Today, we’re going to play with words. Not any old words, but words that Jane Austen used; they are rich, delicious, decadent words that are worth knowing. You may well know some or all of them already, and if you do, pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on the breadth of your vocabulary. This will be the first of three posts in the style of an ABC book – one Austen word for each letter of the alphabet. Today we explore A-H.
Ablution – meaning “ritual washing.” It is often used in a derisive, sarcastic way. This word was only used once by Jane Austen, but it was such a perfect usage that the word stuck with me.
“And that is quite impossible; for he is now in the custody of his friend, and Mr. Darcy would no more suffer him to call on Jane in such a part of London! My dear aunt, how could you think of it? Mr. Darcy may, perhaps, have heard of such a place as Gracechurch Street, but he would hardly think a month’s ablution enough to cleanse him from its impurities, were he once to enter it; and, depend upon it, Mr. Bingley never stirs without him.” ~ Pride and Prejudice
Barouche – I admit that this word didn’t make much of an impression when I was first reading Austen, although she used it on 23 occasions in her novels. When I saw the 1995 Pride and Prejudice series, however, and Lady Catherine attempted to entice Elizabeth to stay longer with the promise of traveling in the “Barouche box”, I was intrigued. I assumed it was the modern-day equivalent of a Rolls Royce. Well, it was certainly a carriage for the wealthy, but the more I learned about the carriage, the more I understood Lady Catherine.
My initial supposition that the “Barouche box” was a sub-type of a Barouche carriage was wrong. The “box” referred to is a storage box that the driver sits on, and Dawson, (Lady Catherine’s maid) does not object to the box—meaning Lady Catherine will assign her maid to sit up on the box with the driver to make room for additional passengers. The Barouche is a summer vehicle that seats four passengers, and it’s not enclosed. There is a hood that can be raised to cover the back two passengers, sort of like a partial convertible. Unfortunately, any passengers in the rear-facing seat behind the driver will be exposed to sun and rain. Lady Catherine, in her final insult, made the offer to take just one person, unless the weather was cool. What was the other person, Mariah Lucas, to do if it’s warm?
“Oh! your father of course may spare you, if your mother can. — Daughters are never of so much consequence to a father. And if you will stay another month complete, it will be in my power to take one of you as far as London, for I am going there early in June, for a week; and as Dawson does not object to the Barouche box, there will be very good room for one of you — and indeed, if the weather should happen to be cool, I should not object to taking you both, as you are neither of you large.” ~ Pride and Prejudice
Coxcomb – a conceited dandy who is overly impressed by his own accomplishments. The word is derivative of “cockscomb” which was a style of hat worn by a professional fool or court jester. To apply this word to a person is not a compliment. Synonyms include: dandy, fop, motley and fribble— none of which Austen used. Are you wondering to yourself which of the Austen characters was referred to as a coxcomb? There were three, but my favorite one is Mr. Robert Ferrars.
He addressed her with easy civility, and twisted his head into a bow which assured her as plainly as words could have done, that he was exactly the coxcomb she had heard him described to be by Lucy. Happy had it been for her if her regard for Edward had depended less on his own merit, than on the merit of his nearest relations! ~ Sense and Sensibility
Descried – from descry, which is “to see, discern” and “to proclaim.” This is a word I learned entirely from Austen, and although
she uses it but four times, it is always to great effect, as in all the instances where she uses it, it adds a certain energy and drama to the act of “seeing.” I’ve given two examples below.
Shortly afterwards Miss Bates, passing near the window, descried Mr. Knightley on horseback not far off. ~ Emma
It was fixed, accordingly, that Mrs. Clay should be of the party in the carriage; and they had just reached this point, when Anne, as she sat near the window, descried, most decidedly and distinctly, Captain Wentworth walking down the street. ~ Persuasion
Encamped – to settle or lodge in a camp. Austen only used this word once, and I think we’re all familiar with that reference. I included this word due to my initial confusion about the situation of the militia when they were in Meryton. There, they were actually quartered in the local inns and taverns. There was no camp of soldiers in Meryton.
“They are going to be encamped near Brighton; and I do so want papa to take us all there for the summer! It would be such a delicious scheme, and I dare say would hardly cost anything at all. Mamma would like to go too of all things! Only think what a miserable summer else we shall have!”
“Yes,” thought Elizabeth, “that would be a delightful scheme indeed, and completely do for us at once. Good Heaven! Brighton, and a whole campful of soldiers, to us, who have been overset already by one poor regiment of militia, and the monthly balls of Meryton.” ~ Pride and Prejudice
Feelingly – with great feeling. This is the word that made me realize I had immersed myself in Austen’s work and JAFF so much that words that felt normal to me felt “off” to others not “into” this genre. I had read a portion of a chapter aloud to a group of authors for a critique, and they stopped me on this word – feelingly – and said they didn’t even think it was a word. Well, it didn’t take me long to find that Austen had used this word nine times. I’ll share an excerpt using this word below and let you all weigh in on what you think of it. It’s notable that many contemporary authors avoid the use of “ly” words at all.
