Archaic Dictionary

Below are words from my “Archaic Definition of the Week” series, organized alphabetically and formatted as they appear in the original works.  The sources are indexed, and most of them available for purchase, on the Sources page.

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A

almoner (Continuum Dictionary of Religion)
ammariya (Hans Wehr Dictionary of Arabic)

ancilia (Latin). Twelve archaic bronze shields kept in the sanctuary of MARS in the Roman Forum. Tradition remembered that one shield had fallen from the sky on 1 March and a divinely instructed blacksmith had made the further eleven. An aristocratic group, the Salii, used the shields in the yearly OCTOBER HORSE festival, which is probably one of the oldest in the Roman calendar.

Continuum Dictionary of Religion edited by Michael Pye.

B

ballicatter (Dictionary of Newfoundland English)
belly (Wordsworth Dictionary of Obscenity & Taboo)
big heads (Giants, Monsters, & Dragons)

Bindle

◦ of heroin: Little folded-up piece of paper (with heroin inside)
◦ the bundle (or “brindle”) in which a hobo carries all his worldly possessions

Twists, Slugs and Roscoes: A Glossary of Hardboiled Slang, compiled by William Denton

[See bindle punk, below]

Bindle punk, bindle stiff: Chronic wanderers; itinerant misfits, criminals, migratory harvest workers, and lumber jacks. Called so because they carried a “bindle.” George and Lenny in Of Mice and Men are bindle stiffs.

Twists, Slugs and Roscoes: A Glossary of Hardboiled Slang, compiled by William Denton

[See bindle, above]

busk (1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue)

C

canvas (The Pirate Dictionary)

Cat Wagons. These were mobile bordellos that traveled to mining towns, construction jobs and groups of cowboys on the range. A madam would load up her girls and take them to a site where they would ply their trade.

Prostitute Dictionary of the Old West by Jay Moynahan.

COCK-LOFT, subs. (old). — The head. [A COCK-LOFT is properly a small loft, garret, or apartment at the top of a house …] An old proverb runs, ‘All his gear is in his COCK-LOFT’; i.e., ‘all his wealth, work, or worth is in his head.’

Historical Dictionary of Slang by J. S. Farmer & W. E. Henley

cockswain (Dictionary of the Marine)

crimp (n.) (1) An unscrupulous recruiter for ships’ companies. In 1758 John Blake wrote,
“a crimp … who makes it his business to seduce the men belonging to another ship.”
(2) An agent for a shipping company. In Franklin’s Autobiography, first published in 1791, he reported that:
“a crimp’s bill was put into his hand.”

Colonial American English. by Richard M. Lederer, Jr.

Crocodile

Latin name: Crocodilus
Other names: Cocatris, Cocodrille, Cocodrillus, Coquatrix, Corchodrillus

A beast that weeps after eating a man

The crocodile is a four-footed beast, about twenty cubits long, that is born in the Nile River. Its skin is very hard, so that it is not hurt when struck by stones. It spends the day on land and the night in the water. It is armed with cruel teeth and claws; it is the only animal that can move the upper part of its jaw while keeping the lower part still. Its dung can be used to enhance a person’s beauty: the excrement (or the contents of the intestines) is smeared on the face and left there until sweat washes it off. Crocodiles always weep after eating a man. Despite the hardness of the crocodile’s skin, there are two animals that can kill it. The sawfish (serra) can cut the crocodile’s stomach, and the hydrus can crawl into the crocodile’s mouth and kill it from the inside.

Medieval Bestiary at bestiary.ca, edited by David Badke

D

demonocracy (Dictionary of Early English)
disembogue (The Pirate Dictionary)

DOXY

A mistress, paramour, or prostitute.

The word’s ultimate origin is uncertain but the Oxford English Dictionary suggests a connection with dock meaning ‘buttocks’ or ‘tail’. As a verb dock originally meant to cut off a tail, a sense that we still preserve when we talk of docking a horse’s or dog’s tail. (The more general idea of cutting or reducing, as when we talk of docking someone’s pay is a later extension of this idea.)

Wordsworth Dictionary of Obscenity and Taboo by James McDonald.

E

effluxes (or effluences), theory of _ Philosophy Theory associated with Greek atomism and its revival in the corpuscularian philosophy of the 17th century as well as by non-atomists like Empedocles (5th century BC).

