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 member of the Sabian race, who in ancient Italy occupied the central region of the Appenines; near the valley-folk, the Hernici, beyond whom on the next range of hills were the Volscians. Used in English especially in reference to the proverb Sabini quod volunt somniant, the Sabines dream what they will. (This by anticipation winks at Freud.) Holland used the idea figuratively, when in 1610 he spoke of the town Grimsby, which our Sabins, following their own fancies, will have to be so called of one Grime a merchant. (2) As an adjective, especially in the phrase Sabine farm, a gentleman's (recreational) farm, a pleasant retreat in the country. Cp. pentice. This is from the praises sung to his Sabine farm by the poet Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65-8 B.C.), who received from the wealthy Maecenas the gift of a villa in the Sabine Hills. And there were, still earlier, the ravished Sabine women who gave sons to the founders of Rome.
(1) A musical instrument: a bass trumpet with a slide (like that of a trombone); used 15th to 18th century. Elyot in THE CASTEL OF HELTH (1533) recommends that the entrayles . . . be exercised by blowyng, eyther by constraint, or playeng on shaulmes, or sackbottes. The Geneva BIBLE (1560; DANIEL) translates Aramaic sabbka as sackbut; so also the King James (1611) and the Revised (1885) versions; the correct translation is sambuca (q.v.) as in the Septuagint and the Vulgate (Greek sambuke) versions. Also sagbut, sagbout, shagbush, sackbutt. With the same variety of forms, in the 17th century: (2) a butt of sack. A butt was a large cask (Late Latin butta, wineskin) , of varying size; in the 15th century, 36 gallons; later, 108 to 140 gallons. Usually 108 gallons of ale, 126 of wine, Shakespeare in THE TEMPEST (1610) has: I escaped upon a but of sacke, which the saylors heaved o'reboord. Sack is a white wine, dry (French vin sec, dry wine) . The two meanings were punned upon by playwrights, as in Fletcher's RULE A WIFE AND HAVE A WIFE (1624): I' th' celler . . . he will make dainty music among the sackbutts.
Secure, unmolested, unchallenged; hence, innocent (of); therefore harmless. Occasionally, by extension, feeble-minded; lacking energy. Also sacklessly, without just cause, innocently. Used from the 9th century. Douglas in the AENEIS (1513) spoke of a citie sakles of batale, fre of all sic strife. Scott revived the word in IVANHOE (1819); BLACKWOOD'S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE queried in 1831: That you are sackless of this murder who shall testify?
The early uses of this word were quite different from its present sense of sorrowful, which first appeared in the late 14th century. The earliest meaning of sad, from the 10th century, was sated, full, weary (of): sad of his company. It is a common Teutonic word, Old Irish satlech, satiated, akin to Latin satis, enough; satisfied. By the early 14th century, other senses had developed: (1) Firm, strong; valiant; steadfast. Thus when Spenser in THE FAERIE QUEENE (1590; III, 11) speaks of sad lovers he means constant ones. Milton in PARADISE LOST (1667) says: Settl'd in his face I see Sad resolution and secure. Fabyan in his CRONYCLE (1516) told the story of Prince Hal (which Shakespeare presents in HENRY IV); but when the Prince became Henry V, Fabyan continued, sodainly he became a new man and tourned all that rage and wyldnes into sob ernes and sadnes and the vyce into constant vertue. Of things, sad meant firmly fixed; heavy (applied also to a blow, a sad stroke; to bread that hasn't risen properly; to a heavy rain and a fierce fire); dark in color; compact; solid (also as opposed to liquid; Wyclif in a Sermon of 1380 said: Ther mete was ther bileve that thei hadden of sadde thingis, and ther drynke was ther bileve that thei hadden of moist thingis) . (2) Orderly; grave; trustworthy. Chaucer in THE MAN OF LAW'S TALE (1386) said: In Surrey whilom dwelte a compaignye Of chapmen riche and therto sadde and trewe. Sad and wise, discreet, or true made a frequent coupling; this may have helped form the line in Coleridge's THE ANCIENT MARINER (1798): A sadder and a wiser man He rose the morrow morn. (3) Dignified, grave in appearance. Chaucer in THE DETHE OF BLAUNCHE (1369) speaks of the eyen my lady had; Debonayre, good, glad, and sad. (4) Mature, serious; in sad earnest meant most seriously, as when one takes one's solemn oath. (5) Solidly learned; profound. The DESTRUCTION OF TROY (1400) spoke of a philosoffer . . .In the syense full sad of the sevyn artes. In the 17th century, from its sense of firm, solid, sad came to be used (6) as a term of emphasis, especially in a bad sense: wretched, abominably bad. Gay in THE BEGGAR'S OPERA (1727) says: Our Polly is a sad slut. As late as 1892 the London DAILY NEWS (January 25) called unpolished granite a sad harbourer of soot and dust. In this sense, application to a man in the phrase a sad dog was so frequent that the expression lost its force, especially if it was said with a smile. A sadiron was a solid iron, as opposed to a box-iron. In the 14th and 15th centuries, to sad meant to make solid or firm; to compress; to make steadfast; this was also the first application of to sadden. An agricultural work of 1600 stated that corn will grow better if the ground be saddned a little in the bottom of every hole ... As they advised in the 14th century, Be sad to resist vice!
