Saturday, March 16, 2013


A Dictionary of the English Language: in which The Words are deduced from their Originals, Explained in their Different Meanings, And Authorized by the Names of the Writers in whose Works they are found.

That’s the real title – I photographed it so you’d believe me!

The author was Samuel Johnson, A.M. and the publication date of the fourth edition was MDCCLXX – 1770. The covers are full leather, quite distressed; the boards scuffed. The owner was an Eben. Everett, and he signed his name on the title page in November, 1820.

I bought it at a flea market 180 years later for $10.00.

Every now and then, I sit down with a cup of tea or coffee and read a few pages of Johnson’s dictionary. It can be tough sledding: instead of using an “s” when it appears within a word, these funny “f” characters appear – it slows you down when you’re reading.

For example, try this definition: “loathsome. Caufing fatiety or faftidioufnefs.”

Or, “insteep. To foak; to macerate in moifture.”

Say that eight times fast (faft)!

I read it for the words – for the sheer pleasure of finding old words we no longer use, words we have dropped and/or dismissed in favor of more appropriate words; words that have completely different meanings now. I read it to find bizarre Scrabble words: I recently dropped “quaid” onto a Scrabble board, hit a triple word square (for a bijillion points) and then defended my opponent’s challenge by hauling out my 1770 dictionary. He nearly fainted!

Here are some good ones (and I’ve changed the funny f’s):

to accloy  – to fill up, in an ill sense
belly-timber – food
cornage – a tenure which obliges the landholder to give notice of an
invasion by blowing a horn
to daggle – to dip in water
dangler (noun) – a man who hangs around women
denodation – the act of untying a knot
featheredge – boards or planks that have one edge thinner than another
gargarism – a liquid form of medicine to wash the mouth with
to handsel – to use or do any thing the first time
incony  -- unlearned, artless
jannock – oat bread
kirtle – an upper garment, a gown
lackbrain – one that wants wit
to maffle – to stammer
nidorous – resembling the smell or taste of roasted fat
outwell – to pour out
pappy – soft, succulent, easily divided
quaid – crushed; dejected; depressed
to rud – to make red (think about ruddy cheeks!)
simnel – a kind of sweet bread or cake
target – a kind of buckle or shield borne on the left arm
understrapper – a petty fellow
vaccary – a cow house
wafter – a passage boat
yelk – the yellow part of the egg

A couple of them are familiar, in an odd sense: lackbrain, rud, understrapper, yelk; we think we’ve seen them before, and their meanings are clear. But others are foreign, mysterious; the only places you find them today are Shakespeare plays and poetry by Milton or Donne.

Just for fun, sprinkle these into your everyday conversations. Ask your baker for some simnel; tell that annoying neighbor that he’s an understrapper; and, ladies, avoid that dangler at the office...

...let the games begin!

NOTE: I’ll be away for a couple of weeks; when I come back, I’ll have a new hip!


  1. You can still have simnel cake, its been around since the middle ages - try the recipe below

    Simnel Cake

    For the almond paste
    250g/9oz caster sugar

    250g/9oz ground almonds

    2 free-range eggs, beaten

    1 tsp almond essence

    For the cake
    175g/6oz butter or margarine

    175g/6oz soft brown sugar

    3 free-range eggs, beaten

    175g/6oz plain flour

    Pinch salt

    ½ tsp ground mixed spice (optional)

    350g/12oz mixed raisins, currants and sultanas

    55g/2oz chopped mixed peel

    ½ lemon, grated zest only

    1-2 tbsp apricot jam

    1 free-range egg, beaten for glazing

    Preparation method
    1.For the almond paste, place the sugar and ground almonds in a bowl. Add enough beaten egg and mix to a fairly soft consistency.

    2.Add the almond essence and knead for one minute until the paste is smooth and pliable.

    Technique: Kneading bread .Watch technique
    2:35 mins
    3.Roll out a third of the almond paste to make a circle 18cm/7in in diameter and reserve the remainder for the cake topping.

    4.Preheat oven to 140C/275F/Gas 1. Grease and line a 18cm/7in cake tin.

    Technique: Greasing and lining cake tins .Watch technique
    0:33 mins
    5.For the cake, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs until well incorporated and then sift in the flour, salt and mixed spice (if using) a little at a time. Finally, add the mixed dried fruit, peel and grated lemon zest and stir into the mixture.

    Technique: Zesting citrus fruit .Watch technique
    1:02 mins
    6.Put half the mixture into a greased and lined 18cm/7in cake tin. Smooth the top and cover with the circle of almond paste. Add the rest of the cake mixture and smooth the top leaving a slight dip in the centre to allow for the cake to rise. Bake in the preheated oven for 1¾ hours. Test by inserting a skewer in the middle - if it comes out clean, it is ready. Once baked, remove from the oven and set aside to cool on a wire rack.

    7.Brush the top of the cooled cake with the apricot jam. Divide the remainder of the almond paste in half; roll out a circle to cover the top of the cake with one half and form 11 small balls with the other half.

    8.Place the circle of paste on the jam glaze and set the balls round the edge. Brush the cake topping with a little beaten egg.

    9.Preheat the grill to high. Place the cake onto a baking tray and grill for 1-2 minutes, or until the top of the marzipan begins to brown. Alternatively, lightly heat the cake topping using a cook's blow torch, until the marzipan is golden-brown.

    1. Oh, Mike -- that's GREAT! I'll seriously consider trying it (or giving the recipe to a good friend of mine who is a far better cook than I...). Thanks for sending it along!

  2. Good luck with the new hip, I have a dear friend who did that a few months ago! She's doing very well, it's been a lot of therapy but she's so happy she did it! I just get a kick out of these old words! Thanks!

    1. Thanks for the good wishes, Karen. I'm hearing similar success stories, so am excited about finally having this done -- it will be good to be able to walk without a limp for the first time in more than 3 years!

  3. In still don't understand why they use that stupid f instead of s (it's happening in old Dutch books too). I tried to google it but I couldn't find an explanation. It makes you sound like Daffy Duck. Good luck with the hip!

    1. I read your comment and burst out laughing -- you're absolutely right, Rob, about the Daffy Duck stuff! I think the funny f thing is a remnant of the old English alphabet; I'm just not sure why they sometimes used an s, sometimes the funny f...
      Thanks for hip wishes!

  4. Another great post, Deb! I learned a lot. Best of luck on your surgery and recovery ... thinking of you and sending up some prayers. I hope that your surgeon finds the one needing to be replaced rather pappy as to got give him any problems.


    Kathy M.