN THE 'SCUTCHEON (1843): Wretched women . . . tied By wild illicit ties to losels vile. Both these nouns developed further forms: lorelship, loselism, loselry, rascality, lewdness; lorelly, loseling, loselly, loselled, rascally, lewd; lazy. Note that leeser, from the two verbal meanings, developed several senses, two contradictory; (1) a loser; hence (2) a destroyer; (3) a deliverer: Wyclif (in the second sense) speaks in 1380 of lesars of mennys soulis; a PSALTER of 1300 (in the third sense) speaks of God as my helper and leser mine.
(1) Lovable; pleasant. Middle English leofsum; lief + some. Used since the 1 2th century. Burns in his song IN SIMMER WHEN THE HAY WAS MAWN (1792) sighs for The tender heart o' leesome love, The gowd and siller canna buy. The form leesome lane, however, is a variant of leelane, all by one's lone. (2) Lawful; permissible; right. This sense is from Middle English lefsum, leave (permission) + some. In the same sense leeful (leveful, laifull, lyefull, etc.) was used from the 13th century to Burns (FOR A' THAT AN' A' THAT, 1814) . The form leesome (lesume, leisom, leifsome, etc.), lawful, was used from the 14th century into the I8th; Douglas in his AENEIS (1513) said: So that it lesum be Dido ramane In spousage bound. Blind brutal boy, said Montgomery in 1600, in a sonnet on Cupid, that with thy bow abuses Leill [loyal] leesome love by lechery and lust.
(1) A court which lords of some manors were privileged to hold, once or twice a year; the jurisdiction of such a court; hence, a district in general. (2) A list of persons eligible for certain offices; hence, to be in leet, on the leets, etc. Short leet, a select list of candidates. (3) In phrases two-leet, two-way-leet, three leet, etc,, a orossway. THE READER of 21 October, 1865, speaking of a vacant professorship, said: The patrons are the Faculty of Advocates and the Curators, the former having the right of presenting to the latter a leet of two, from which the appointment must be made. For a further instance of its use, see waive.