It holds that objects continually emit films from their surfaces, which cause them to be perceived, much as we ourselves might explain smell. Lucretius (1st century BC) also uses the theory to explain dreams and imagination, and thought in general.

Dictionary of Theories by Jennifer Bothamley

ewer (Dictionary & Native’s Guide to the Unknown American Language)

F

facinorous (Dictionary of Early English)

fallow1 [Old English] In Old English the verb fealgian meant ‘to break up land for sowing’. Of Germanic origin, the word is related to Low German falgen. The sense now is ‘leave unsown’ referring to land which has been ploughed and harrowed.

fallow2 [Old English] Germanic in origin, Old English falu, fealu is related to Dutch vaal and German fahl, falb. Describing the colour pale brown or reddish yellow, it is now most commonly found in the word fallow deer, a Eurasian deer which has a reddish-brown coat in the summer.

The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories by Glynnis Chantrell

fret (Johnson’s Dictionary)
froward (A Sea of Words)
funk (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable)
futtocks (Dictionary of the Marine)

G

gesta (Literary Terms : A Dictionary)

ghiyar
Compulsory distinctive patch of colored cloth (for example, red, blue, yellow) worn by dhimmis.*

Daily Life in the Medieval Islamic World (glossary) by James E. Lindsay

* J’s note: Dhimmis were/are non-Muslims living in Muslim lands.

[See zunnar, below]

 gimp (n.) Silk, wool, or cotton tape used for edging. In 1774 Alexander Bartram advertised in a Philadephia newspaper, “pinchbeck, hand stilliards, gimp, and glover’s needles.”

Colonial American English: A Glossary by Richard M. Lederer, Jr.

[See pinchbeck, below]

glanders (n.) horse disease affecting the nostrils and jaws TS III.ii.50 [Biondello to Tranio as Lucentio, of Petruchio’s horse] possessed with the glanders

Shakespeare’s Words : A Glossary & Language Companion by David Crystal and Ben Crystal

[See mose in the chine, below]

glebe (Dictionary of Early English)

H

handfasting (Forgotten English)
heifer brand (Dictionary of the American West)

ho’iden. An ill-taught awkward country girl.

to ho’iden. To romp indecently.

Johnson’s Dictionary: A Modern Selection by Samuel Johnson (1755), ed. E. L. McAdam and George Milne (1963)

hornbook (Literary Terms: A Dictionary)
horse [from “horse in the snow”] (Dictionary of the Marine)

house dick: a hotel detective

The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life from Prohibition Through World War II by Marc McCutcheon, Section Five, “Crime”

I

igly (Dictionary of Early English)

INEQUALITY, SECULAR. _ A small irregularity in the motion of planets, which becomes important only after a long lapse of years. The great inequality of Jupiter and Saturn is a variation of their orbital positions, caused by the disturbing action of one planet on the other.

The Sailor’s Word Book (1867) by Admiral W. H. Smyth

J

jackass & jackass rig (A Sea of Words)
jacket (Dictionary of the American West)
jollies (Ship to Shore)

K

karrows (Forgotten English)
kumatage (Endangered Words)

L

lickerous (A Sea of Words)

lilo [1930s] The word lilo describing a mattress-like inflatable for use on water is an alteration of lie low.

The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories by Glynnis Chantrell

lychnobite (Endangered Words)

M

mageira /muh JY ruh/ n A woman’s sublimation of sexual desire through cooking.

Depraved and Insulting English, by Peter Novobatzky and Ammon Shea.

mose in the chine [unclear meaning] be in the final stages of the glanders TS III.ii.50 [Biondello to Tranio as Lucentio, of Petruchio’s horse] possessed with the glanders and like to mose in the chine

Shakespeare’s Words : A Glossary & Language Companion by David Crystal and Ben Crystal

[See glanders, above]

mossyback (The Encyclopedia of Civil War Usage)

N

new year’s gifts (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable)
nicker (Dictionary of Early English)

nub 1. to hang by the neck until dead. “Nub” is a cant word for “neck.” [cant, late 1600s] Synonyms and related terms: CARNIFICATE, CLIMB THE STALK, DANCE UPON NOTHING, DANGLE, DIE IN ONE’S SHOES, GO UP A LADDER TO BED, IN DEADLY SUSPENSE, JERK TO JESUS, KICK THE CLOUDS, LEAP FROM THE LEAFLESS, NECK, PATIBULATE, SCRAG, SHAKE A CLOTH IN THE WIND, STRETCH, TOP, TOTTER, TRINE, TUCK, TWIST.

