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Archaic and Obsolete Terms

(Most Definitions Are From The Oxford English Dictionary)

Accoucheur A man who acts as a midwife.

Accoucheuse A midwife.

Acescency A tendency to sourness; incipient or slight acidity.

Advert Used here in the archaic connotation: to turn one's attention toward, to take heed of, to observe.

Alvine Of or pertaining to the bowels.

Anile Late Middle English: of or like an old woman; imbecile.

Aperient A laxative medicine or food.

Apoplexy [Late Middle English, through Late Latin from Greek apoplexia] 1 A sudden loss of sensation and movement due to a disturbance of blood supply to the brain; a stroke. 2 With specifying word: a haemorrhage or failure of blood supply in another organ or part. Now rare or obsolete.

Avoirdupois A system of weights based on a pound (avoirdupois pound) of 16 ounces or 7000 grains.

Azote Nitrogen.

Bistoury (misspelled in Smellie text) A surgeon's instrument, used in making incisions, of which there are three sorts; the blade of the first turns like that of a lancet; but the straight bistoury has the blade fixed in the handle; the crooked bistoury is shaped like a half moon, having the edge on the inside. [Johnson's Dictionary, 9th Edition, 1806]

Casualty Used here in the archaic sense from Late Middle English: a chance occurrence.

Catamenia The menstrual discharge.

Cataplasm Poultice.

Cerate [from cera, Latin, wax] A medicine made of wax, which, with oil, or some softer substance, makes a consistence softer than a plaster. [Johnson's Dictionary, 9th Edition, 1806]

Chincough [Also kinkcough] Whooping cough.

Choke-damp Asphyxiating gas, largely carbon dioxide, accumulated in a mine, well, etc.

Cicatrized Scarred.

Climacteric or climacterick Pertaining to or constituting a critical period in human life; also had a medical sense meaning (in females) occurring at or characteristic of menopause, or (in males) the period when fertility and libido are in decline. Grand climateric designated the 63rd year of life, supposed to be especially critical.

Close Used here in one of the older senses: severe, rigorous, confined, airless, stifling.

Clyster Injection, enema.

Cocker Pamper, indulge, coddle.

Corals in their hands "Red coral was regarded as the proper material for a baby to cut its teeth on from the Middle Ages until the end of the nineteenth century, when it was supplanted by hard rubber and then by plastics. A child's teething stick was often referred to as a coral." Thanks to Susan C. Mitchell for this information.

Costive Here meaning constipated; elsewhere may mean reticent, slow, niggardly, etc.

Distemper Used here in the historical sense: Disturbed condition of the body or mind; ill health, illness; a mental or physical disorder; a disease or ailment.

Do. Abbreviation for "ditto."

Downy Evidently used here in the sense of the old slang phrase To do the downy i.e. to lie in bed.

Drachms A unit of weight originally equal to the weight of a drachma; an apothecaries' weight of 1/8 ounce (60 grains); an avoirdupois weight of 1/16 ounce (approx 27.344 grains).

Dram A small drink of spirits. Derivatives: dram-drinker, a tippler, and dram-shop, a barroom.

Dropsy A condition of excess watery fluid in the tissues or cavities of the body; congestive heart failure from whatever cause.

Economy Used by Davis in an older (but even then, uncommon) sense meaning the constitution, structure, or organization of something.

Electuary A form of medicine made of conserves and powders, in the consistence of honey.

Embrocate. To rub any part diseased with medicinal liquors. [Johnson's Dictionary, 9th Edition, 1806]

Empirics Used here with the archaic connotation: a person who practises medicine without scientific knowledge; a quack; a charlatan.

Esculent Fit for food, eatable.

Expatiation on v.i. variation on expatiate, now rare, meaning to speak or write at great length on a topic.

Faggot Used here in the Middle English sense of a bundle of sticks or twigs tied together for fuel.

Farinaceous Consisting of, made of, or characterized by flour or meal.

Fatuity Used here in the older sense meaning imbecility, dementia.

Fecula [Latin faecula crust of wine, dim. of faex meaning dregs, sediment] 1 Sediment resulting from infusion of crushed vegetable matter; esp. starch obtained in this way. 2 Faecal matter of insects or other invertebrates. Modern usage of feculence and feculent meaning "filth, scum, containing or of the nature of feces" is derived from the 2nd meaning.

Fleam An instrument used to bleed cattle, which is placed on the vein, and then driven by a blow. [Johnson's Dictionary, 9th Edition, 1806]

Funk. A stink. A low word. [Johnson's Dictionary, 9th Edition, 1806]

Fustian A napped fabric of a mixture of linen and cotton or wool, or a blanket made of such material. [The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary]

Gamboge A gum resin used as a bright yellow pigment and as a purgative; obtained from various eastern Asian trees of the genus Garcinia.

Glareous [from glarieux, French] Consisting of viscous transparent matter, like the white of an egg. [Johnson's Dictionary, 9th Edition, 1806]

Griped With respect to the bowels: afflicted with spasmodic pain as if by contraction or constriction.

