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Thackeray in OED

Snobs and brain cracks: Thackeray in the OED

William Makepeace Thackeray was born on 18 July 1811, and before his death just over fifty years later he had written over thirty-five works. These include Catherine (1839-40), Pendennis (1848-50), and The Book of Snobs (1848) – the last of which popularized (and is currently the earliest known evidence for) the sense of snob as ‘a person who admires and seeks to imitate, or associate with, those of higher social status or greater wealth; one who wishes to be regarded as a person of social importance.’ Before this date, snob had referred to various things: a person of low class, a person without good taste, and a cobbler. In the twentieth century, in Australian and New Zealand slang, snob and cobbler could both be used to denote the last sheep to be sheared. Antipodean sheep-shearers clearly love a pun – the term refers to the cobbler’s last; that is, the model for shaping or repairing a shoe or boot.

Of Thackeray’s novels, the best remembered is Vanity Fair (1848) and its forthright heroine (or perhaps anti-heroine) Becky Sharp. The novel’s title is taken from John Bunyan’s Christian allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress. Thackeray is currently the 46th most quoted source in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and provides the earliest evidence of many words. We’ve taken a selection, from now-common terms like postage stamp and Oxbridge to the seldom heard newspaperacious and pulleyless.

Thackeray word cloud2

airwards Towards the air, upward
blacklegging The action or an act of working as a blackleg
brain crack A whimsical or eccentric notion
car boy A boy who operates or drives a car (in various senses)
meddlement Meddling, interference
middleageism Medievalism
miniaturist A painter of miniature pictures or portraits
melophonist A melodist; a singer
mollycoddle A person, usually male, who is mollycoddled; an effeminate man or boy
mousekin A small or young mouse (esp. as a pet name)
mud-flinger A person who engages in the exchange of insults or abuse to damage the reputation of an opponent
munchet A small piece of bread
Nemedian A member of a legendary early colonizing people of Ireland, led by or descended from Nemed of Scythia
necrographer A person who writes an obituary notice
newspaperacious Of a form or style associated with newspapers
oenophilist A lover of wine
Oxbridge Originally: a fictional university, esp. regarded as a composite of Oxford and Cambridge. Now: the universities of Oxford and Cambridge regarded together
pantheistical Relating to those who believe that God is immanent in or identical with the universe
peacock fan  A fan made or trimmed with peacocks’ feathers; a fan shape resembling the erect feathers of a peacock
peccation The action of sinning; sin
percale A closely woven cotton fabric with a smooth finish originally manufactured in France
persiflate To talk banteringly (or ‘persiflage’)
plap To come down or fall with the sound of a flat impact; to make a light slapping sound
plaque A small ornamental tablet worn as a badge of high rank in an honorary order
podgy Short and fat; squat; plump, fleshy, chubby
portify To convert (claret) into port
postage stamp An official stamp which must be fixed to any letter or parcel sent by post
postiche Counterfeit, artificial; spec. applied to an architectural or sculptural ornament
princify To make into a prince; to make princely
Punchine Of or relating to the magazine Punch
puttier A person who covers or smears with putty
pukey Given to puking; inclined to puke or vomit; sickly, queasy
pulleyless Without a pulley or pulleys
quinquagint A group of fifty persons
railinged Enclosed or skirted by a railing; fenced, fenced off
rat-tattooing The action of beating a drum repeatedly
recueillement Contemplation, meditation
romanceress A female romancer
well-conserved Showing little sign of ageing; seeming young for his or her years


The image of W. M. Thackeray is shared from Wikimedia Commons under CCA 2.0.

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