Favorite Words from 18th Century Literature

Up until this year, I had never read any book written before the 19th century (with the exception of Shakespeare because for English majors/anyone that has ever taken a high school English class, that is a rite of passage). I had no problem with this fact. I was content reading words that did not need to be decoded in order to understand them. However, because college likes to suck the fun out of my comfortable existence, my major requires that I take two pre-1800 classes in order to graduate, so this semester I ended up registering for a class called “18th Century Novel” and dreading every second leading up to it. That all changed when I opened the first novel on our syllabus, Moll Flanders, and realized that 18th century literature is nothing but a more dramatic and sophisticated sounding soap-opera. Even the words themselves were entertaining. So, I took it upon myself to list some of them below in hopes that they might be re-integrated our every day vocabulary:

Sawcebox/Sauce-box (n.): a sassy female

I first encountered this word in Pamela, a Stockholm-y drama about a servant girl whose Master convinces her to marry him (despite his attempts to rape her and keep her hostage in his home). What’s even more disconcerting than that plot description is the fact that “sawcebox,” a label attributed to Pamela herself, is rarely used in today’s society when it has so much potential as both an insult and a term of endearment. Imagine how much better that Valentine’s Day card that your boyfriend/girlfriend/stalker slipped into your locker could have been with the inclusion of this word: “Roses are red, violets are blue, a sawcebox, you are, but I still love you.” Wow, Robert Frost, is that you? Oh, sorry. The beauty of that poem had me confusing your identity for a second. Or, if you are not a poet, sawcebox can be used as a clever insult and can instantly increase your projected intelligence by about 0 points. Think about it. “You’re an idiot” automatically becomes “You’re a sawcebox.” While they may not entirely understand you, in your head, you know you’ve constructed a better insult.

Boldface (n.): someone who is feisty; (adj.) gutsy

All of you writing folk out there can think of this word in terms of font types. All of you non-writing folk can also probably think of this word in terms of font types. A word that is in boldface stands out from all the rest. Boldface is used to puff a word up so that it looks stronger and more muscular than all of the other words around it. Boldface used to be a bully in high school but then realized its strength could be used for good. Boldface now lives on a rolling hillside with his wife Italics and their two kids, CAPS and boldalics. Wait, what was I saying? Oh, right. Boldface can be used to describe someone who tells you like it is. Toddlers, grandmothers, or your flamboyant guy friend would all be examples of boldface people.

Bedfellow (n.): one who shares a bed with another

If you’ve ever wanted to describe your “friends-with-benefits” in a more classy way, bedfellows might be the term for you. Used to describe someone who sleeps next to you, this word can take on a variety of meanings. Your dog could be your bedfellow. So could your blankie, your half-finished bag of chips from a year ago, or even the pile of socks that has formed at the end of your bed after multiple attempts of trying to wear them to sleep and giving up halfway through.

Snappish (adj.): irritable, snappy

While this word isn’t reserved to the 18th century novel alone, it’s still a fun term to apply to an annoying friend or your mother when she’s in a bad mood. I’m imagining all the movies that could have been revolutionized by the use of this word and it makes me sad that it can never happen. (Examples: “Why so snappish, Batman?”, “Say hello to my snappish friend!”, “The name’s Bond. Snappish Bond.”) The list goes on.

I guess what I’m trying to say with all of this is that Barack Obama would look really great with an afro. Wait, no, wrong article. But seriously, the point of the story is that you should never be afraid to read something you’re not typically used to. You may find that you like reading about naïve women running around protecting their “virtue” or scandalous prostitutes trying to make a living by thieving. Or maybe not. Honestly, I don’t care either way. If I can get at least one of you to put “sawcebox” back into circulation, I will be satisfied.

Image via GirlWithHerHeadInABook.blogspot.com

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