Dictionary of 17th & 18th Century English
During the course of my research, I came across many words and phrases I thought would be useful to know as I write; not all made their way into my story. Some are still used today in the same sense they were then. Perhaps you will find the list interesting or amusing to peruse.
& – and
&c. – etc., etcetera
‘tis – it is
‘twas – it was
‘twill – it will
Above – more than. e.g. John did above three times the work of Brian.
Acquiesce – agree, comply
Affrighted – frightened
Alacrity – cheerful willingness; eagerness
An – an or a; the word “an” was often used as we use “a”
Approbation (c.f. disapprobation) – approval
Apurpose – on purpose
Arcadian – rural, rustic, or pastoral, esp. suggesting simple, innocent contentment.
Art – cunning
Asperity – roughness, severity, brusqueness, harshness, curtness
Assiduity – constant or close application or effort; diligence; industry.
Be not – do not be; don’t be
Bechance – to happen or happen to.
Behind hand – late
Betimes – at times; sometimes
Betwixt – between
Beyond the pale – outside the limits of acceptable behavior; objectionable; improper
Capital – excellent
Chimney piece – mantle piece
Chuse – choose
Coach·man – the driver of a horse drawn carriage
Crepuscular – of or like twilight; dim
To dine; din’d – to eat dinner; ate dinner
Disapprobation (c.f. approbation) – disapproval
Divertissement – a short ballet given as an interlude to an opera or theatre; hence, a diversion or amusement
Dolour – sorrow; grief
Driven to distraction – to be driven insane; mental distress or derangement
Durst – past tense of dare
Excessively – awfully, very
Exordium – the beginning of anything; the introductory part of an oration, treatise, etc.
Fast on – approaching quickly
Fetters – a chain or shackle placed on the feet; anything that confines or restrains: Boredom puts fetters upon the imagination.
Forenoon – 1. the period of time between sunrise and noon; morning; 2. the latter part of the morning.
Fortnight – two weeks
Footman – a male liveried servant who attends the door or carriage; waits at table; etc.
Full on – at top speed
Glazing – panes or sheets of glass set or made to be set in frames, as in windows, doors, or mirrors.
Groom – a man or boy in charge of horses or the stable.
Harrower – one who draws a harrow (an agricultural implement with spike-like teeth or upright disks), over plowed land to level it, break up clods, root up weeds, etc.
Hence – 1. for this reason; therefore; 2. from this time; from now
Hie, hied, hasten – to go in haste
Impecunious – impoverished, destitute
Impelled – provoked, driven, incited, pressed
Insolent – impudent, impertinent, rude
Insouciance – lack of concern; indifference
Just done – to be recently finished; I am just done writing my letter.
Liveried – Wearing livery: Liveried footmen stood on the palace steps.
Magistrate – a civil officer charged with the administration of the law.
Munificence – having a generous nature; lavish bestowal of gifts, entertainment or hospitality
Nary – not any; not one; never a: nary a sound
Nay (c.f. yea) – no
Overseer – person who manages the operation of an entire estate
Paling – fence, barrier
Parsimonious – stingy
Parsimony – excessive frugality; extreme economy; stinginess
Perchance – perhaps; maybe; possibly.
Perfidy – deliberate breach of faith; calculated violation of trust; treachery
Pernicious – causing insidious harm or ruin; ruinous; injurious; hurtful
Perspicacity – keenness of mental perception and understanding; discernment; penetration.
Pillion – a pad or cushion attached behind a saddle, especially as a seat for a woman.
Pique – resentment or vexation arising from wounded pride or vanity
Place – job, responsibilities. To know one’s place was to understand the requirements of his/her job.
Postillion – a person who rides the left horse of the leading or only pair of horses drawing a carriage, coach or post chaise in order to guide the horses (especially a carriage without a coachman)
Presage – an indication or warning of future events; an omen, portent, foreboding
Providence – 1. (often initial capital letter) the foreseeing care and guidance of God or nature over the creatures of the earth. 2. (initial capital letter) God, esp. when perceived as directing the universe with omniscience and the affairs of humankind with wisdom and benevolence. 3. a manifestation of divine care or direction. 4. provident or prudent management of resources; prudence. 5. foresight; provident care.
Pulchritude – great physical beauty and appeal; comeliness;
Punctilio – strictness or exactness in the observance of formalities or amenities; A fine point of etiquette.
Quadrille – 1. a dance for four couples, consisting of five parts or movements, each complete in itself; the music for such a dance. 2.a card game played by four persons.
