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.
Also rablement; variant forms of rabble; used also (Spenser, THE FAERIE QUEENE; 1590) of the tumult a rabble might cause. Shakespeare in JULIUS CAESAR (1601) pictures the proffering of the crown: As hee refus'd it, the rabblement showted. For another instance, see pot-fury.
A violent, noisy person. Used in the 19th century, mainly in Scotland. Probably a variant (influenced by rabid, mad) of the earlier rubiator, a scoundrel.
An excessive rent; a rent virtually equal to the value of the property. Also a verb; It was a maxim with his family, we read in Richardson's CLARISSA (1748) never to rackrent old tenants or their descendants. There is a current echo in TAXI'S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE of 1884: Every year growing worse than the last in this rackrent country. Pity the farmer, the needy, hard-rackrented hinde, of Sylvester's (1591) Du Bartas. James Mill in THE HISTORY OF BRITISH INDIA (1818) observed that one third to the cultivator, and two thirds to the proprietor, would be accounted a rackrent in England.
(1) The devil. So used in the 14th and 15th centuries. (2) Earlier raggeman, rageman (three syllables, hard g), the name given to a statue of Edward I, appointing justices to hear complaints of injuries within 25 years. By extension, a list, a roll; also called roll of ragman, ragman roll (14th and 15th centuries). By further extension, a discourse; especially, a long, rambling, and partly meaningless discourse, rigmarole. Rigmarole is a variant form of ragman roll, superseding it in this sense by 1600. Also a game of chance, played with a written roll that contained various items with strings attached, each player to pull a string and discover his prize or penalty. There is a record of two men being fined in Durham, in 1377, for playing ragman. The roll for the game was supposed to be written by King Ragman, who was praised or blamed according to the draw. Ragman's roll is also the name of certain rolls recording instruments of homage to Edward I by Balliol of Scotland in 1296 (returned to the Scots by Edward III). Also ragman('s) rew, a book or catalogue (16th century); in this sense John Olde in his translation (1556) of Walter's ANTICHRIST speaks of the noble ragge man rolls of those most holy fathers.
Ill-behaved, riotous. Smollett has Tabitha Bramble exclaim, in HUMPHREY CLINKER (1771): Roger gets this and Roger gets that; but I'd have you to know I won't be rogered at this rate by any ragmatical fellow in the kingdom. See Roger.
The act of going; a journey; the ground over which animals usually move, pasture-land. From the 14th century; the word is an early form of rake (which had these and other meanings) , which except in dialect and Scotch largely replaced raik by 1600. Also a verb, to go, walk, wander, walk through; Hogg in a poem of 1813 has: to raike the lonely glen. In another poem he uses the form as a noun: The wolf and the kid their raike began.
A dissolute fellow. The word was common in the 17th century. Coming earlier and outlasting rakeshame was the form rakehell, sometimes abbreviated to rakel. Spenser in THE FAERIE QUEENE (1596) says: Amid their rakehell bands They spide a lady. Also rakehellonian, one of the tribe of rakehells. The noun rake, in the sense of a man of loose ways; especially, an idle dissipated man of fashion (I8th and 19th centuries) is an abbreviation of rakehelL Some (e.g., Goldsmith in THE GIFT, 1777: Cruel Iris, pretty rake, Dear mercenary beauty) used rake of a woman.
(1) The bones or mere skeleton of a thing; dried stalks. J. Bell in his translation (1581) of Haddon's ANSWER TO OSORIUS said: Natural fooles do destest the stinking rames . . . of that rebellious traytour. (2) A branch of a tree. This use is from Latin ramus, branch, oar; English ramuscle (17th century), ramuscule (19th century) is a small branch. (3) A cry; a continuous repetition of the same sound also a verb, to cry, to repeat, used since the 15th century.
A small amount of cheese, with bread-crumbs, eggs, etc., baked and served in a special mold. Also ramequin. The word was sometimes used of the mold (1894, little French china ramequin cases) in which the mixture was baked; thus The Connoisseur (1754, No. 19) said: Toasted cheese is already buried in rammelkins. The word usually occurred in the plural -- folks asked for more.
A raspscallion (cp. scullion), a ruffian scoundrel. Perhaps related to ramp, q.v. Nashe in his STRANGE NEWES (1593) advised: Pocket not up this abuse at a rakehell rampalions hands. For an instance in Shakespeare, used of a woman, see catastrophe.
