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.
Sable, the animal and its fur. Also, a woollen cloth with a somewhat furry surface, used for women's dresses. THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY of May 1889 averred: In 1188 or thereabout no person was allowed to wear garments of vair, gray, zibeline, or scarlet color.
A gem. The word, which Bulwer-Lytton uses twice, is an error; he misunderstood the Old English symbol for dg which looks like a z, thus reading zimm for gimm, gem. Thus in HAROLD (1848): Taking from his own neck a collar of zimmes . . . of great price.
A girl; a maiden. From the Italian; plural, zitelle. Mrs. Behn in THE FEIGN'D CURTIZANS (1679) exclaimed: A curtizan! and a zitella too? a pretty contradiction!
A little zone, a zonelet; especially, a girdle or belt (for a maiden's waist). Herrick says in HESPERIDES (1648), of his JULIA'S RIBAND: 'Tis that zonulet of love Wherein all pleasures of the world are wove.
A euphemistic shortening of By God's wounds, as a mild oath. Also zwounds; zoones, zauns, zownds, zons, dzowns. Shakespeare exclaimed in KING JOHN (1623) -- and the present reader well may echo him: Zounds, I was never so bethumpt with words!
Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --using weights.
The art of fermentation, as in the making of wine. Greek zyme, leaven + ourgia, working. For centuries, monks have been among the most skilled zymurgists.