Marianne assented most feelingly to the remark; and her mother was led by it to an enumeration of Colonel Brandon’s injuries and merits, warm as friendship and design could unitedly dictate. Her daughter did not look, however, as if much of it were heard by her. ~ Sense and Sensibility
Greatcoat – a heavy coat worn over clothes in winter. I know. The definition doesn’t begin to convey the masculine beauty that is bestowed upon the wearer of the greatcoat. Austen used this word only five times, but the wonderful costumers of period adaptations everywhere have established the greatcoat as the must-have outerwear for swoon-worthy Austen heroes and villains alike. Catherine Morland certainly knew the effect of a greatcoat on an impressionable female heart.
Henry drove so well — so quietly — without making any disturbance, without parading to her, or swearing at them: so different from the only gentleman–coachman whom it was in her power to compare him with! And then his hat sat so well, and the innumerable capes of his greatcoat looked so becomingly important! To be driven by him, next to being dancing with him, was certainly the greatest happiness in the world. ~ Northanger Abbey
Haberdasher’s – seller of small articles of trade such as caps, purses, beads, thread, and stationery. Austen only used the word once, yet it is a word that I simply love. I love to say it out loud. I love to say it in my head. I was confused about its meaning for a while since it has taken on a different meaning in America, where it’s a somewhat obsolete name for a retail dealer in men’s clothing and accessories and has nothing to do with notions. Highbury had a haberdasher’s shop, and it’s Austen’s single use of the word.
Ford’s was the principal woollen-draper, linen-draper, and haberdasher’s shop united; the shop first in size and fashion in the place. “And so, there she had set, without an idea of any thing in the world, full ten minutes, perhaps — when, all of a sudden, who should come in — to be sure it was so very odd! but they always dealt at Ford’s — who should come in, but Elizabeth Martin and her brother! ~ Emma
Excerpt from WIP Constant as the Sun:
Darcy wagged his head impatiently. “If you truly came to cheer me, you have failed, utterly failed. Leave. Leave now, before Georgiana knows you’re here.”
Richard’s brows raised, his eyes lit with a gaiety that belied anything amiss. “I bring you naught but good news, and you still reproach. You and your pride, Darcy, must learn that it is unwise to demand such a degree of perfection in life. I daresay that absolute perfection ought to be avoided at all costs. Such a thing breeds envy and resentment, and before you know it, your former friends must despise you for their own sakes. How are they to retain their dignity when in company with such a man? It is far better to own a fault or two, Darcy, I assure you. Miss Bennet exchanged words with Lady Catherine at the ball. It is not a disaster; it is not as though she disgraced you.”
Darcy shook his head impatiently and rolled his eyes. “Miss Bennet is not to blame. She could not help it that Lady Catherine allowed her vexation over Anne to overcome all sense of decorum.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam’s expression softened. “What an excellent attorney you are in defending her mistakes, or your own, for that matter. Are you not a rather harsh judge, however, when others err? Be serious, Darcy! These little things are not the stuff of scandal, but are merely fodder for a day or two of gossip. Mother said that Miss Bennet gave a triumphant exhibition, in spite of all that had gone before.”
Darcy finally bestowed a smile on his cousin. “She did, indeed.”
The colonel raised his brows and shook his head. “You may fool the others, but you cannot fool me. I detect a degree of exultation in your eyes. Was her performance that good?”
Darcy nodded once. “I would have been pleased had she merely done well. Her singing always brings me great pleasure; she owns a voice that is like the purest crystal. She has always sung without pretension or artifice; yet, last night there was something new. Her playing was somehow more proficient than in the past, and her manner of singing demonstrated a vast leap in the finer points of musicianship; it was as though she had undergone the instruction of a master. Beyond this, she sang with such feeling that the entire room was in tears.”
“Tears you say?” The colonel waggled his eyebrows. “Including you, Darcy? Did you weep as well?”
“Do not be ridiculous, Fitz.”
“Mother said you were upset by the performance.”
“Her ladyship presumes to know my feelings.”
“Well?” the colonel prompted.
“Well what?” Darcy suddenly stood and moved to the window, turning his back on his cousin as he looked out into the grey winter morning.
“Why did it upset you?”
“You are too much like your mother.” Darcy’s breath frosted the glass.
“So it did … upset you.”
Darcy’s nod was nearly imperceptible. He pressed his lips together as he considered his reply. When he finally spoke, he still faced the glass, his features obscured from his cousin’s view. “She sang Lascia ch’io pianga.”
The colonel’s brows shot up. “From Rinaldo? That is a haunting piece.”
“Indeed, it is. Is it possible … do you think … could it be that she sang it so feelingly because it expresses the truth of her heart? Could the life … the society I offer her actually seem like a prison of sorts to her?” Darcy rubbed his forehead as though speaking his worry aloud had brought on a headache. “I have always believed that my wife’s situation would contain such extraordinary sources of happiness that she could have no cause to repine. Am I wrong on this score?”
“Miss Bennet is not the sort of woman who would indulge in unhappy feelings were she to encounter them, Darcy. Indeed, I have seen her laugh herself out of taking offense on several occasions already. She is the type who will bloom wherever she is planted; be it in high society, or lower, she will cheerfully adapt.”
Now it’s your turn. Do you have any favorite words you learned from Austen or from JAFF? What about “feelingly”? Do adverbs bother you as a reader of historical fiction?