Lost Words Of Colonial America: A Glossary


Diaper ( n. )

A rich silk material originally called d’Ypres (from Ypres, Belgium). A 1686 inventory included “four diaper table cloths.”

Eye servant ( n. )

A servant one had to keep one’s eye on. In 1717 William Byrd described one who “would make an admirable overseer where servants will do as they are bid, but eye servants who want an abundance of over looking are not so proper to be committed to his care.

Feeze 1. ( n. )

Fretful excitement or alarm. From Middle English fesen (to drive away). A 1647 Rhode Island document included: “Without making any assault upon his person or putting him in a fease.”

2. ( v. ) To drive away. In 1689 Cotton Mather wrote, “A Devil would … make her laugh to see how he feaz’d ’em about.”

Fishy ( adj .)

Drunk. Bleary eyes and turned-down mouth corners make a drunk resemble a fish. A 1737 Philadelphia newspaper described a man as “fishy.”

Flight ( n. )

A light fall of snow. From Old English fliht (a snowflake). A 1670 Massachusetts document recorded, “This day was the first flight of snow this winter.”

Flourish ( n. )

Sexual intercourse engaged in hastily. In 1709, f710, and 1711 William Byrd entered in his diary, “I gave my wife a flourish this morning.” (Once it was on the billiard table.)

Freak ( n. )

A whim, caprice, vagary. From Old English frek (quick). On March 16, 1770, John Rowe recorded in his diary, “Mr. Samuel Otis got into a mad freak tonight and broke a great many windows in the Town House.”

Fribble ( n. )

A frivolous thing or person. In 1774 Philip Fithian referred to “manv womanish fribbles.”


Gallinipper ( n. )

A large biting mosquito or other insect; a gaily (bold) nipper. A 1701 document bewailed, “Poor brother Jenkins was baited to death with musquitoes and blood thirsty Gal-Knippers.”

Gossip ( n. )

1. Godparent. From Anglo-Saxon god sib (God related). In 1714 William Byrd recorded, “There came abundance of company and I and Dick Kennon with Jenny Boiling were gossips.”

2. Companion. In 1675 Mary Rowlandson, while a captive of Indians, wrote, “I … invited my master and mistress to dinner, but the proud gossip, because I served them both in one dish, would eat nothing.”


Gynecandrical ( adj. )

Common to both men and women. In 1684 Increase Mather deplored the fact that “there are questions regarding gynecandrical dancing or that which is commonly called mixed or promiscuous dancing viz men and women together. Now this we affirm to be utterly unlawful and it cannot be tolerated in such a place as New England without great sin.”

Pot valiant ( adj. )

Courageous, valiant, stimulated by drink. In 1696 Gurdon Saltonstall wrote, “Foolish if not potvaliant firing and shooting off guns.”

Punk ( n. )

A prostitute. A character in a 1777 play said, “Rolling along arm in arm with his punk.”

Secret ( n. )

A privy. A 1787 Baltimore newspaper offered, “To be rented, a three story Brick House … with a large Smoke House & Secret, a large yard.”

Solemncholy ( adj .)

Excessively solemn. In 1773 Philip Fithian wrote, “Being very solemncholy and somewhat tired, I concluded to stay there all night.”

Undertaker ( n. )

An entrepreneur; one who undertakes something. In 1631 Thomas Dudley referred to “one of the five undertakers here, for the joint stock of the company.”

Vault ( n. )

A privy. Capt. Thomas Preston told of an event shortly before the Boston Massacre in 1770: “Two of the 29th going through Gray’s ropewalk, the ropemakers insultingly asked them if they would empty a vault … from words they went to blows.”