Handsel [Late Middle English] A gift supposedly bringing good luck, given to mark the beginning of a new year, a new enterprise, the wearing of new clothes, etc.

Intermittent Fever Illness marked by episodes of fever with return to completely normal temperature; usually malaria.

Lenitive Assuasive, emolient. [Johnson's Dictionary, 9th Edition, 1806]

Liberty Used here in a late Middle English sense: A district controlled by a city though outside its boundary, or a district within the limits of a county but exempt from the jurisdiction of the sheriff and having a separate commission of the peace.

Little's Disease Spastic diplegia.

Manna A gum, or honey-like juice concreted into a solid form, seldom so dry but it adheres to the fingers: its colour is whitish, or brownish, and it has sweetness, and with it a sharpness that renders it agreeable: manna is the product of two different trees, both varieties of the ash: when the heats are free from rain, these trees exudate a white juice. It is but lately that the world were convinced of the mistake of manna being an aerial produce, by covering a tree with sheets in the manna season, and the finding as much manna on it as on those which were open to the air. [Johnson's Dictionary, 9th Edition, 1806]

Meteorism Flatulent distension of the abdomen with gas in the alimentary canal.

Mortification Used in the medical sense: gangrene, necrosis.

Open winter A winter free from frost; may derive from the fact that ports and harbors remain open during such a winter because they are not blocked by ice.

Operative An older usage: concerned with mechanical or manual work.

Panada Bread boiled in water to a pulp and flavoured.

Phthisic, phthisis [From Greek phthisikos through Latin and Old French] 1 Pulmonary tuberculosis. 2 Any of various lung or throat affections; a severe cough; asthma.

This term, once very common but now extremely rare, had a large number of euphonious derivatives, e.g. phthisiology, phthisiologist, phthisiophobia, phthisicky, phthisiotherapy, and phthisiotherapist. Not to be confused with phthiriasis which means an infestation with lice.

Physic [From Latin physica and Greek phusike through Old French fisique] 1 Natural science. 2 The art or practice of healing. Medical people collectively. 3 Medical treatment; fig. a healthy practice or habit; a mental, moral, or spiritual remedy. 4 Medicine; specifically, a cathartic. 5 Medical science; the physician's art.

Pilch A triangular piece of (usually waterproof) material worn over a baby's nappy (diaper).

Pin-a-fore 1 An apron, especially one with a bib, originally pinned to the front of a dress; a sleeveless wraparound garment tied at the back, worn to protect the clothes. 2 Historical A collarless sleeveless girl's garment worn over a dress and fastened at the back.

Pomatum Hair ointment, pomade.

Posture Used here in an archaic sense: position relative to that of another; situation.

Pultaceous Semi-fluid, pulpy.

Purgings As used here, means a violent evacuation of the bowels.

Purlieu [Probably from Anglo-Norman purale] 1. historical A tract of land on the border of a forest, esp. one formerly included within the forest boundaries, and still partly subject to the forest laws. 2 An outlying district of a city or town, a suburb. Also, a squalid or disreputable street or quarter. 3 The outskirts or surroundings of a place. 4 A place where a person has the right to range at large; a person's usual haunts, bounds, limits.

Quinsy [Sometimes also seen as squinacy, squinancy, or variant spelling quinsey] Pus-filled swelling in the soft palate around the tonsils, usually as a complication of tonsillitis.

Rennet Curdled milk from the abomasum of an unweaned calf or other ruminant, containing rennin and used in curdling milk for cheese, junket, etc. Also, a preparation of the inner membrane of the abomasum similarly used, or a plant or other substitute for animal rennet used to curdle milk, esp. lady's bedstraw (Galium verum).

Saginate Fatten an animal for food.

Sago Starch prepared from the pith of several palms and cycads, used as an article of food.

Salep A starchy preparation of the dried tubers of various orchids, esp. of the genus Orchis, used in cookery and formerly as a tonic.

Sapid [ L. sapidus ] 1 Of food etc.: having a distinct (esp. pleasant) taste or flavour, savoury, palatable. 2 Of talk, writing, etc.: agreeable, mentally stimulating.

Scirrhus A large, hard, and painless swelling. Apparently refers in this case to a carcinoma of the stomach. The closely related word scirrhous was used to refer to a growth, often a carcinoma, that was hard and strong due to dense fibrous tissue.

Spotted fever Rickettsial fever; typhus.

St. Anthony's Fire Erysipelas, or inflammation of the skin due to ergot poisoning.

Testaceous Consisting of shells; composed of shells. [Johnson's Dictionary, 9th Edition, 1806]

Testaceous powders Medicinal powders prepared from the shells of animals.

Tire-woman A woman [whose] whole business is to make is to make dresses for the head. [Johnson's Dictionary, 9th Edition, 1806]

Tormina Acute wringing pains in the abdomen; colic, gripes.

Tumid Especially of a part of the body: swollen, inflated, protuberant, bulging.

Valetudinary Tendency to be in poor health or to be overly concerned about one's health.

Vitriol As used here probably refers to sulphuric acid; also used for any of the various sulphates of metallic elements.


Created 12-1-96 / Modified 6/23/2002
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