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Colonial Dictionary

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.

-- The Colonial Sense Team

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To make fruitful or plentiful; to give suck, to nourish. Latin uber, udder. Hence uberant, abundant; A GAG FOR THE POPE (1624) has: Like uberant springs to send forth flowing streams of truth into the world. Also uberous, abundant, rich in milk (of breasts or udders); Robert Naunton in FRAGMENTA REGALIA (1635) declared: My Lord . . . drew in too fast, like a child sucking an an over-uberous nurse. Also, uberousness, uberiy, fruitfulness, abundance. Evelyn in SYLVA (1706) speaks of the uberous cloud. Sir Thomas Herbert in A RELATION OF SOME YEARS TRAVAILE . . . INTO AFRIQUE AND THE GREATER ASIA (1634) reports that the women give their infants suck as they hang at their backes, the uberous dugge stretched over her shoulder.


One that goes everywhere. The ANNUAL REGISTER of 1767 remarked: The English being by their nature ubiquartans. Latin ubi, place; ubique, everywhere. As an adjective, ubiquarian, that goes everywhere or is experienced or encountered everywhere: the ubiquarian house sparrow. Also, ubication, the fact of being in a place; ubiation, being in a (new) place. From 1600 to 1750 ubi was frequently used in English, meaning place, location; Sir Kenelm Digby in his treatise on THE NATURE OF BODIES (1644) stated: It is but, assigning an ubi to such a spirit and he is presently [immediately] riveted to what place you please; and by multiplying the ubies . . . Hence, ubiety, condition with respect to place; thus Bailey in THE MYSTIC (1855) spoke of magic haschisch, which endows thought with ubiety. Shakespeare used other powers to give to airy nothings ubiety a local habitation and a name.


The dusk just before dawn. Also ughtentide, ughtening, the dawning. The ughten-song, uhtsong, was the religious service just before daybreak; matins. Lingard in his study of THE ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE (1844) stated that the nightsong . . . was frequently joined with the uhtsong; Juliet protested it was the nightingale and not the lark.


Horrid, loathsome. Frequent almost to the 17th century; revived by Scott in THE ANTIQUARY (1816): Like an auld dog that trails its useless ugsome carcass into some bush or bracken. Then used by Bulwer-Lytton and Browning. Also ugglesome; uglisome (16th century); cp. yglesome. A stronger form of ugly (which Chaucer in THE CLERK'S TALE, 1386, spells igly).


Moist, damp, slimy. Latin uliginem, moisture. Also uliginose. Uliginal, growing in moist ground. Used in the 16th and 17th centuries, though Smyth's SAILOR'S WORD-BOOK of 1867 lists uliginous channels: those connecting the branches of rivers, by cuts through the soil.


(1) The amount of wine (or other liquor) needed to fill the empty space in an almost full cask (because of loss by leakage or absorption). This is, more specifically, the dry ullage. Wine on ullage is wine in a cask not full. (2) The amount of wine in a partially filled cask; more specifically, this is the wet ullage. In the 19th century, the word was used for wine left in glasses or bottles; THE PALL MALL GAZETTE of 21 August, 1889, queried: "Pray what is ullage?' "The washings out of casks/' replied my friend. The word has been in use since the 13th century.


Vengeance. Latin ulcisci, ultus, to punish, to avenge oneself on. Richard Tomlinson in his translation (1657) of Renodaeus' MEDICINAL DISPENSATORY, fairly enough declares that a medicament . . . should leave in the mouth the ultion of the fault therein committed. Sir Thomas Browne in CHRISTIAN MORALS (1682) reminds us that to do good for evil is a soft and melting ultion, a method taught from Heaven to keep all smooth on earth.


See couth; cp. patulous. French ombrage, ombre; Latin umbra, shadow, whence also umbrageous -- seldom used now save in humor, as when the sycophantic fox stood beneath the tree's umbrageous limb to seduce the gullible raven. Hence also umbrosity (17th century), the state of being shady; umbrate, umbrous, umbrose. Umbratile meant shady, shadowlike; living in retirement, 'in the shade'; hence, not public, secret. Also umbratilous, shadowy, faint; unreal. Doughty in ARABIA DESERTA (1888): Many thus are umbratiles in the booths, and give themselves almost to a perpetual slumber. Also umbratic, shadowy; foreshadowing; secluded; umbratical, remaining in seclusion; Jonson in DISCOVERIES (1636) said: So I can see whole volumes dispatch'd by the umbraticall doctors on all sides. Note that umbrageous meant not only abounding in shadow but (after the secondary sense of umbrage, from the 16th century) suspicious, quick to take offence. Thus Donne in a sermon of 1630 declared: At the beginning some men were a little ombrageous, and startling at the name of the Fathers; and George Digby exclaimed in ELVIRA (1667): What power meer appearances have had . . to destroy, With an umbragious nature, all that love Was ever able ... To found and to establish.