Slang and Euphemism by Richard A. Spears.

nunnery (Wordsworth Dictionary of Obscenity & Taboo)

NUTS of the anchor, two little prominencies, appearing like short square bars of iron, fixed across the upper part of the anchor-shank, to secure the stock thereof in its place; for which purpose there is a corresponding notch, or channel, cut in the opposite parts of the stock, of the same dimensions with the nuts.

-William Falconer’s Dictionary of the Marine

O

ospray (Johnson’s Dictionary)

ostler _ One who attends to horses at an inn; a stable hand or groom.

A Sea of Words : A Lexicon and Companion for Patrick O’Brian’s Seafaring Tales by Dean King with John B. Hattendorf and J. Worth Estes.

ownshook n also eunchuck, oanshick, onshook, oonchook, oonshik, owenshook. Cp DINNEEN óinseach ‘a fool, esp a female fool’; JOYCE oanshagh ‘a female fool’ …

1 Foolish, ignorant person.
_ 1924 ENGLAND 318 Onshook—[a fool].
_ 1937 DEVINE 35 Ownshook—an ignorant, stupid fellow.
_ 1968 DILLON 149 Boy, Mike is the real oanshik, isn’t he?
_ C 71-99 If she saw someone swimming on a cold day, he would be referred to as an oonshick of a thing.

2 One of the men, usually elaborately dressed, who participated in a mummers’ parade; a Christmas mummer; FOOL.

Dictionary of Newfoundland English edited by G. M. Story, W. J. Kirwin, and J. D. A. Widdowson.

 

P

ParbucklePARBUCKLE, a contrivance used by sailors to lower a cask or bale from any heighth [sic], as the top of a wharf or key, into a boat or lighter, which lies along-side, being chiefly employed where there is no crane or tackle.

It is formed by fastening the bight of a rope to a post, or ring, upon the wharf, and thence pulling the two parts of the rope under the two quarters of the cast, and bringing them back again over it; so that when the two lower parts remain firmly attached to the post, the two upper parts are gradually slackened together, and the barrel, or bale, suffered to roll easily downward to that place where it is received below. This method is also frequently used used by masons, in lifting up or letting down large stones, when they are employed in building; and from them it has probably been adopted by seamen.

– Wm. Falconer’s Dictionary of the Marine (1780)

picus (woodpecker) (The Book of Beasts)

pinchbeck (n.) An alloy of four parts of copper to one part of zinc, used to imitate gold in cheap watchcases, invented by Christopher Pinchbeck, a London watchmaker (1670-1732). A 1754 South Carolina newspaper advertised: “An assortment of gold, silver and Pinchbeck watches.”

Colonial American English: A Glossary by Richard M. Lederer, Jr.

[See gimp, above]

pinguescent (Endangered English Dictionary)

pinnace, small and fast warship employed in the sixteenth century for scouting and dispatch duties.

The Dictionary of Nautical Literacy by Robert McKenna

pompkin (1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue)
possibles (Dictionary of the American West)
possum beer (The Encyclopedia of Civil War Usage)
promptuary (Johnson’s Dictionary)

Q

quillon (A Sea of Words)
quoin (A Sea of Words)

R

RAFTER  To lie under your blankets with your knees sticking up.

Dictionary of the American West by Winfred Blevins

REDINGOTE A woman’s coatdress modeled on the man’s greatcoat, especially fashionable in the 1780s.

What People Wore When: A Complete Illustrated History of Costume from Ancient Times to the Nineteenth Century for Every Level of Society edited by Melissa Leventon, glossary

rummage (The Pirate Dictionary)

S

SECULAR INEQUALITY [See inequality, secular]

simoleon American slang, since c. 1830 A dollar. [ < British slang (since XVII but obsolete by late XIX) simon, a sixpence. There is no explanation of the British usage. Simon Magus sought to buy sacramental powers for money, and simony, named after him, is the sin of selling the services of the church for money. The money nexus is apparent, but no proper priest will sell out his office for a mere sixpence. Nor is there an explanation of the American variation. What is certain is that British simon passed into American simoleon, the monetary exchange rate shifting from British 6 p. to American $1.]

