Persuasions #6, 1984                                                                                                                                            Page 37





Eileen Sutherland

North Vancouver, B.C.

We bought ourselves the OED this year – the one originally published in eight volumes, now micro-printed into a two-volume set, sold complete with magnifying glass. This edition is fascinating, because it gives dated references and quotations for the first known use of a word in English, or an unusual meaning of a familiar word, as well as words that have become archaic or lost to us altogether. Jane Austen’s works are the source of a number of these quotations:

“‘My dear Mr. Bennet,’ said his lady to him one day.” (Jane Austen also used the word in connection with Sir John Middleton and his lady.)

Instrument in the sense of “piano” – before this, the word was used in connection with a certain kind of instrument, e.g., wind instrument. Charlotte Lucas says: “I am going to open the instrument, Eliza … ” and in Emma, Jane Fairfax “put the music aside, and closed the instrument.”

Nidgetty, meaning trifling (rare): in a letter of December 18, 1798, Jane Austen wrote: “I have been able to give a considerable improvement of dignity to the cap, which was before too nidgetty to please me.”

Mercantile (noun), a merchant, (obs., rare). The OED quotes Jane Austen’s letter, October 14, 1813: “ … children of a great rich mercantile, Sir Robert Wigram … ” The OED was misled by Brabourne’s edition of the Letters – in the original ms. Jane Austen used no comma.

Scheme, plot, plan of action to attain some end – in Mansfield Park, Mrs. Norris’ “opposition to Edmund now arose more from partiality for her own scheme because it was her own, than from anything else.”

One word Jane Austen did not coin (which I thought she did) was comeatable: When Emma wanted spur-of-the-moment guests to entertain her father, “ … the most comeatable … were Mrs. and Miss Bates and Mrs. Goddard.” This word had been in use since 1687, and Jane Austen would have seen it as “comeatability” in Tristram Shandy.

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