Phil Gyford has had the brilliant idea of starting a Pepys’ Diary blog; the diary begins on Jan. 1, 1660 (or 1659 if you want to be technical, since in those days the new year didn’t start until March 25), and on Jan. 1 of this year Phil began posting an entry at the end of each day. To his surprise, the site has been getting a lot of attention, both from the press and from people (like me) who always intended to read Pepys but might never have gotten around to it without this stimulus. I should add that one of the best features of the site is that, like most blogs, it allows comments, which means that people who tend to look things up and enjoy sharing what they find can leave annotations for the general good.

So I encourage everyone to join in the fun—but I also want to warn against linguistic complacency. Some usages are unfamiliar, so that if we don’t look them up we are at least aware of our ignorance (like “a collar of brawn“), but it’s easy to glide over words that look familiar without realizing they are being used in a very different sense. As a sample of what one has to be on the lookout for, herewith some faux amis of the seventeenth century (modern meanings after the colon):

able: wealthy
affect: be fond of, be concerned (similarly, affection: attention)
amused: bemused, astonished
approve of: criticize
beard: any facial hair
blur: innuendo, charge
caress(e): make much of
cheapen: ask the price of, bargain
club: share expenses (also as noun: share of expense, meeting at which expenses are shared)
cosen, cousin: any collateral relative
daughter-in-law: stepdaughter (similarly mother-in-law, etc.)
dress: cook, prepare food
effeminacy: love of women
family: household (including servants)
grief: bodily pain
ingenious, ingenuous: clever, intelligent
lean: lie down
light: window
meat: food
nearly: deeply
owe: own
policy: government; cunning; self-interest
ready: dressed (similarly, unready: undressed)
resent: receive
sewer: stream, ditch
speed: succeed
strangers: foreigners
tale: reckoning, number (similarly, tell: count)
ugly: awkward
vaunt: vend, sell
warm: comfortable, well off
watch: clock

For further information, see the Latham and Matthews edition of the Diary (condensed list after each volume, full description in the Companion volume).


  1. QuidnuncGurliaci says

    Excellent work, Steve! This list is both a handy reference and an emphatic reminder that our understanding of Pepys seriously suffers when we don’t read him carefully — and you’ve again made the process easier.

    I would ad “handsome” to the list (it pops up twice in January, I think) with the special meaning (not outdated, according to the American Heritage Dictionary) of “generous.”

  2. Lars (the original one) says

    This is still going strong, now up to St. Valentine’s Day 1665/1666 in its second run-through. Well, actually the whole thing is online, it’s just that the default page and ‘latest’ link has been reset to 353 years ago instead of 343, and you can see 10 year old comments on the entry. Very convenient that the Diaries stopped just short of ten years…

    “This morning called up by Mr. Hill, who, my wife thought, had been come to be her Valentine; she, it seems, having drawne him last night, but it proved not. However, calling him up to our bed-side, my wife challenged him.” Here’s a useful annotation.

    February 15 has “and by and by comes Mrs. Pierce, with my name in her bosom for her Valentine, which will cost me money.” Plus ça change…

  3. “beard: any facial hair”

    The Small House at Allington (1862) Chapter 1:

    Of beard, he had very little, carrying the smallest possible gray whiskers, which hardly fell below the points of his ears.

  4. “effeminacy: love of women”

    Shouldn’t that be “affeminacy”?

  5. Shouldn’t that be “affeminacy”?

    There is no such entry in the OED, anyway.

  6. PlasticPaddy says

    Sewer/shore still used in sense of ditch or gutter here.

  7. Now I will feel better if people ever call me “effeminate” 🙂

    I must say, I do find a lot of the language hard to understand. This part, for instance:

    “Up betimes, and knowing that my Lord Sandwich is come to towne with the King and Duke, I to wait upon him, which I did, and find him in very good humour, which I am glad to see with all my heart. Having received his commands, and discoursed with some of his people about my Lord’s going, and with Sir Roger Cuttance, who was there, and finds himself slighted by Sir W. Coventry, I advised him however to look after employment lest it should be said that my Lord’s friends do forsake the service after he hath made them rich with the prizes.”

    …advised him to look after employment lest it should be said that my Lord’s friends do forsake the service after he hath made them rich with the prizes??? Ok, after reading it a number of times, it seems to mean “Don’t turn away (from serving him) otherwise people will think that his people are a bunch of ingrates”. I think…

    It’s like trying to make sense of German. Or even worse Mongolian.

  8. Yes. A prize is a captured enemy ship, or booty taken from it. “Forsake the service after he hath made them rich with the prizes” means take the money and run.

    Last year I read a 1000 page “selection” in a Penguin edition. There’s a short glossary at the back. As you keep reading, you gradually figure out certain expressions – or at least recognize that they can’t mean what you thought, and you head for the OED.

    One thing I thought strange is that P refers to his wife’s menstrual bleedings as “those”. Just that, no noun following. And not even “her those”.

  9. “look after employment” puzzled me more. It sounds familiar and yet not familiar.

  10. David Marjanović says

    A prize is a captured enemy ship, or booty taken from it.

    *lightbulb moment* French prise “taken” (f.). And the similarity to price belongs in this post.

  11. …added to my WIP English version.

    (A few other entries for example: scorch ~ torch, adze ~ axe, lump ~ clump, fail ~ foil, beer ~ barley.)

  12. January First-of-May says

    It’s a nice idea. Kind of like false cognates, but less limited in similarity, and has to be in a single language. (And apparently can include words that really are distantly related.)

    For what it’s worth, the first English example that came to my mind was man ~ male.

  13. David Marjanović says

    That makes male ~ female an obligatory inclusion.

  14. January First-of-May says

    That makes male ~ female an obligatory inclusion.

    Naturally, but I wasn’t sure if they were similar enough.

    The next example that came to my mind was cart ~ carry. Again, not sure if they’re sufficiently similar.
    In retrospect, I should probably have reformulated it as cart ~ car instead (car and carry are related, via carriage, though probably not synchronically).

  15. We discussed this general topic more recently than 2003.

    As I pointed out there, female is a chimera. Only the beginning is regularly derived from the Latin, via French. The ending (particularly the vowel) has been brought over from male.

  16. male ~ female in its current state would actually be out of scope due to being too similar: there’s no “pre-morphophonological” phonological variance involved, only “pre-morphology”.

Speak Your Mind