A dead tree; especially, a spiky stump or stem of a tree. Hence rampick, decayed; bare. A glossary of 1881 spells the word raunpick, and explains it as "bare of bark or flesh, looking as if pecked by ravens" -- as though raun pick were converted from raven-peck. A ramp (15th to 18th century) was a vulgar, brazen female; Gabriel Harvey in his LETTERBOOK (1573) speaks of An insatiable ramp Of Messalina's stamp; the second syllable is probably pike, a pointed staff. A rampallion was (a male ramp) a ruffian, scoundrel. A man all skin and bones is rampick indeed.
To seize, to snatch; to carry off. An early (16th and 17th century) form of rape, q.v.; frequent in the phrase rap and rend. Also, to transport with joy, to rouse to rapture; apparently given this sense by back-formation from rapt. Shakespeare in CYMBELINE (1609) inquires: What . . . thus raps you?
A wine, belike made of raspberries, popular in the 15th and 16th centuries. Also raspays, respice. It was of 'a deepe redde enclining to blacke,' Said R. Mathew in 1662: A very good friend of mine . . . was feasted . . . with respass wine. Raspis was also an early name of the raspisberry, now raspberry.
A bat (the animal); plural, rearmice. Also reremice; hryremus, reremows, and more. Shakespeare in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (1590) says: Some warre with reremise for their leathern wings. The word was used in the 12th century and still survives in dialects; Browning in PARACELSUS (1835) queried: Do the rearmice still Hang like a fretwork on the gate? The German word for bat is Fledermaus, flitter-mouse; the French, chauve souris, bald mouse. The origin of the English word is not clear; the first syllable may be from Old English hreran, to move (flitter).
A rebellowing echo. Latin re, again + boare, boatum, to bellow. Hence reboant, loudly re-echoing. Elizabeth Browning in A VISION OF POETS (1844) speaks of Spiritual thunders . . . Crushing their echoes reboant With their own wheels.
Smoky; dirty, squalid. Related to reek. Used from the 15th century; surviving in dialect. Shakespeare uses it in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (1599): Like Pharaoes souldiours in the rechie painting and in CORIOLANUS: The kitchin malkin pinnes Her richest lockram 'bout her reechie necke. Note that, in the early uses of reek there were often no disagreeable implications; it means rising like mist in Shakespeare's HENRY V, in reference to the valiant English that may die in France: For there the sun shall greet them, And draw their honours reeking up to heaven; SONNET 130, which claims the poet's love as rare As any she belied with false compare, speaks of the breath that from my mistress reeks.
To disprove, prove to be false. Also refell. Common in the 16th and 17th centuries; later, supplanted by refute. Latin refellere; re, back + fallere, to deceive, whence also fail, infallible. Palsgrave (15S0): I can not refell your argument, it is so evydent.
To refresh, reanimate, comfort. Used in the 17th and 18th centuries; the noun refocillation was used, though rarely, from the 16th into the 19th, e.g., by Coleridge. Focillate appears in 17th and 18th century dictionaries. The word meant literally to warm into life (re, again); Latin focillare, focillatum is from focus, hearth. Coryat in his CRUDITIES (1611) said: The first view thereof did even refocillate my spirits and tickle my senses with inward joy; Sterne in TRISTRAM SHANDY (1760) remarked: The nose was comforted, nourished, plump'd up, refresh'd, refocillated, and set agrowing forever.
As a noun. (1) Royalty; royal authority; also, a kingdom, royal right or privilege; a ruler (Chaucer; 1385); a ring or a chalice used at a coronation. Latin regalis; rex, regem, king; whence also royal (via the French) and the adjective regal. The noun was in use from the 14th to the 17th century. The regal of Scotland, the coronation chair, placed on the stone of Scone. (2) A portable organ (usually plural, regals) common from 1550 to 1625, of reed pipes; played with keys by the right hand while the left hand worked a bellows. Also rigalle, rigoll; in French (Rabelais) regualle. (3) A groove, a slot, as in a battlement, or for a pulley or for joining boards. Used from the 15th century; also regyll, riggle; raggle, a groove in stone, as for fitting an edge of a roof.