Sunday, January 19, 2014

Wicked Words

Being a New England Food Historian, I have been blessed with not only having a huge library of everything New England, be it food related or not, but I often come across books that are centuries old and I have no choice to purchase them. Yeah, I have often said how boring I am when it comes to down-time, and I might well be. But I do love reading, as my Dad did, and especially what life was like many generations ago. There truly is something to be said for the old days, simplicity chief among them. Below find a partial word list(of which I will continue posting) from a dictionary published in 1816. This dictionary was a correction of an essay on American words that was written even many years before that. It is called A Vocabulary or Collection of Words and Phrases Which Ha Been Supposed To Be Peculiar to the United Staes of America.

I am writing every word, mark and puncuation as it is written, so bear that in mind as you read. This may not be very good reading to many of you, but I found it fascinating to see what others around our country thought about us here in New England, and to also see when certain words became vogue, or written off as vulgar or burlesque(our forefathers way of saying swearing).



To Admire. To like very much; to be very fond of. This verb is much used in New England in expressions like the following: I should admire to go to such a place; I should admire to have such a tiding. &c. It is never thus used by the English; and amoung us it is confined to the language of conversation.


To Allot. I allot upon going to such a place. This verb is used only in conversation, and that, chiefly in the interior of New England. But is is never heard among people of education. Some use the verb to count upon in the same manner.


Awful, disagreeable, ugly. New England. In New England many people would call a disagreeable medicine, awful; an ugly woman, an awful looking woman; a perverse, ill-natured child, that disobeys his parents, would be said to behave awfully; &c. This word, however, is never used except in conversation, and is far from being so common in the sea-ports now, as it was some years ago. Every thing that creates surprise is awful with them; 'what an awful wind! awful hole! awful hill! awful mouth! awful nose!' "&c. A late English traveller has the following remarks upon this, among other words:

"I found in several instances that the country-people of Vermont and other New England states make use of many curious phrases and quaint expressions in their conversation, which are rendered more remarkable by a sort of nasal twang which they have in speaking.. This nasal twang, as Mr. Lambert observes, is ever common in New England, among the "country-people". In the sea-port towns also, people of all classes undoubtedly have a slower and more deliberate manner of speaking than the English; and, in some instances, they fall into a drawling pronunciaton. An American, however, is not likely to be sensible of this, unless he has been absent from his country for some time, and his ear has been familiarized to the pronounciation of Englishmen."


Be. This was formerly much used in New England instead of am and are, in phrases of this kind: Be you ready? Be you going? I be, &c. It was also common in New Enngalnd, as long ago as when our ancestor left that country; and is often used in the Bible. The use of be is not so common in New Engalnd at the present day, as it was some years ago. It is seldom heard now, except in the interior towns or among the vulgar.


Beaker. A tumbler. Not many years ago, this word was in common use in New England, and, I believe, in some other parts of the United States; but is is now seldom heard except among old people. It is in the dictionaries, but I never heard in England. Bailey(a lexographer)defines it simply "a drinking-cup".


Brash. Brittle. This term is used in some parts of New England, in speaking of wood, or timber, that is brittle. Ex. This piece of timber is very brash. I do not find brash in any of the dictionaries or glossaries.


Breachy. This is a common word among the farmers of New England, in speaking of oxen; &c. that are unruly, and apt to break through their enclosures. I do not find this vulgarism in any dictionary or glossary.


Brief. Prevalent, common, rife. This is much used in New England by the illiterate, in speaking of a rumour or report, as well as of epidemical diseases. But as a friend observes, "rife is oftener used than brief in the case of diseases." And I think, brief is not so common in the sea-port towns, as it is in the country. I have not found brief in any of the dictionaries except Bailey's;l in which it is defined, "common or rife;" and is not noted as either an anitiquated or a provincial word.


To Calculate. To expect; suppose; think. Ex. I calculate he will do such a thing; I calculate to leave town tomorrow. The use of this, and some other words, in the country towns of New England is thus ridiculed by a late English traveller: "The crops are progressing, says Nathan, though I calculate as how this is propitious".


Chirk, adj. "In a comfortable state, cheerful. New England. Mr. Webster says "By a similar change of the last consonant, chirk is used for chirp, to make a cheerful noise. This word is wholly lost except in New England. It is there used for comfortably, bravely, cheerful; as when one inquires about a sick person, it is said, he is chirk. It should be remarked that the adjective chirk is used only in the interior of New England; and even there, I think, only by the illiterate. It is never heard in the sea-port towns.


Church. This word in Johnson's third signification(that is, a place of worship) is generally used in New-England, to denote the places of worship of the Episcapalians, as they are here called. The places of worship of the other denominations of Christians are called Meeting-houses.


Clever. This word is in constant use throughout New England, in a sense very different from the English. The following remarks of Dr. Witherspoon will explanin the American and the English significations:

"It is frequently applied where there is an acknowledged simplicity or mediocrity of capacity."

It is a low word, scarcely ever used but in burlesque or conversation, and applied to anything a man likes, without a settled meaning.


Cleverly. This is much used in some parts of New England instead of well or very well. In answer to the common salutation, How do you do, we often hear, I am cleverly. It is also applies to other things, as well as to health. and "means either adroitly or exactly; according to the case.


Clitchy. Clammy, sticky, glutinous. I have heard this word used in a few instances by old people in New England, but it is very rarely heard.


To Convene. This is used in some parts of New England in a very strange sense; that is, to be convenient., fit, or suitable. Ex. This road will convene the public; i.e. will be convenient for the public. The word, however, is used only by the illiterate.


Coppers. The common name in New England for British half-pence; which, until the coinage of our Cents, constituted the copper currency of this country. We used to say a copper's worth of any thing, as in England they would say a penny worth. The name is already nearly extinct.


Corn. This word, in New England signifies exclusively Indian corn, or maize, which has been the principal sort of corn cultivated in those parts of the country. Wheat, rye, and the other sorts of corn are generally called grain, and frequently English grain.


Corn-Stalks. The farmers of New England use this term, and more frequently the simple term, stalks, to denote the upper part of the stalks of Indian corn which is cut off while green, and then dried to make fodder for their cattle.


Creature. Pronounced creatar, is used in New England, in regard to men, in all the senses of the word. In the plural number, it is in very common use among farmers as a general term for horses, oxen, &c.


Curious. This word is always heard among the common farmers of New England in the sense of excellent, or peculiarly excellent; as in these expressions: "These are curious apples; this is curious cider,"&c. In the Diary of one of our country clergy men(written nearly a century ago) where this remark was made against one of the days of the month; "Curious hay-weather[early 1700s, jjb]

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