I found this old book at the back of a cupboard. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t pick it up in 1787, which is the date inside the cover. It’s an English dictionary published by Northfleet, but like all books of the period it’s scant on publishing information inside. This is where I get all ‘1066 And All That’, history being all one can remember, but I know that George III was on the throne and the American War of Independence was just concluding. Learning about the language of the time is always interesting.
Apart from the fact that section of the dictionary covering the letter ‘E’ is partly missing and all the Ss are Fs it’s very readable, but what strikes me most is now much simpler the terminology was, and how many of the words are far more direct than now.
We know that during the Georgian reign language, like architecture, was simpler and clearer, and often abbreviated – spoken language sounded even closer to today’s usage – only becoming encrusted with baroque complexity as it continued toward the end of the 19th century. Here are a handful of definitions I found inside the book. I’ve left the Fs in place of Ss.
Archimage; f, the chief enchanter
Boufe (boofe) v, to drink lavishly, to tope
Contumacioufnefs, f, ftubbornnefs, haughtinefs
Coftard, f, a blockhead, a kind of large apple
Delate, v, to carry or bear
Entame, v, to fubdue or foften
Fairy, f, a very fmall phantom
Famofed, a, to become renowned
Porwigle, f. tadpole, a young toad
Pofer, f, one who asks hard questions
Scath, v, to damage or deftroy
Clearly there are a vast number of lost verbs describing the behaviour of one person to another. Many of the entries are hilariously simple (Boxer: one who boxes) and it’s tempting to think that the world was a simpler place, but the richness of language in what must have been regarded as a very simple pocket dictionary is quite extraordinary. Luckily I have Mr Bryant to bring back many of these lost words, if only to confuse Raymond Land with them.