Also unnaneld, unanneald, unanealed. See Anele. Sterne in TRISTRAM SHANDY (1759) tells: Obadiah had him led in as he was, unwiped, unappointed, unannealed. For Shakespeare's use in HAMLET, which Sterne and most later users echo, see housel. [Unaneled, not anointed, is not to be confused with unannealed, the negative from anneal, to enamel or to burn colors into glass, earthenware, or metal. This is also spelled aneal; the forms but not the senses of the two words overlap.]


To remove the stigma of cuckoldry, to unhorn. J, Moore in ZELUCO (1789) remarked, with perspicacity and probably regret: I never yet heard of any method by which a man can be uncuckolded. Also, uncuckolded, not yet horned. Shakespeare laments, in ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA (1606): It is a deadly sorrow, to beholde a foule knave uncuckolded.


Relating or belonging to an uncle. More often, avuncular. De Quincey in THE SPANISH MILITARY NUN (1847) remarked: The grave Don clasped the hopeful young gentleman . . . to his uncular and rather angular breast.


To receive, to accept; to come to possess; to admit to one's presence or friendship. By extension, to have understanding in; also, to take in hand, undertake. In all these senses, underfo was the common form from the 9th century until the end of the 12th century, when underfong largely replaced it, fading after the 16th. Past tense forms included underfeng, underfangen, underfonge, underfynge. Spenser used underfong to mean to take in, seduce, entrap; Thou, he says in THE SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR (1579; JUNE) that by treacheree Didst underfong my lasse, to waxe so light. The gloss explains this, 'deceive by false suggestion.' Similarly in THE FAERIE QUEENE: With his powre he . . . makes them subject to his mighty wrong, And some by sleight he eke doth underfong.


Unploughed. From ear, to plough, of the same root as Greek aroein, Latin arare, to plough, till, whence English arable. Shakespeare's 2d SONNET asks: For where is she so fair whose unear'd womb Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry? The poem is urging young Southampton to marry; there is a pun in husbandry.


As a verb, used by Fuller in THE HOLY WAR (1639): Whilest his old wife plucked out his black hairs . . . his young one ungrayhaired him.


A form of unneath, short for underneath. Used by Spenser in THE SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR (1579; JANUARY). Also unneth, unneths.


Undressed; in deshabille. Also, to unready, to undress. Developed in the 16th century as the converse of to ready, to dress. In Shakespeare's HENRY VI, PART ONE (1591), when the French leape ore the walles in their shirts, they are hailed: How now, my lords! What, all unreadie so? Puttenham in THE ARTE OF ENGLISH POESIE (1589) tells of a young gentlewoman who was in her chamber, making herself unready.


Deprived of virility; without seminal power. Used by Shakespeare in ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA (1606): Tis well for thee, That being unseminar'd, thy freer thoughts May not flye forth of Egypt. Cleopatra is talking to her eunuch, while she is aquiver for Antony in Rome.


Not suited to the town, rude, uncivil. In Wright's SPECIMENS OF LYRIC POETRY of the 13th century. This explanation is given in Herbert Coleridge's DICTIONARY OF THE OLDEST WORDS IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE (1863) . More probably, untoun is a variant of untowe, untowen, Middle Low German un(ge)togen, uneducated; hence, untrained, unmannered, wanton. Also untowe (n) ship, wantonness. These forms are found from the 10th to the 15th century. Note also untowned, in Wolcot (Peter Pindar's) ODES TO THE ROYAL ACADEMICIANS (1783): Find me in Sodom out . . . Ten gentlemen, the place shan't be untown'd.


A tree supposed to have existed in Java, so poisonous as to destroy all life within fifteen miles. Also, upas tree. From Malayan upas pohun, poison tree. The story of such a tree was told in the LONDON MAGAZINE of 1783, and given credence and currency in Erasmus Darwin's THE LOVES OF PLANTS (1789): Fierce in dread silence on the blasted heath Fell upas sits, the hydra-tree of death. Hence, a deadly or destructive power; thus Byron in CHILD HAROLD'S PILGRIMAGE (1818): This uneradicable taint of sin, This boundless upas, this all-blasting tree.


A variant of upbraid, used by Spenser in THE FAERIE QUEENE (1590); by Sidney, Marston, and others. The form is an error, from assuming that upbraid is the past tense.

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