Rattle-pate – a knuckle head
Ride post – travel in a coach pulled by rented horses that were exchanged for fresh horses at least every 20 miles.
Rubicund – Inclined to a healthy rosiness; ruddy.
Saltpeter – the form of potassium nitrate, KNO3, that occurs naturally, used in the manufacture of fertilizer, fireworks, fluxes, etc. It is a strong oxidizer, is the chief constituent of gunpowder, and is also used as an antiseptic in curing meat, and in medicine as a diuretic, diaphoretic, and refrigerant.
Se’nnight – The space of seven nights and days; a week.
Shew – show
To supp; supp’d – To eat supper; ate supper
Thither – there; to go thither is to go there
Thus – 1. in the way just indicated; in this way: Stated thus, the problem seems trivial. 2. in such or the following manner: Thus it came to pass. 3. accordingly; consequently: It is late, and thus you must go. 4. to this extent or degree: Thus far. 5. as an example; for instance.
To-morrow – tomorrow
To-morrow fortnight – two weeks from tomorrow
Torpid – inactive or sluggish; slow; dull; apathetic; lethargic
’twere – contraction of it were: “to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature”
Verily – truthfully; in truth; really; indeed
Well-nigh; well nigh – very nearly; almost. It’s well-nigh bedtime.
Whilst – while
Whit – a tiny or scarcely detectable amount ; bit; jot (used esp. in negative phrases): not a whit better.
Wither – where
Yea (c.f. nay) – [yey as in hay] yes; indeed; not only this but even: a good, yea, a noble man.
A nick or nothing young blood of the fancy – A young man of the upper classes who is self absorbed; guided by his wishes rather than his conscience.
A whole day together – all day long
An express – the fastest possible messenger
As chance may direct – to happen by chance, not design
The last sentence of a letter often served as the closing:
“… and am very sincerely yours,
Ay, so it is – yes, that is true.
By the bye – by the way
Do you give me leave to … – would you allow me to…; do I have your permission to…
For a twelvemonth – for a year
He wants not art – he is very cunning
He sat next me – next to me
He very ill brooked this disappointment – he was angry at the disappointment; did not take it well
How dearly we bought (noun) – how expensive (noun) was
I am now got into a new world – I am visiting a place very different from that which I am accustomed to
I beg your leave – I ask your permission
I believe, nay, I know… – I think, no, I am sure…
I cannot get on – I can’t understand; can’t figure out
I cannot make you out – I don’t understand you
I daresay – I confidently say …
I durst not have said such a thing – I dared not…
I shall think myself happy if… – I would be happy if …
I verily think – I really think; I truly think.
I went little into company – I did not go out much
I went out of an evening – I went out one evening
To be “in the mud” about something – to be lost; totally confused
[It] did not wholly displease him – he did not find it unpleasant
It of a sudden struck him funny – all of a sudden; suddenly
It struck me of a heap – it shocked me
Many and many a day did he spend… – he spent a long time…
A joined his interest with B in seeing that so and so came to pass. – A helped B accomplish something; assisted in the effort.
Monstrous obliging – greatly obliging; very obliging
Nay, I know not – I have no idea
No trifle, that – That is no small issue, concern, thing
One ought to give over thinking of… – one should give up thinking of; forget about…
Only thus much will I say, that… – this much
Prodigious pretty – very pretty
Superior understanding – very intelligent; quick witted
Take care what you are about – be sure you know what you are doing; think before you act
That I warrant you – that I promise you; assure you
There is nothing for it – there is no choice; [it] must be
They traveled ill together – they did not get on well together on their journey
To be out of sorts with oneself – to be upset with yourself
To be sure, … – surely
To be vastly (amused, concerned etc.) – to be very …
To give someone a setdown – to scold someone
To have fine sport with someone – to joke at someone’s expense
To hold forth on a topic – to speak at length about it
To look at something (or someone) archly – playfully, mischievously, knowingly, haughtily
To take someone seriously to task – to roundly scold them
Vastly civil – very civil
Went to bed half after two and told the quarters till five. – went to bed at 2:30 but could not sleep and heard the clock chime many times (in this case, till 5 o’clock)
What say you (name)? – what do you think ?
White soup for a ball – during cold months, it was customary to serve arriving guests a hearty soup to help warm them after the chill of travel. Carriages were draughty and unheated except for warming stones on the floor and ladies ball gowns were designed to be pretty, not warm. Some recipes for white soups are very filling.
Whither may it lead me – where it may lead me
Why the deuce? – Exclamation of frustration; annoyance
You can well imagine that… – surely, you can imagine