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Scurrilities and Animadversion - archaic terms in the newspapers

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Findmypast
22 August 2016

The English language is an ever-changing beast. If you were to travel more than two centuries or so into the past, it's highly unlikely you'd be able to understand a word anyone said, such is the speed at which it evolves and adapts. This can present a challenge when researching newspapers from the 18th and 19th centuries, as search terms that we'd use today simply won't turn up any results.

It's good to note here that when searching for a word like 'assess', it might also be worth trying 'affess' and variations thereof. In the 18th century, people hadn't yet made their mind up on their 'f's and 's's, as demonstrated below on the cover of the April , 1720 edition of the Newcastle Courant. This is something that doesn't die out until well into the 19th century, so it's always good to note that if you're searching for the naval vessel on which your ancestor served, you're probably looking for 'the naval veffel on which your anceftor ferv'd'.

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Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Further to that point, it is always worth remembering that spelling has changed along with language. When using British and Irish newspapers, take the differences in modern spelling into account, but also try a variation on them. In our research, variations on modern spelling that we see frequently - particularly in 18th century newspapers - include 'compleat', 'publick', 'Catholick' and 'negociations'. Words like these - with a hard 'c', a longer 'e' or a soft 't' - will very often be adapted in this way.

Another variation is to replace the final 'e' in a word with an apostrophe, for example 'conceal'd', 'assail'd', 'complain'd'. This won't be the case with words where the 'e' is shorter, such as 'repeated', 'assaulted' or 'taken'.

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All of the above quirks can be seen on display here, in the Stamford Mercury - Thursday 09 January 1729

Wildcards can help you to get around these spelling oddities when searching. Find out more about those here.

We've been keeping a list of some of the archaic terms and phrases that we've come across in our newspaper research. Let us know in the comments if you've found any more!

General terms and words

Military and naval

Medical

Slang, including criminal slang

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Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Findmypast - London office

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.