One who makes, repairs or sells saddles or other furnishings for horses.
A lizard-like animal, supposedly immune to fire. (Benvenuto Cellini, 1500-1571, recorded that when he was a boy, his father boxed his ears, so that he would remember having seen one on his hearth.) Hence, a spirit living in the element fire; as the sylph, the air; the nymph, the water; the gnome, the earth -- the four elements of medieval science. By extension, a firefighter, a soldier who braves fire in battle; a fire-eating performer; and in the 18th century, a woman that (so far as the world knows) resists temptations. Addison in THE SPECTATOR (1711; No. 198) observed: A salamander is a kind of heroine in chastity, that treads upon fire . . . Deloney in JACKE OF NEWBERIE (1597) uses the figure otherly: Ile lay my life that as the salamander cannot live without the fire, so Jack cannot live without the smel of his dame's smock.
(1) An early form of salad. Also selad, sallade, sallat, salette, and more; Late Latin salare, salatum, to salt; sal, salt. Used figuratively to mean something mixed, usually with pleasant implications. Shakespeare in ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL (1601) says: She was the sweete margerom of the sallet, or rather the hearbe of grace; and in HAMLET: There was no sallets in the lines, to make the matter savoury. By extension, to pick a salad, to do something trivial, salad days, days of green and inexperienced youth (Shakespeare, ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA). (2) A light globular helmet. Probably from Latin caelata (galea) , ornamented (headpiece); caelare, caelatum, to engrave; caelum, a chisel. Shakespeare, in HENRY VI, PART TWO, says: Many a time but for a sallet, my brainpan had bene cleft with a brown bill. Heywood in EDWARD IV, PART ONE, uses it jestingly of a container: sack sold by the sallet. Also, by metonymy, the head; C. B. Stapylton in HERODIAN HIS IMPERIAL HISTORY (1652): When wine was got into his drunken sallat. The Spanish proverb has it, according to Abraham Hayward's THE ART OF DINING (1852) that it takes four persons to make a proper salad: a spendthrift for oil, a miser for vinegar, a counsellor for salt, and a madman to mix it.
A tea-cake or hot roll. Sold first at Bath about 1797 by Sally Lunn, who cried them through the town; then a baker named Dalmer bought her out; he made a song for them that helped preserve the name. Sally Lunns, said the ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF COOKERY (1892), should be cut open, well buttered, and served very hot. Dickens smacks his lips over the Sally Lunn; Thackeray in PENDENNIS (1849) delights in a meal of green tea, scandal, hot Sally-Lunn cakes, and a little novel-reading.
Together. From the 14th century; earlier samen, samed, both from the 9th century. Common Teuton forms, whence also same. Spenser in THE SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR (1579; MAY) asks: What concord han light and darke sam? There was also an early verb sam, to bring together, to join (in friendship, in marriage) ; to fasten together; to heap together, to collect. Also to coagulate, to curdle. Since the 15th century sam has been used only in dialect. Cp. samded.
An ignorant physician. Dr. Sangrado, a character in Le Sage's GIL BIAS (1735), had only two remedies: bleeding and drinking hot water. Spanish sangrador, bleeder; Latin sanguinem, blood, whence also sanguine and sanguinary. Also, sangrador. In a letter of 1820, Scott wrote: One is sadly off in France and Italy, where the sangrados are of such low reputation, that it were a shame even to be killed by them.
Hoeing. A sarcle was a hoe (18th century, translating Latin sarculum; sarire, to weed) . Hence sarcler, a weeder. Sarculation is a rare 18th century word; 17th century dictionaries list sarculate, to hoe.
One who saws; carpenter.
Also Omoplatoscopy. Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future -- by the cracks in a shoulder-blade when the bone is placed on a fire.
See ciclatoun. Originally scarlet meant a rich cloth, usually bright red, but sometimes of other colors (blue, green, brown) . Other old meanings of scarlet include: a person that wears scarlet, a judge, a hunter (also, early 19th century, a scarletite); in the 18th century, a Mohock, an aristocrat street ruffian, as in J. Shebbeare's LYDIA (1755): I expected to have seen her . . . encouraging the young bloods, bucks, and scarlets at a riot in Drury-lane.
Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --using feces or dung.
Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --using shadows, or the shades of the dead.
Mocking. Also scoptical. Greek skoptikos; skoptein, to jeer. Thus scoptics, satirical or mocking writings. Chapman commented (1611) on the ILIAD: In this first and next verse. Homer (speaking scoptically) breakes open the fountaine of his ridiculous humor.