Dictionary & Native’s Guide to the Unknown American Language by John Ciardi.

sixes and sevens (1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue)
skimmington (Depraved and Insulting English)
snow [from “horse in the snow”] (Dictionary of the Marine)

Storyville. A large restricted district operating in New Orleans between 1897 and 1917. It was named after city alderman Sidney Story who introduced the ordinance setting aside a specific part of the city for prostitution.

Prostitute Dictionary of the Old West by Jay Moynahan

struggle-buggy: students’ nickname for a car, because making out in one was a struggle.

The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life from Prohibition Through World War II by Marc McCutcheon, Section Six, “Transportation”

 

T

TACKLE, … a machine formed by the communication of a rope with an assemblage of blocks, and known in mechanics by the name of pulley.

Tackles are used in a ship to raise, remove, or secure weighty bodies; to support the masts; or to extend the sails and rigging.

– Wm. Falconer’s Dictionary of the Marine (1780).

tanglefoot any alcoholic drink. Refers to the effect alcohol can have on one’s ability to walk. [colloquial, mid 1800s to pres.]

Slang and Euphemism by Richard A. Spears.

TAIL-BLOCK, a small single block, having a short piece of rope attached to it, by which it may be fastened to any object at pleasure; either for convenience, or to increase the force applied to the said object, as explained in the first part of the article tackle.

– Wm. Falconer’s Dictionary of the Marine (1780).

TAIL-RACE. _ The water which leaves the paddles of a steam-boat. Also, the water-course of a mill beyond the water-wheel.

The Sailor’s Word Book (1867) by Admiral W. H. Smyth

TOLLIBAN RIG, subs. phr. (old). — ‘A species of cheat carried on by a woman, assuming the character of a dumb and deaf conjuror’ (GROSE).

Historical Dictionary of Slang by J. S. Farmer & W. E. Henley

tony (Dictionary and Native’s Guide to the Unknown American Language)

U

ugsome (Dictionary of Early English)

ULLAGE, subs. (common). — In pl. = drainings, dregs of glasses or casks. [Properly the wantage in a cask of liquor.]

Historical Dictionary of Slang by J. S. Farmer & W. E. Henley

V

vates: Latin: “prophet.” From earliest times, the poet has often been considered a seer or vates, divinely inspired, and his pronouncements have been accorded the status of prophecy. Vergil, for example, was believed to have predicted the future literally in his Fourth Ecologue, which celebrated the birth of a child who was to bring back the Age of Gold. For hundreds of years the poem was read as a pagan prophecy of the birth of Christ and Vergil held to be a vates.

Literary Terms: A Dictionary by Karl Beckson and Arthur Ganz.

vease (Weird and Wonderful Words)

verjuice _ The sour juice of green or unripe grapes, crab apples, or other fruit, especially when made into an acidic liquor. This liquor was once much used in cooking, as a condiment, and for medicinal purposes.

A Sea of Words : A Lexicon and Companion for Patrick O’Brian’s Seafaring Tales by Dean King with John B. Hattendorf and J. Worth Estes.

W

wharfinger (Dictionary of the Marine)
white bird (Dictionary of Superstitions)

X

x-chaser. ‘A naval officer with high theoretical qualifications’ [Royal Navy] : from early C. 20 … The x is that x which figures so disturbingly in mathematics. Also [Royal Air Force] : ‘Damned if I know. Chasing X has never been my strong suit.’

Partidge’s Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English from the work of Eric Partridge

xeres (Endangered English Dictionary)

Y

ybis (The Book of Beasts)
yess (Dictionary of Newfoundland English)
yest (Johnson’s Dictionary)

Z

zad (1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue)

zunnar
A distinctive girdle or belt worn by dhimmis.*

Daily Life in the Medieval Islamic World (glossary) by James E. Lindsay

* J’s note: Dhimmis were/are non-Muslims living in Muslim lands.

[See ghiyar, above]

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